When I was 25 I landed a great job in the advancement office at a private school. It was an incredibly family-friendly environment, the campus community was warm and inviting, and my office was in a renovated old house. It was a great place to work.
Some of my colleagues were mothers of young children. Some worked part time. Some were given flexibility for family commitments. To 25-year-old me it all just seemed a little unfair. Why shouldn’t I get the same flexibility? I made assumptions about the education of the part-timers. I was not very family-friendly.
And oh how I offer profuse apologies to those women now. Profuse apologies, unending respect, and happiness that they found such a supportive work situation (with on-site childcare!).
The struggle with work/life balance as a mother hit me blindsided. I did not expect to feel so much constant concern about it, constant re-adjustment, and the amount of ‘figuring stuff out’ that goes into it.
And I’m one of the lucky ones. I went back to work 14 weeks after Evelyn was born. I had asked to start out at two-days a week before returning full time, which was a perfect way to ease back in. But my employer kept me at two days a week permanently. This was stressful financially and an unexpected slow-down in my career, but a blessing in terms of the time I was able to spend with my sweet baby. As hurtful and disappointing as the situation was, it made me realize that I had options beyond working full time and paying for full time daycare.
When Evy was nine months old, I took a new job and started at three days a week. This was the ideal balance. The paycheck was better, I still had time at home, and I had benefits- including more vacation time than I’d had in three years. I’m positive that having a part-time schedule for the first year of my daughter’s life was a huge part of the success I had with breastfeeding.
This past September, when Evy was 16 months old, I upped my hours to four full days a week. This adjustment has been harder, but still: I’m grateful that our family can get by with me working less than full time. I’m grateful that my mom has been able to take on a day of babysitting, saving us another day of daycare expense. I’m grateful for a job in my field, with a great organization.
And yet. I find myself thinking about alternatives. I study other families to see how they’ve found the balance (or, more commonly, how they seek the balance).
This struggle is more than I ever saw from the outside, when I watched working moms juggle their family commitments. No one talked to me about this before I was a mom. Or maybe they did, but I didn’t listen. I assumed I’d work full time, be an all-star mom, and magically it would all work out. You know, I’d have it all, because that’s what they said was possible.
But once I was a mom, I started looking around at the moms I knew. And what I saw was as many different work arrangements as there were families. Teachers who worked crazy hours during the school year but had summers home. Nurses with schedules that adjusted as their family needs changed. Full time schedules crammed into fewer days to open up days home with kids. Stay at home dads. Part time working moms. Parents working nights in order to be with their kids during the day. Consultants and freelancers building their career around their family’s needs. Work/life balances continually in flux were the norm. I had never seen it before seeking my own family’s balance.
I’ve been so extremely fortunate to land in a situation that fits our family’s needs. And I know that the balance will always be shifting. Sometimes working full time will be necessary and ideal. Other times it will be better to work less. It will change as our family grows, as our kids get older, as they start school, and on and on. We are fortunate to have choices, fortunate that my husband has a good job, fortunate that we’ve dedicated ourselves to living within our means, and fortunate to have supportive families who are always willing to help out.
And to 25 year old me: Calm down. You’ll see. Enjoy life as a 25 year old!