Finding Balance: Working Mom, Two Kids, and a Doctorate

Finding Balance: Working Mom, Two Kids, and a Doctorate

Balance is tough enough when you're managing two demanding aspects of your life, but when Nicole Merrithew, a long-time friend, added a third incredible element to her already busy schedule, balance became paramount. Nicole is a mother of two adorable kids, has a career in health care quality improvement, and is pursuing a doctoral degree in health systems and policy. Here, she shares a little bit about what makes her busy schedule work, including a great trick on how to share personal time with her husband. 

Tell us about your family. 

I am married and have two boys, Liam (5) and Desmond (2). 

What do you do for work? 

I work nearly full-time (36 hours per week) as the Senior Manager of Delivery System Improvement at CareOregon. Basically, I manage teams that are responsible for ensuring that our organization meets a number of clinical quality improvement performance measures. I am also involved in different projects/strategies aimed at health care system improvement. 

I am also a part-time doctoral student in the Health Systems & Policy program at the Portland State University/Oregon Health & Science University School of Public Health.

Did you ever consider a different work/life situation other than your current one? 

Ha, yes! I dream of being a full-time student so I could finish this degree a bit quicker, but unfortunately, like many families, we rely on the income from both my husband and me. That said, my academic work is also closely tied to my professional work, and I really enjoy having one foot in academia and one foot in the private sector. It's a nice balance of theory and practice.

Did you take maternity leave after your children were born? What was returning to work like for you?  

Yes. With Liam, I took almost 4 months off. My return with him was a little challenging, mostly just getting used to the routine of having to get someone else dressed and out the door besides myself. That said, I only realize now that getting a 5 month old out the door is FAR easier than getting a 5 year old out the door. I also was not in the doctoral program at this point.

With Des, I took about 3 months off and, my return to work was a bit more challenging. Not only did I now have two children, but I was in the doctoral program and I was returning to a brand new job. I gave my notice from the job I had been at for nearly eight years while I was on leave, came back to close things out there for about a week and then moved to a new position in a new organization. Looking back on it, I really didn't know what I was biting off when I made those plans. That said, everything turned out OK!

I actually didn't take any leave from school after having Des. He was born on December 17th and classes began at the beginning of January. I just took him to class with me! He may not realize it yet, but he already has a background in the economic analysis of public policy. :-) 

How do you handle childcare? 

We have a wonderful daycare/preschool. The teachers are wonderful, and I know that they are both exposed to new things, cared for, and loved all day long. They both attend full time. The logistics are a bit difficult because, while it is one school, they have two locations for the different age groups (0 - 3, and 3 - 5). Because of this, (my husband) Jesse and I have a lot of coordinating to do on pick-up and drop-off, depending on our work schedules.

What do you do for personal time? 

Jesse and I have recently tried scheduling in personal time on weekday evenings so that we each get a break. On Monday, I pick up both kids and make dinner so he just needs to be home by dinner time to help with that and bedtime routine. On Thursdays, I pick up both boys and Jesse is free to stay out as late as he'd like. He spends most Thursdays going on long bike rides and getting home around 10. On Tuesdays, he picks up both boys and I'm free to stay out. I usually go to a Barre exercise class then head to a restaurant for dinner and get a couple hours of school work done. On Wednesday, I also usually go to a Barre class right after work and am home by dinner. We also try to allocate a bit of “solo” exercise time on the weekends as well.

Is balance achievable? 

The only way I think I've been able to even come close to balancing everything is by putting a 'box' around the time I can spend on any given thing. I only do work (for the most part) when I'm at work, and I have very specific hours that I'm focused on school. If I can't get everything on the list done in that time, then it's just not going to get done or it's going to take longer to finish and I have to be OK with that. I also think that the routine Jesse and I have worked out (the one described above) has been really healthy for both of us. A couple of hours away, especially on a regular basis, allows both of us to recharge.  

Thank you so much, Nicole! You are such an inspiration. 

P.S. You can check out my own story on finding balance with one, three and four young kids, and from other moms in this series. I look forward to sharing more stories of how moms manage their busy lives of work, family and life soon. xo

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