I have three daughters: 9, 4 and 10 months. I also work full time. Needless to say, I’m pretty busy between conference calls and impromptu tickle piles. I work day-in and day-out to set an example for my girls on how they, too, can one day find a balance of work, family and themselves. But I’m not doing anything above and beyond what all working moms do — and most certainly not making headlines like other moms of my generation.
Today you see CEO mommas like Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix, bringing her 1-year-old son with her as she rings the bell on Wall Street. Or political powerhouses like Jacinda Ardern who aren’t skipping a beat to have a baby and return to work running a country. There are runway models like Mara Martin who in very public ways juggle their careers and family, and challenge taboos associated with being new mothers. And there are athlete moms like Serena Williams who, despite a loss at Wimbledon, has a return-to-work story that downright crushes it in my eyes. These women are my heroes.
So while I’m not making headlines, I can still offer my best advice to my fellow working mommas out there crushing their own return-to-work stories. Whether you’re just coming back from maternity leave or are a couple years into juggling kids and career, here are a few pieces of advice from a mom who’s had her own comeback story three times over:
Define an action plan for sick kids (’cause it’s going to happen)
You and your partner should have an agreed-upon action plan for when your kids get sick. Moms might typically take the lead on this, which is perfectly fine, but my husband and I have an understanding that we tag-team the illness. Instead of one of us being out for a full day, we usually split the day. That way we can both care for and love on our ailing babe and keep our inflight projects or work obligations moving.
Speaking of sickness, don’t get sick
Nothing stops with your kids when you get sick. Baby still gets up at the same time, needs feeding and needs to be cared for. So do everything you can not to get sick. Work offering a free flu vaccine? Take it! Get up from your desk often for walks and while you’re up, refill that water bottle. At the very least, as you dole out those Flintstone vitamins to your kids, take one yourself.
Stay on top of dentist appointments
The kids’ dentist appointments, yes, that too, but I’m talking about yours. After kids, I have a whole new appreciation for 6-month cleanings. A full hour during the work day to lay back, turn off distractions and… Just. Sit. Quietly. My hygienist and I have an agreement that it’s perfectly fine for me close my eyes and meditate as she goes to work. Who needs a spa visit?
Take a half-day off with your partner
Working parents have little time to connect with their partner or spouse. Weekends are filled with kids’ birthdays or other errands. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have regular connects with your significant other. Most companies offer paid time off for their employees. Use it! My husband and I will sometimes take a half-day on a Friday so we can have a quiet lunch together or catch a movie that isn’t produced by Disney while kids are in school or daycare. A half-day every so often won’t disrupt your work deliverables and it brings so much balance to your relationship.
Breastfeeding and working is possible
Having breastfed all my kids for a full year while working, I feel I’m an expert here, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Do your research. Know what your company offers for privacy and lactation rooms. Don’t ever let your first day back at work also be the first time you use your pump. Mark off time on your work calendar for pumping and stick to it. If a co-worker books a meeting over it, politely tell them you have a conflict.
If you travel a lot for work, find out if your company pays for services such as Milk Stork. Check if the airports you’ll be connecting to have Mamava pods. Lastly, try not to feel too guilty for taking time to pump during work. This is a short-term commitment in the grand scheme of your career. No one at work should judge you for wanting to feed your baby.
Save your most precious commodity: time
Everything speeds up when you’re a working parent. Spending an hour a week in the grocery store stocking up food? Ain’t got time for that. Thank you free online grocery pick-ups! Come home brain-dead and hungry trying to figure out what’s for dinner? Nope. Stock up your fridge with premade freezer meals or stick to the same 5-6 easy meals each week that everyone likes. They don’t call it Taco Tuesday for nothing. And don’t forget to make sure your partner knows how to prepare these meals too so it’s not always you on hook for dinner.
Find (or create) a tribe of working moms
Many companies now have added emphasis on empowering female leaders in their workforce. Women in leadership also tend to be mothers in leadership. Try to connect with these working moms regularly or even seek them out as mentors to help you navigate work and family. If there isn’t a working mothers group, consider partnering with a few other moms to create one. Having multiple founders eases the obligations of one person having to foster an entire community.