*Disclaimer: this is not a judgement on working moms, or stay at home moms. Each family has different circumstances and each woman is different. This is my experience and what I’ve learned about myself, my spouse, and our family this summer. I also get that my version of “working mom” this summer is very different than many. I hope you know I’m writing just as much for me, working out my reflection on this experience. I wrote this post a few months ago so we’re a month and a half into MBA life now.
Ben starts classes on Monday and my summer of being a working mom comes to an end.
I had been looking forward to these months of productivity + uninterrupted focus on this site and my photography since early this year and the months have turned out quite differently than I’d anticipated.
Ben left his job in June and he starts classes as an MBA candidate next week. To give you a picture, when we weren’t traveling this summer, Ben spent most of his mornings with the kids and I spent mine behind this computer or behind my camera. I took on quite a few more projects than usual and was able to help support our family in a greater way than I typically do as a working mom.
I had a few realizations:
I’d rather leave my kids with a babysitter than with my husband sometimes.
I always thought that, for the sake of the kids, I was only comfortable leaving them with someone other than a parent for short amounts of time each week. In Ohio we had a nanny come 6-8 hours a week (maybe 10 if I had a large project due) and I did not want more childcare than that. I thought leaving them with Ben was basically the same thing as leaving them with me.
If you remember, we sold our house in Ohio in June and moved in with my parents in New Hampshire while we moved slowly into our Boston apartment (we have more space of our own at my parents than we do in this apartment 😉 ). This summer I often felt guilty, leaving Ben with cranky adjusting toddlers out of their element in someone else’s space. Some mornings I’d be racing through my to-do lists just to get back and give him some help.
With a babysitter though, there was never a feeling of guilt, or rushing through my to-do list for their sake. If there was a rush, it was when I really wanted to get back to playing with my kids.
I am much more aware of my own complaining.
Watching kids on your own for extended periods of time is hard. It’s a different kind of hard than studying for the GMAT or training for a marathon. And it was also hard for me to watch Ben struggle with it.
When Ben would voice the struggles he was having, my first thought was often something along the lines of, “You’ve been doing this for a week, this is what I do EVERY SINGLE DAY.” My instinct was not to be sympathetic.
When he complained about the kids being hard, I would often mistake it as a complaint that I had been away working like every working mom. It felt like he was complaining about me being gone instead of just talking about the struggles of the morning
But I realized that instead of criticizing his struggles, I was the one person who should really be able to relate to them. And while there were still times I probably told him to suck it up, and this is what toddlers were like, I had the chance to relate to and comfort Ben in a way that I haven’t before.
And it got me to thinking, when Ben comes home from a long day at work and I list off the struggles of a teething toddler or a baby that wouldn’t nap, does it also come across that way, too?
And if not that, then does it seem ungrateful? He has been at work all day providing for our family so I can be home raising our children; It’s the setup I WANT (most days ;)). I wonder how hard it might be to come home many days each week to someone complaining about the life they chose (and prayed for and worked for)?
Leaving was less awesome than I anticipated.
I missed my kids. There were many mornings when we got to New Hampshire that I was happy to be able to escape cranky, adjusting toddlers for the sanctuary of work. But, more often than not I caught myself resenting the fact that I’d committed to projects keeping me home while the family went off to the pool or the park, or even just the basement to play.
As a working mom, it is easier for me to love work when it is in smaller doses and it doesn’t detract so much from my favorite role as a mother + wife.
Watching + engaging kids is hard, but it is also productive. Nothing else needs to be on the to do list for a morning.
One of the things Ben struggled with was feeling like he couldn’t get anything done whilst I was the working mom. And I had to constantly remind him that engaging our kids WAS something productive. Nurturing and loving them, making sure their needs were met, and maybe throwing in a load of laundry, was possibly all he’d do in a morning…and that was expected. The goal wasn’t for them to play independently for 4 hours while he got x, y, and z done, the goal was for them to feel safe and loved with a present parent.
It was a powerful reminder to me that what I do at home with my kids all day matters. That as a mom at home, I am growing my kids. While pregnant I grew them physically, inside of me. Now I’m helping them along this road of development, feeding their minds + their bodies with a nutrition they get less of if I spend my whole day crossing off a to-do list.
Interruptions, no matter how small, are huge.
A lot of the time I just worked from an alcove in my parents house while Ben played with the kids at home, too. They’d stop by to say hi, or ask for my help getting shoes on to go to the park. And each interruption, even if just a “Hi, mom, we’re going to the park now, bye!” derailed my focus for a few minutes and it was hard to get right back into the same groove.
