Oh Joy

the juggle...
26 Jul 2012

Oh-joy-ruby-legs

Some of you fellow moms or moms-to-be {or future moms thinking ahead} have asked about my schedule, how I attempt to balance work and baby time, and how I prepped or planned for all the change before Ruby came into our lives. Now, I have to say I fully believe that "balance" isn't the right word to use because balance implies that it all works out perfectly somehow. Rather, as mentioned in this quote, it really is about the juggle...how can we make it work within our own situations. It's not always pretty or perfect, but in the end it works. I've hesitated writing this post until I felt like I had experienced a little bit more of my new life as a mom. I'm sure my methods will continue to change, but now that I am at a pretty good place with it all {and believe me, there were many tears before I got to this place}, I thought I'd share some of my experience with you and how the juggle works for me. So here are a few of my tips for you {and also how I personally handled things} for those of you out there who are interested. Now, just a note—because I am self-employed, my way of handling things is a little different than if I worked for someone else and had to go back to a 9-5 job. But hopefully some of these things still apply to those of you who are not self-employed...

Joy-cho-wedding

01. Pre-Baby...

Bob and I were married for 5 years before we had Ruby. We waited longer than 90% of our friends as we just weren't ready any sooner. Right around the time we got married, he had just started residency, and I was just a year into my business. With a husband in med school and residency, I had to be the breadwinner for many years to follow. And with my freelance business as our primary income, there were so many times that we struggled when I had a slow month or other times that were great because business was booming. We had decided to wait to have a baby until our careers were more established. Bob wanted to be earning a normal salary, and I wanted to feel comfortable enough with my business that it could somewhat run on it's own. I wanted to get to a place with having help with the business too, so that by the time my baby came into this world, I could give more attention to my personal life without my business falling to the wayside.

My tip to you: No time is really the right time, and should you have a baby sooner than your ideal time, you really will figure it all out. But if you're able to do some advanced planning, then yes, it's great to be at a place where you feel a bit more stable, both financially and career-wise. It's also a great way to learn to trust other people to help you—whether employees, freelancers, or interns. The people you hire should help make it more feasible for you to be able to step away from your work for periods of time when needed.

Oh-joy-baby-bump-beach
 

02. Maternity Leave...

 Leading up to my due date, I slowed down on work and turned down new client work a couple months beforehand. That way, in the months leading up to my due date, I'd have less and less work on my plate. By the time Ruby was born, I had just finished writing Blog, Inc. and had started prepping a bunch of blog posts in advance. While I love designing for my clients, I didn't want anyone waiting for me for work during those first few months with a fresh-faced baby. I had no idea how tired I'd be or how soon I'd want to jump back into work. While I told myself I was going to take two months off and give myself a real maternity leave, in all honesty, I probably took two weeks off. And I didn't even stay away from work for that full two weeks as I had blogs posts that needed to go up and emails that I wanted to go through. Ruby came 10 days early, so even though I had planned to have certain things done, they didn't all get done in time. I had good intentions, but not everything on my to-do list got done.

My tip to you: Get your clients, colleagues, employees, and anyone else who interacts with you regularly for your business ready for your maternity leave. Make it clear that you will not be available for whatever length of time you decide to be away from work. Most people respect that especially if you give them plenty of notice, and you're able to finish whatever work they need before you go on leave. But at the same time, if you are self-employed don't feel guilty if you want to or need to check email or do a couple things here and there. Yes, you have a new baby but you still love your job and it's okay to check in when you need to.

Oh-joy-baby-hospital

03. Once baby arrives...

Be prepared for the first two weeks to be the most emotional time of your life. Not only will you feel a level of happiness and love you never knew before, but you'll be mentally and physically tired while you're body attempts to morph itself back into its prior shape. I was sleep-deprived, felt like my body had exploded, yet I was feeling a new sense of joy I had never known before.

