How to have a career and family as a working mother

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Last week in my Instagram “Ask Me Anything” weekly series, a follower asked me: “How do you manage a full-time job and a baby? Does your husband do half the work?” I gave a quick answer and mentioned that I wanted to give a better answer in a blog post.

I think it’s important that we normalize a few things as working mothers. I also think that it’s helpful for the working mother population if we share what works for us so that other mothers can grow and learn from each other. I’m sharing what worked for our family. It might not work for you. But, I hope that it inspires you to figure out how you might find the best way to have a career and family as a working woman.

So, here goes.

My mother worked

Before I step into how I do it, I need to start with this. Being a successful working mother was normalized for me at an early age by my own mother. My mother had a demanding career in education as a consultant and administrator. She also went back to graduate school when my brother and I were 4 and 7. She also did all of this in the 80s-90s-00s when society was not as gracious to working mothers. (Can you imagine?!) She worked and found a lot of meaning in what she did. She had hobbies – volunteering, cooking, gardening, antiquing, reading.

While she was President of the Historical Society in my hometown, she worked full time. And during that time, she created an enrichment program for middle school students with lessons centered around my state’s historical landmarks. She was a force. My dad took on the non-traditional role of owning the mornings during the school year. He made breakfast and took us to school so she could get to work on time in the mornings without being rushed. She did it so it was no question that I could do it.

Never underestimate the message that being a working mother sends to your sons and daughters. I’m grateful for her. 

I have childcare that I trust

We love our nanny and the family who partners with us to share childcare. Our nanny stays at our house with both infants while all four parents work full time. It’s a great set up and I feel comfortable with it. Having reliable childcare that you trust makes walking out of the door easier. It helps when there are the inevitable tears or protests when I leave the home to go into the office or walk downstairs to work from our basement. I know he’s safe, loved, and in good hands. We must normalize childcare as a healthy option for working families and not put the responsibility on mothers (unless they choose to be the primary caregiver/SAHM, which is also a wonderful choice). 

I have a husband who supports me

I cannot overstate how important it is for working women to have supportive partners who share the load. Before we married, I told my husband that I wanted a career and a family. And, I told him that I didn’t want to do it all by myself. I wanted a 50/50 partnership from my spouse. I asked if he was OK with marrying someone who would become a working mother and he was. His mother was a stay at home mother and I wanted to check his expectations for his future family. We were older and more established, so I knew to ask this.

We have tough, difficult conversations about topics that can take months or even years to resolve when it comes to having two working parents. We go to therapy and we work through really hard stuff. I say this not to air our dirty laundry online but to normalize that good marriages take work. No marriage is perfect and both of us have had to ask for what we want and make room for the other person’s wants and needs when it comes to supporting each other. I am grateful for him.

I share the load with my husband

My husband doesn’t just say that he supports me, he shows me by sharing the household chores and mental load. I won’t go into detail on how we do this because there is a book with a fantastic method that we follow: Fair Play. I can’t recommend that book enough. We found a way to divide up our work fairly. And, we learned that the root cause of many of our disagreements around the home centered around not being seen by the other person. We now acknowledge the contributions of the other person and that has made all the difference in our relationship.

Here’s a little bit of how we break down our tasks: He washes all dishes or loads them in the dishwasher. I wash, fold, and put away all laundry. He is responsible for meals Monday through Thursday. I cook on the weekends. We split being “on” for childcare when the nanny isn’t here. We rotate the morning routine. On weekends we do a lot as a family, but we trade off being the primary parent for childcare so that the other gets a break. No one parent is the primary person for childcare and no one person assumes responsibility for a task unless we talk about it and agree to it ahead of time. Once we found the Fair Play method, things became easier for us as new parents.

I stay organized

Part of my family duties via the Fair Play method is to be responsible for the family calendar, tidying up the house, and keeping our family stocked with groceries and household items. I keep a family calendar and I plan for fun, rest, and being productive. My days don’t just “happen.” I have lists and I block my calendar to get things done. But, I don’t beat myself up when I miss something. There’s always tomorrow. I shuffle things around and try again later. But I don’t give up. I keep our house organized in a way that makes sense for us. If something isn’t working for our family, I don’t give up until I find a successful solution for us that keeps things tidy. Some of that is my nature but a lot is out of habit.

