During the approximately 36 weeks that I was pregnant, there was one sentiment that I heard more than anything else: Things will change. According to my sister and my mother; my best friend and my co-workers; the women who sat next to me on the subway and the women who stood on line with me at the post office; the only thing I could count on as new mother was that nothing would remain the same.
The list was long. My marriage would change (for the worse). My friendships would change (deepen with other mothers; fade away with those who had yet to procreate); and my career aspirations would change (full time motherhood would either fill me with purpose or send me into a tailspin of brain melting ennui).
And baby makes ... change
After the first dizzying months with a newborn — when I had adjusted to the lack of sleep and my heart had opened fully, making space for the new addition in my life — I took a moment to assess what had actually changed. I found that my marriage was no longer about cozy Netflix marathons, sushi dinners for two or spontaneous weekend getaways to rustic bed and breakfasts. Instead we argued over who would change the morning diaper and whose turn it was to do the dishes — sexy stuff. My friendships had changed too, but not as predicted. I bonded with other mothers, sure, but I was also deeply connected to friends without children — turning to them, almost desperately, for conversation that had nothing to do with breast-feeding or sleep schedules.
Changes surrounding my career aspirations were a bit more ambiguous. I had been a writer and editor for the majority of my professional life and was pretty sure — but not convinced — that I’d get back to work soon after the baby was born. And in a bout of potentially unhealthy multitasking, I did just that, my laptop perched on my knees as my son nursed awkwardly. Fortunate enough to work from home, I also flipped open my computer during every nap, while he bounced in his bouncy chair and when my husband returned home in the evening. But over a year later my son naps less, walks more and is clearly jealous of that laptop, a device that often receives more of my attention than he does.
Working has always been important to me personally and necessary financially. For a time, I wondered if parenthood would be so enticing, so all-encompassing, that I would never long to do anything but be a mother. But the intrigue of a juicy new project always hauls me back to the working world. However, I’ve discovered that it’s nearly impossible to be productive while supervising a 15-month-old who’s determined to stick his head in the oven while eating a handful of change. On those days, I’m not a capable mother or a reliable editor, sacrificing on both sides for the good of neither.
Finding the balance
The next steps are clear, but even before transitioning to a more intense workload and enlisting regular childcare, I see that I’m already longing for a have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too universe where I would forever be able take my child to the park in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon while also excelling at my career. As the guilty questions begin to bubble up — what if he gets sick, lonely, scared in daycare? — and mingle with the questions of self doubt and worthlessness — what if I’m not smart, capable, dynamic enough to be a mother and a professional? — I recall the words of the women who passed my big belly each day of my pregnancy: Things will change.
Being a working mother is a clearly a serious change and so I called in the guidance of a serious change expert. As author of “The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier” and founder ofFirst30Days.com (a site dedicated to helping people through life changes like depression and improving relationships and buying a new car), Ariane de Boinvoisin is all about change. She shared her top suggestions for becoming a happy, well-adjusting working mama:
Give up the guilt.
Whether you are working because you have to or working because you want to, refuse to give into guilty feelings. Guilt is a change demon or a negative emotion that shows up during change (fear, doubt, blame and impatience are also change demons).
Instead, begin to accept your situation. People who are good at change accept what is happening to them. This is one of the main principles of change. Don’t resist. Don’t wish that things were different. The moment you accept what is happening is the moment you will feel relief and begin to see solutions.
Trust your instinct.
Be sure that you can completely trust your childcare provider — not 98 percent, but 100 percent. Follow your instinct. If you haven’t found the right daycare or babysitter, don’t give up. There is a situation that is perfectly right for you and your baby — keep looking. The practical arrangements need to be taken care of before you can begin to feel comfortable.
Be gentle with yourself.
Some days will be harder than others. Make sure you honor your feelings and give yourself the room to feel sadness or frustration (or any other emotion that comes up). You are allowed to be human. People who are good at change are not perfectionists; they don’t place super high standards or demands on themselves. If the laundry goes unwashed another day so you can eat dinner with your kids — so be it. If you need an extension on a project so you can leave work early enough to pick your child up from daycare — so be it. Allow some balls to drop, so you can focus on the ones that are most important.
Learn more about becoming a happy working mother and check out expert advice on many other life changes at first30days.com. Ariane de Boinvoisin’s “The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier” is out in paperback this week.
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