It has me thinking about the conditions that I often expect myself to get things done in. It was a good reminder that I’d rather be fully present wherever I am, whether that be with my kids or working, than trying too hard to blend the two together.
Some things just didn’t get done because there is less excess capacity.
I realized the whole spectrum of things I do, usually, in addition to being with my kids that help our family run smoothly. Household things like laundry + cooking but also logistical planning things like ordering diapers, packing diaper bags, and making sure we have enough milk for Adelaide. Things like planning family outings and grocery shopping lists. Things like taking the few minutes to make plans with friends or scheduling doctor appointments.
Most individual things I get done in a day, when I’m home with my kids, aren’t big. But all together, they’re crucial for our family running smoothly.
Also, when every minute of my time isn’t scheduled, it is much easier for me to adjust to the changing demands of family life. If I’ve scheduled two hours of work for nap time and Adelaide is cutting teeth, I don’t have a lot of flexibility to cope. When my whole day is focused on home, a teething toddler still takes a toll, but it’s easier to push back laundry, or dinner, or making appointments than it is client deadlines.
I am SO happy to be working less this fall.
On the blog, I’m hoping you don’t even notice I’m working fewer hours but I am really excited about it. I have a few big projects to wrap up but I’m consciously saying no to more opportunities, knowing I’ll have less time.
**This post is going up two months after I originally wrote it and I wanted to report: I AM working less! You might have noticed fewer weekly posts around here because, my goodness, MBA family life is two or three times busier than I anticipated. It’s hard to say no to chances to support our family or work on interesting projects, but it has been a great chance to reflect on where I contribute the most right now, and where I really want to be spending my time.
I’m more productive when Ben is gone.
When Ben is playing with the kids, or home in the evening, I’d rather be with him. Even if we’re both working on our own things in the evening, just being there leads to a conversation here and there which really cuts into how much I cross off my to-do list in an evening.
Last year when he was gone a few evenings a week working an overnight shift, THAT is when I got the most done. Parenting alone for days at a time was hard, but it was also the time I accomplished the most in terms of running a household and running a business.
Divide and Conquer works for me (and when there aren’t designated roles, I am more likely to be frustrated. )
In a business, if you had two partners, you wouldn’t want both of them to have the same strengths. If you were hiring two people to run a company, you’d look at the tasks that need to get done, and hire someone that specialized in each of them. You’d look for someone that had experience with finance and someone with experience in marketing. Or maybe you’d need someone with leadership strengths…but you certainly wouldn’t expect both partners to have the same daily tasks and the same skill sets.
This summer taught me that I like that same specialization in our marriage. I still earn money for our family. And Ben still changes diapers. BUT, our ideal co-parenting situation looks different now for me than it did three months ago. We are not both equally responsible for remembering, planning for, and executing all the things that pertain to kids and family life. There are some things (like deep cleaning, scheduling oil changes, and managing insurance) that I can assume Ben will take care of. And there are others (like ordering diapers, washing the kids clothes, and packing snacks for outings) that Ben can rely on me for. Sure, I am capable of scrubbing a toilet and Ben can jump on amazon and change the delivery address of our diaper subscription, but why would we have two people trying to both do all the same tasks, when we can have each of us trying to conquer only half of them?
Being a working mom this summer was a great validation for how I choose to spend the majority of my day. It was a lesson in appreciation for my kids, for my husband, and for the role I get to play in their lives. It was an exercise in patience for the same shortcomings in Ben that are evident in me when I’m the primary care provider for our kids. And it was a chance to commit to enjoying this season of small children more each day.
I hope these ramblings + reflections gave you a chance to think about how you spend your time, how you enjoy raising your children, and how you share the responsibility with your husband. Your ideal may look very different from mine. In many ways this summer gave me a greater respect for working moms AND those who choose to focus their full time efforts on the work done within the walls of their home.
But mostly, as a woman who spent early 2017 romanticizing a summer filled with client phone calls and coffee shop work sessions, I was reminded how grateful I am to be the one charged with building up my kids each day, filling their bodies + minds + hearts. The days are filled with the mundane, but in the consistency of these little things done with love, are strong and kind humans raised.
There will be a season when more of me gets to serve a greater audience, whether through growing this business or working elsewhere. But right now, the most important work for me is done right here, in our small Boston apartment, with these tiny humans that call me mama.
Photos by my friend Lorna at Lorna Snell Photo