In August of 2021, I welcomed my second daughter and started maternity leave. While on leave, an opportunity arose to interview for a management position in my department. Interviewing for this job when it became available was a professional goal of mine for a while, but I didn’t expect the opportunity for a couple more years. Though it wasn’t great timing with a new baby, I didn’t want to pass up the chance—and ended up getting the job. I came back from maternity leave starting my first management position.
It’s been an enjoyable challenge, but the last few years have certainly been busy. Toddlerhood on its own is hard, and managing a team for the first time is also hard. Doing both at the same definitely required an adjustment to a harder work/life balance, and here is what I learned along the way to stay afloat.
Managing at Home
I simplify what I can
I’ve had to let some things go. My husband is a phenomenal cook, and our average weeknight dinners used to deserve Michelin stars. But now, after wrapping up two busy workdays and getting through the evening hours with the children, there just isn’t time anymore. We do what we can do, and the meals are much more quick and simple.
At this point, anything that can be simplified is simplified. This includes school lunches, outfits, makeup, and anything else I can come up with.
I outsource what I can
One of the reasons behind wanting to take on a more advanced position at work was the financial benefits for my family. I’ve given myself permission to enjoy what the higher salary can provide in terms of giving myself back some hours to my day. I hired a housecleaner that comes every other Tuesday, and this has been such a blessing in giving myself back time on the weekends—instead of scrubbing the showers, I can spend time doing something fun with my family or friends (or just simply taking a little time to do nothing at all.)
I also use a meal delivery service so that I can have easy, healthy lunches ready without the prep time—or risk that I’ll get too busy and just grab snacks.
I don’t feel guilted into saying yes
There are a lot of things I can say yes to so I can be more helpful—but everyone doesn’t have to do everything. When messages from school come in looking for volunteers, I can’t let my people-pleaser self book all my spaces for free time because I feel bad. I’m not at the time in my life where I can dedicate the time to being on a committee, but I can volunteer for a set couple of hours at a specific event. I have to allow myself to let that be enough.
Saying “yes” to one thing usually means saying “no” to something else. I could agree to a recurring Tuesday night commitment, or I could keep that time free and have the opportunity to say yes to a weeknight dinner with a friend and recharge my batteries.
I don’t worry about being good at everything
Some people have the skills to DIY a home project. When people talk about renovating furniture, painting their own kitchen cabinets, or installing backsplash, I am usually both impressed and also jealous. I’d love to be able to have the skills to do those things. But considering I’m 35 and don’t already know how to do this, I’m probably not going to learn during one of the busiest times of my life. Instead of focusing on what I can’t do that others can, I focus on the things I do accomplish—we do all of our own yard work, we handle a lot of our home repairs, we keep up with an energetic young dog, and manage everything without local family.
I remember that it’s all a phase
What makes this season especially difficult is that raising small children is simply not easy. It’s an all-consuming, hands-on point in parenthood. The tug-of-war between priorities can be a lot because when childcare is disrupted or another illness strikes, the focus has to become 100 percent parenting mode at this age. The disruption to what the work schedule was supposed to be is exhausting and there’s a lot of catch-up time to get back on track once the childcare plans are back to their usual. It’s nearly impossible to get any focused tasks done when daycare has to close and I have a 1-year-old at my feet who can’t resist climbing a chair or chasing the cat.
In my most difficult moments with these scenarios, what helps me the most is to remember that this stage isn’t forever. It’s a temporary phase of my life. Toddlers grow into more independent kids, and eventually managing work alongside childcare will be a lot easier—when my 2nd grader is home for a no-school day, there aren’t nearly as many difficulties with getting through my work tasks and keeping her occupied. She can independently read, watch videos, or work on a craft.
Managing at Work
I set clear communication about work availability
Sometimes when boundary-crossing happens, and work communication trickles into my personal time, it’s because I didn’t do a very good job communicating my schedule changes ahead of time. I now try to use all of the digital tools at my disposal to communicate availability and useful information.
- I provide easy-to-locate resources for items my team may need from me. We do a Monday morning standup every week, and I always send out notes with info and attachments of what was discussed. I also make sure all the points of discussion are saved somewhere on our shared drive that people can refer to at any time.
- When I set out-of-office messages I make sure to provide alternate contact info for items that people often reach out to me for, and include useful links for information.
- Our office uses the Google Suite, so when I am away from my desk at an appointment or busy, I make sure to note my whereabouts and return time in my chat status.
- If people ask me about something that I know has been communicated and stored somewhere, instead of answering the question I politely direct them to the resource to establish better boundaries and habits.
I established a “pencils down” time
My husband starts his day early, so I drop my kids off at school/daycare in the morning and he picks them up so that I get a little extra time in the afternoon. I try to also use this time for other things like errands or a gym session. However, I have to firmly tell myself that I need to have an end time for work, even if everything isn’t totally done. It’s hard to resist the urge to do “just one more thing,” but I was doing that, and never giving myself any time in the afternoon to do something else. I’d look up to my family walking in the door and I hadn’t moved from my seat yet.
With the way we work now, things are never truly “done.” People are working in different time zones, so there’s never really going to be an endpoint in the day for messages. There’s always just one more thing to do—but once you finish that thing, something else will be waiting for you. I couldn’t make it my goal anymore to not get up until everything was finished. Now, I try to come to a good end point and go about my day—otherwise, I am basically working full day shifts from morning until bedtime with paid labor and domestic labor.
I set hours that work for me
Personally, it works better for me to be a little more flexible with my hours than a standard 9-5. A lot of my work is collaborative so it requires me to mostly be available during the standard workday. But some of the work is completely solo and it often works better for me to just work on that for an hour or so after my kids are in bed so that I can step away in the afternoon for a bit. When I’m using this time to respond to messages, I usually schedule my messages to send the following morning, so that I’m not accidentally communicating to my team that late-night work is required.
For anyone else struggling through this phase of life, just remember that you’re doing a great job and you’re already doing more than enough!