Finding My Balance: Full-Time Working Parent of One
I remember when I first became a mom, I was overwhelmed by finding the right schedule and structure for us as a family. I was a full-time working mom, working 30+ minutes away from my house. Zach, at the time, was working from home, but his schedule was pretty fixed.
I was among the first of my friends, and the first in my family, to have kids, so I wasn't sure where to turn or who to ask about how to structure the details of childcare, work, and the time before and after our days. What was best? What did other people do? How did everyone manage it all?
Like a beacon (as she usually is), blogger and motherhood icon Joanna Goddard started an amazing series featuring mothers sharing their "balance" - addressing this very issue. (Check out the first series featuring mothers who worked from home here, and the second series featuring high-powered career women in major cities here.) The biggest thing that I took away from it was that everyone does it differently. That was a revelation for me - there's no one, right way. It's about finding what works best for you. Isn't that true about all of parenting? Believe it or not, it's still something I am learning seven years after becoming a mom.
So, in the hopes that this might help someone else, I wanted to share how we have structured our lives and attempted balance at varying points of parenthood. Today, I'm going to share how I structured my day when I had Jack and was working full-time out of the house. In this series, I will also share my schedules with three young children and a demanding career, four young children and staying home full-time, and then, my new and current status as a part-time working mom with four young kids.
Maternity Leave and Returning to Work
I enjoyed the job I had before I went on maternity leave, but there were two significant challenges that caused me to look for another job after having my son. First, my job was downtown LA, and I lived on the west side. This kind of LA commute can swing anywhere from a manageable 25-minute drive to a soul-sucking hour-plus haul, depending on the time, day, direction of the wind, etc. It was unpredictable, which was scary for me as a new mom. The second major challenge was that my company did not offer any sort of maternity leave benefits at the time. Fortunately, the state of California does offer some form of benefit for up to 12 weeks, but I did not receive any additional compensation. I took an additional two months of unpaid leave to be home with Jack. And then I found a new job working for Conde Nast in their mid-Wilshire office (a more predictable commute). My was schedule was pretty consistent, and travel was minimal, so it all felt pretty manageable at the time.
I really struggled with childcare choices when I first had Jack. I couldn't afford a full-time nanny, and, to be honest, I wasn't sure I was comfortable with the idea of him bonding so closely with someone else at that time. I searched the many daycare options near our house and finally found one that was more expensive than we hoped, but it did give me peace of mind. I was tormented with guilt at every drop off, and I remember being physically in pain when I was stopped in traffic on my way to get him and bring him home. It was hard, but I knew he was in good hands.
Once Jack reached preschool age, I found a babysitter who could pick him up from morning preschool and stay with him until Zach or I finished work. This mix of care felt pretty good to me.
I fondly remember my mornings with Jack. Early on, when Jack was still a baby, he would come into bed with me and nurse or drink his milk and we would cuddle in the bed together before I got in the shower. I loved those mornings. Zach, being in finance, always worked early hours, so he was usually out the door or working by the time we were up and getting ready for the day.
As Jack grew more active, I found that I did better getting up before him and showering before he woke. It gave me more time to be with him.
We would have breakfast together and then take our dog for a walk. Then we would get in the car and I would drop him off at day care, or later, preschool, and I would head to work. I still day dream about those simple, slow mornings.
Running has been my one consistent personal escape. When I worked for Conde Nast, I had the glorious benefit of summer Fridays (every Friday off between Memorial and Labor Days). I would drop Jack off at preschool, go for a run and then take a long shower before picking him up again. It was a special treat.
I would also, on occasion, meet up with a great group of friends for a "moms' dinner".
Zach and I used to cook dinner after Jack went to bed and enjoy our adult time together. As he got older and our schedules shifted earlier, we started eating dinner with him. Our adult time was minimized to a little bit of time after Jack went to bed. Today, this is even more of a challenge for us, but more on that to come later.
I started to learn that schedules and child care didn't have to be black and white. I could have a mix of solutions as long as it worked for us.