For groceries and household items, I use curbside pick up and make my lists in the app so that I don’t forget anything. We buy a lot of food and freeze it. I meal plan and have a small list of recipes that I use in a pinch. I try to never run out of back stock of any of our most important items so that we aren’t scrambling to run to the store in the middle of the week.

Finally, I prioritize ruthlessly. My blog has a list of my favorite books and in that list I have my top recommendations on productivity. There is a book that I’m currently reading: I know how she does it. I’m 1/4 of the way in and I can say that the author’s best practices are ones that I will be implementing throughout motherhood. I highly recommend her book.

I outsource as much as I can afford

I cannot do it all. It’s impossible. And, I can’t afford to outsource everything. I hired someone to clean our home. We have someone who mows our lawn. When I grocery shop, I use grocery delivery or curbside pickup. It does mean that the personal shopper might choose something that I wouldn’t get. At the end of the day, my time is more important that the right brand of ketchup. I order more through Amazon Prime than I think is good for the environment. My dry cleaning is picked up and delivered to our home. I pay for Sephora’s 2 day delivery service and get my cosmetics delivered ASAP. I order our low toxin cleaners via Grove Collaborative. We order Sun Basket meal kits to be delivered to our house every Monday and meal plan for the week. I use Daily Harvest for easy lunches when I work from home. I find the best solution given our financial and personal constraints and do what I can to make life as easy as I can for myself.

I explore my mom guilt

If I’m feeling guilt, shame, uneasiness, or fear about my decision to be a working mother, I quickly sort out the root cause. Chances are, it’s an unkind outside voice that I’ve let into my thoughts. If I uncover that I’m truly uneasy about something, I sit with that feeling to better understand what it means for me. I explore it with my therapist. If I need to change something, I do. But I don’t let the outside shame that others project onto me sit with me for long. Life is too short to do that.

My son was sleep trained at 6 months

Neither my husband nor I sleep well. Lack of sleep affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Showing up as the best version of ourselves is important for us. So we did sleep training. Yes, I had conflicting feelings about sleep training. However, research shows that parental mental well being has more of an impact on a child than most other factors. At the encouragement of our pediatrician, we decided to do it. I’m so glad that we did.

We followed the Taking Cara Babies method, which was a gentle program that started with learning how to soothe our son at 4 weeks old, then moved to setting a strong foundation with naps and sleeping environment, and ultimately culminated with formal sleep training at 4 months. We waited until 6 months to do the formal sleep training. Once our son was sleeping through the night, it was incredible how much better I felt.

Please check with your pediatrician for what is right for your child. There is no shame in sleep training so that you can show up as your best self for your child(ren).

I have an individual and marriage therapist

I am an advocate for mental health awareness. I have a great therapist who I meet with weekly. And, we have a fantastic marriage therapist who we call when my husband and I need to work through something. We’ve seen her weekly off and on for various seasons of our relationship. So, we have the history that affords us the kind of relationship where we can check in with her as needed. I mention this because I think that having a strong support system for your mental health can do wonders for your life. I don’t spend time spinning on something because I know I have a place where I can process it. And that makes a huge difference for me. I believe everyone can benefit from regular therapy at some point in their life.

I maintain a self care practice

I realize that this is an overused phrase for mothers and it’s quick to dismiss this advice.

Hear me out.

The single piece of advice that stayed with me during my pregnancy was this: you have to take care of yourself as a mother. I read it over and over again on mom blogs, in pregnancy books, and pamphlets that I received at the hospital. It was the number one advice given to me at my baby showers. My nature is to go at a relentless pace until I can’t move anymore. When I felt overwhelmed that first time as a new mom, I realized that if I was going to go the distance as a mother, I needed to practice exquisite self care. I try to eat well. I recently started going to bed earlier and it’s made a huge difference. I take one night a quarter off and stay in a hotel by myself. I ask for help from my husband. I make sure to have date nights with my husband and friends. And, I’m trying to exercise regularly. The endorphins from working out carry me through the week. I feel the benefits of regular movement more now that I need it as a mother. Self care has been the key to making it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you add anything? Do you have any questions about what I shared? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to learning from you.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are commission-able links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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