My tip to you: Spend this time enjoying your baby and your new family and not worrying about work if you don't have to. Now, this is easier said than done, and I'm suggesting this because I wasn't able to do it myself. As a blogger, I still had the need to connect with you all through my blog posts and tweets so I didn't really stay completely away {hence why I say it is okay if you really can't do it}, but I wish I would have been better about disconnecting for at least those first couple weeks.

Oh-joy-ruby-grandma

04. Accept help from loved ones...

Before Ruby arrived, we had arranged for our moms to fly in from Philly to help us out during the first month and a half. Bob's mom came out first 4 weeks, then my mom came for 2 weeks after that. I'll be honest. I worried that it would be too overwhelming for me to have them here or that I wouldn't get a chance to bond with my baby in the same way. But it was actually so great. Our moms let us be the parents and didn't try and take over. We still got up in the middle of the night, still changed diapers, and basically still did all the baby stuff. They simply helped us by cooking meals, keeping the house clean, and of course, enjoying time with their granddaughter whenever we needed a break to shower or eat or check email. I had to have my gallbladder removed when Ruby was 5 weeks old, and I'm so lucky my mom was in town at the time to take care of Ruby while I was in surgery.

My tip to you: You know your parents and family best, but I fully encourage you to accept help for whatever time your family is offering and willing to help you {eventually everyone will go back to their lives and it will be just you guys again, take it while you can!}. If you're worried about them being overbearing and you want to learn how to parent in your own way, tell them so and remind them that you don't expect them to do all the dirty work for you. They already raised you and therefore should get to be the grandparents, not the parents. This applies in so many areas of raising children where getting help is key to staying sane and also having time to get back into other parts of your life. 

Oh-joy-ruby-1week

05. Learn to trust someone else to help take care of your child...

Some of you may be lucky enough to have parents or family nearby who are more than willing and able to help take care of your baby when you need a date night out or when you're ready to start working again. For us, we didn't have that luxury since our parents live on the East Coast. After our moms left and Bob went back to work, I was alone with Ruby all day every day. I loved having the bonding time with her alone, but around 2 months in, I started craving work again. I spent a month attempting to work while being with her full-time, working during naps, and it was insane. She was still so young and wasn't consistent with naps yet, and I could never schedule phone conferences or meetings as I didn't want to appear unprofessional with a baby possibly crying on the other end of the line. I quickly realized I needed help if I wanted to get any real work done. I spent about a month looking for a nanny. After interviewing maybe 10-15 people and having a handful come and do a trial for a day, we finally found someone who had the right amount of experience I was looking for, the availability I needed, and the warmth that made me feel comfortable trusting her with my most prized possession. Our nanny is amazing, and she has become so important in helping me to juggle my work and my life as a mom.

My tip to you: If you want to or need to hire a babysitter, nanny, or find a daycare for your child, go into it knowing what you want...how many hours per week, what days per week, and what style of caretaker would fit best with your life. Don't be afraid to ask whatever questions you want. For me, the most important ones included how experienced they were with babies of the same age, who they had worked with before and for how long, why any previous jobs ended, would they be able to stick to our preferred parenting style, and what how they would keep themselves busy when the baby sleeps {ie. light housework, laundry, etc.}. In the end, I felt most comfortable with a nanny who had children of her own, who was older than me, someone who was content being a nanny for a long time, and who had worked with an infant before.

Oh-joy-ruby-daddy

06. Decide how much work to go back to...

In looking for a nanny, I knew I wanted to start off part-time. I wasn't ready to leave Ruby all day, every day {and I wasn't ready to spend the money on someone full-time} just yet so I felt like starting off part-time would be a great transition for both me and for Ruby. Knowing I wanted someone only part-time also limited who we could hire as nannies tend to want full-time work. But we ended up finding someone who worked with another family most afternoons and was available in the mornings. So now, we have her two full days and two half days during the week. That's the time I use to work, have meeting, run errands, and get the things done that I can't do when I'm with Ruby alone. And then mid-week {on Wednesdays} we get that day to be together, and it gives me a bit of a mid-week work break. I still work while Ruby is napping, at night when she's sleeping, or on weekends, but I don't leave anything urgent for those days I don't have help as you never know how a baby's day will go.

