Dear Nearly Back-To-Work Mom,
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty and so, with this letter, I am giving you the gift of foresight.
This is the letter I wish I could have sent to myself several weeks ago, as I grappled with the guilt, thrill, and anxiety of going back to work after eighteen months at home with my daughter.
For months after her birth I couldn’t bear to think about my tiny bundle in another caregiver’s hands while I marched off to work. I had horrifying images of me crying at my desk, installing nannycams everywhere, and basically deciding that the feminist movement had lied to me: being away from your child for selfish pursuits was pure evil.
Looking back now, maybe I was as much afraid of loving work as I was of leaving my daughter.
Don’t fret: Motherhood means an existence of contradictions.
Let me spare you the awful suspense of what your first day back will be like:
You. Will. Love it.
First you will wear actual clothes. Secondly, you will likely get to eat food and consume drinks (at their intended temperature) with two child-free/toy-free/wet-wipe-free/cheerio-free hands. You will have adult conversations, talk about current events, and…be paid to use your brain. I know you think the universe of which I speak exists only long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. You’re going to need to place your trust in a stranger (that’s me) who knows more about how you feel then you can possibly imagine.
Walking away from your child for the day will not break you. It will not break them. Are you surprised to hear this? Relieved? Slightly disappointed? I was all of these.
Your child will be thrilled to see you when you get home (*this is incredible*). In fact, a day will soon come when they are actually sad to leave the daycare/nanny/preschool. This will hurt your feelings. It will also make you feel relieved that your once avocado-sized babe has formed attachments past the umbilical chord.
Don’t forget it: Motherhood, done with heart, hurts sometimes.
You will also need to think about yourself, for once. I don’t mean this from a martyrdom perspective (that’s a letter for another day). This is purely practical advice. You will need to plan your day in order to make leaving the house even a feasible dream.
Don’t ignore it: “The people out there” care about what you wear to work and whether you’ve managed to corral your bedtime hair into something more palatable.
You are going to need to plan to wash and dress yourself, eat breakfast, pack a lunch, plot transit, execute the daily childcare arrangement, and arrive at work ready to face the day. More accurately: ready for the second shift of your daily responsibilities. The paid shift.
Don’t avoid it: The night before a workday is when you need to maximize your time.
To survive the morning rush, you’re going to want to:
Shower and blow-dry;
Lay out your clothes;
Prepare your breakfast fixins (the protein in this Breakfast Quinoa will power your morning);
Make a lunch;
Pack your child for her day.
Nearly Back-To-Work Mom: You. Are. Incredible. You deserve a cape and tiara just for making it to noon, and an exploding stripper-cake by nightfall.
Don’t kid yourself: Motherhood doesn’t throw you a party for your daily innumerable and superhuman accomplishments.
Just know that the universal sisterhood of moms — no matter whether they are working at home, from home, or in the office — is doing the movie slow clap for you. If everyone were as organized as you need to be for an average workday, we would all be driving flying cars by now.
Don’t lose faith: You will find tricks that get you through dinner and bedtime. Then comes wine.
No matter what, you won’t bring your “A-Mommy-Game” some nights, and that is ok. You’ll adjust. Your child will adjust. And you will emerge victorious. I speak from at least one week’s experience, which makes me an expert.
So, Nearly Back-To-Work Mom, my hope is I haven’t frightened you about what’s in store as you attempt to re-enter a familiar part of your life. But something is different this time…
Working will feel wonderful, but don’t expect it to feel identical to BB (Before Baby). Yes: the people on the subway are still a little smelly, and meetings still run too long, and there are never enough quality notebooks in the supply room — these things haven’t changed.
But you have.
You’re tougher, smarter, better organized, and more determined then you were before you got promoted to “Mamma.” You know the value of a minute at your computer, and being away from your baby means making every minute of the workday count twice as much as you did before.
Don’t be afraid of going back to work — you’ve already climbed mountains much larger than this. I promise.
All my slow-clapping love from the “other side,”
Life moves pretty fast around here. In the last three years, we have:
In the next six months we will:
If your head is spinning then, believe me, my everything is spinning. One of the most complex byproducts of this period of rapid change is the challenge around budgeting.
Two new incomes.
Paying for childcare.
Two incomes, again.
More baby stuff.
Back to one income…
How can you even think about planning with all of that change?
My husband and I are pretty great communicators and planners — even about budgeting and money — yet we are continually challenged by how best to plan. It seems like something — everything! — changes in the blink of an eye around here. Back to square one I had to go each time our life, income, and expenses changed.
So, I recently had the very cool opportunity to test-drive a personal budget system called Life, By The Pie. In past, I’m embarrassed to say that I had scoffed at pre-fabricated budgeting systems because our lives changed too quickly for me to consider budget planning of any kind. It wasn’t very forward thinking...fast-forward to today...
Life, By The Pie is a nimble, easy, online budgetary tool that builds upon the baking a pie analogy. Let's be real: Who doesn't like having more pie?
Life, By The Pie takes you through easy steps of building (baking) your own personal financial budget (pie). It took me only 10 minutes to build a pie I called “Dawn at Home,” which captured my financial life while I am at home raising our daughter. It was a painless, four-step, “baking” process:
Step 1 - Everyone Has a Home – Here, I input the BIG stuff like our housing and mortgage costs.
Step 2 - Everyone Must Roll – This captured the transportation costs of gas, maintenance, and even Metropasses.
Step 3 – The Filling – Then, I entered our everyday living expenses, such as groceries. Man, we sure eat a lot.
Step 4 – The Topping – I finished the pie with information about what I spend on entertainment, and other “frills.”
Ding! My pie was baked. It is SO interesting to see a visual representation of your spending:
As I’ve always said, the only thing better than one pie is TWO PIES. So I did it again, this time building a pie called “Dawn Back At Work.” This pie captured what my financial life will look like once I am back in the office in a few weeks:
I am far from reckless when it comes to spending. In fact, folk wisdom says that the Scottish are known for their “short arms and long pockets.” True, in my case. However, it is totally amazing how little I really knew about where my money was going.
Being able to visualize where the dollars were going helped me to prioritize and plan; even with the many changes our family was still about to experience.
Once you know where your money is actually going you can start to make informed, positive, decisions about where you want it to go. It lets you spend more on the things that bring fulfillment to your life.
We all know that spending happens while you are out there in the real world. It happens in line at the grocery store, it happens when your kid suddenly grows out of all her pajamas at the same time, and it happens when your car decides to start leaking oil all over your neighbour’s driveway. You can’t plan for this stuff.
This is what the Daily Dish app is for. As part of the Life, By The Pie system you can access this app on your smartphone or tablet. It’s this part that makes personal finances as easy as pie. At the end of each day, week, or month you log into your Daily Dish account to keep track of your spending as it happens. If you have registered for a Life, By The Pie account, you automatically have access to the web app.
By tracking your ACTUAL spending (like the three lattes I had this week, or the extra-special birthday gift we got for my dad), you can then get an extremely accurate pie-picture of your spending.
We have some incredible things to look forward to in the next six months. A new job, an adventure in babysitting for my daughter, a new baby in our family...
All of this may be a lot to manage. Knowing how we are going to manage it lets us have a little more fun along the way. And knowing how much I can spend on pie helps too!
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” -Plato
Organizing a successful playdate is an exercise in anti-planning.
This is not a birthday party, a job interview, or a bat mitzvah. Playdates are fun, organic — can be messy — and will benefit and teach you more about your child than you could ever imagine.
Mom meet-ups, your local baby-and-me classes, the park: there are endless ways to connect with peers in your neighbourhood who have kids at similar ages and stages as yours. Making playdates a part of our weekly routine means my daughter gets exercise, builds her imagination, and is advancing her physical social, and emotional development.
Location, location, location! The beauty of a play date is that it can be held almost anywhere. Parks, local gymnasiums, or one-another’s homes are great places to have your little people get their sillies out. For me, safety and the ability to supervise without smothering are the only elements that really matter when choosing a playdate location.
I love to use my own home because I know that we have loads of fun and educational toys that will keep little hands busy and little minds occupied (while the moms actually take a moment for adult conversation!).
Keep it simple! If the playdate isn’t at your house, it’s a great idea to bring one fun item for the kids to play with, just like you would for a doctor’s appointment or any short, public outing. The latest craze at our house is the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Love to Play Puppy, which the generous folks at Fisher-Price were kind enough to send to us. Our puppy is helping reinforce the names of body parts (squeeze his ear and he will say "ear!"), and even promotes interaction with phrases like "hug me" (my daughter is quick to oblige)! We are just starting to sing the ABC song regularly now, and our puppy also happens to know the words...how convenient!
You should choose a playdate toy that lets the kids explore and learn on their own. Something with buttons, music, and other interactive features means you don’t have to be a helicopter parent throughout the fun. Let the kids explore on their own!
Throw in a few simple snacks for the thirsty and hungry players, and you’re set. Seriously. That’s it. Keep it simple.
If you’re headed to someone else’s house for the playdate its nice to bring a treat for the grownups to share — a special coffee or a batch of yummy muffins. Adult conversation is a lovely playdate perk. Sharing challenges and successes can cast a positive light on some of the tougher times in parenting. Mentoring one another through sleep training, food introduction, teething, and tantrums helps to smooth the bumpy times. Mommy wars are a non-issue when you find the right playdate mates.
In the end, playdates are almost as much about you as they are about your baby’s learning and development. Your sanity. Your connection with your child. Understanding her and how she plays and interacts with others and the world. Does she like singing? Dancing? Listening to stories? Active play? Being with others? Being in charge or happy to follow the lead? Playdates help you play better together at home as you recreate the fun your child and her friends had together.
I know my little girl is friendly, loves to hug, is quick to anger (and forgive), and is cautious in new physical situations. These are things I certainly wouldn’t have learned so soon if it hadn’t been for the wonderful playdates she has been a part of.
Who said learning can’t be fun? Everyday play helps babies explore and discover the world around them and engaging toys can be a part of that experience.
To discover more about the power of play and to encourage your baby’s natural sense of wonder, visit Fisher-Price® Laugh and Learn™. You can also find Fisher-Price® Laugh & Learn™ toys at Walmart and Toys “R” Us.