My tip to you: Whether you find a nanny, look for a daycare, or have a relative helping you, go into it with a plan of how much help you want or need or what you can afford. You may not have a choice and have to go back to full-time work within a few months. But if it's under your control, do what feels right to you based on finances, your work needs, and your personal needs. It's okay to use some of that time for yourself to get a haircut or tend to other errands, too.

Oh-joy-ruby-couch

07. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Your life is about to change drastically, and you'll have less time for yourself, to work, to meet up with friends, etc. Your allotment of time will shift and therefore, it puts everything into priority. You have to decide what's most important because not everything will get done. For me, that comes down to only choosing the work that's worth my time and enjoyable enough to be away from my baby to do it. Because I've decided not to have full-time childcare yet, that means I physically can't work as much as I used to. I know that I am lucky to be able to control my schedule. And I'm willing to work more at night or during naps if that means I can spend a good chunk of my days with my favorite tiny person. I've turned down lots of trips or meetings this year because they weren't important enough at the time to leave Ruby for. But that also means I now make better decisions about the work I do. And because of that, I've been able to maintain the same income as last year while working about half the amount of hours.

My tip to you: It's amazing how much quicker and more efficient you can learn to become when you have less time. Use that to your advantage and think about your work in a while new way and what's going to maximize the time you have to work and what won't. If it's not worth your time, just say no.

Oh-joy-ruby-two-faces2

08. Separate Work Time from Baby Time...

Before Ruby came, part of the way I separated work life from personal life, was to only work during my designated work times. And yes, I do work at nights or on weekends many times. But now that I have Ruby, I always make it a point not to work while I'm in mom mode and spending time with Ruby. Sure, I'll check email on my phone or send out a tweet if she's entertaining herself for a few minutes, but I've found that by not pulling out my laptop or trying to get real work done while she's with me, not only does it make me more present with her, but also helps me focus better on my work when it's time to work.

My tip to you: While multi-tasking is one of those skills we possess that helps women to be amazing mothers, work time and time with your baby is one of those things that's better left being as separate as possible. When they are tiny babies who sleep a lot or when they are bigger kids who will go off and play by themselves or with their friends for hours at a time, that's different. But there's a good chunk of in-between time when they either rely on you for interaction or they can play by themselves but you still need to keep an eye on them because they can crawl or walk somewhere you might not want them to go. I've found myself enjoying Ruby much more when my brain is not distracted with work, and I've planned out my business activities based on when it's time to work.

Oh-joy-ruby-morning-walk

09. You Can Still Have Your Life...

It's like the day you give birth, you suddenly feel the need to protect every second of this human being's life. You love the fact that you now love in a whole new way. But you also feel guilty when you're not with them. I was surprised when I wanted to get back to work sooner than I expected, but I needed something that was just for me and that still gave me some fulfillment outside of being a mom. Having that time away from my work also made me appreciate how much I really love my job and how much of it is actually fun and not just my way of earning a living.

My tip to you: Part of being a great mom is being happy with yourself and having separate interests other than your baby. Yes, your children will be at the center of your universe, but it's okay to go to the gym and want to stay in shape. It's okay to meet up with your friends for a girl's night out. And it's okay to have fun without them. And it's okay to work while they are being taken care of by others you trust.

While I could certainly talk about this topic forever and address so many more things, I hope a few of these points are helpful for some of you out there. And, of course, this is just my way of doing things so far, and different things work for different families. Tell me about things you've done that have helped you with the juggle. Or what else do you find hard to juggle? — Joy

ps. My past posts on: Flying with a Baby and my Baby Essentials list.

{all photos by Oh Joy, except our wedding photo by Karen Wise}

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