As a military spouse, circumstances allowed for me to stay at home for the first year of my son’s life. We moved to Kansas at 36 weeks pregnant, and our assignment there was only for 11 months. There was no point in even getting my nursing license. Instead, I considered that time my maternity leave. It was perfect for a first-time mom figuring out breastfeeding, grocery shopping, errand running, and sleep training. Surrounded by other stay-at-home moms, I had playdates, Bible studies, and the most supportive friend/neighbor to walk, talk, and shop with. In a word, it was ideal.
Flash forward 3 years, another child, and a master’s degree later—my time came to rejoin the work force. After the thrill of receiving my job offer, the reality of what other working mothers face quickly set in. Instead of focusing on my new career, I was stressing about feeding my family. Literally. On the eve of my first day on the job, I sought out “tips for pumping at work” and cooking reheat-able meals for my husband and son. I work 12 hour shifts which means that on the days I work, I’m not home to prepare dinner or help with bedtime.
It’s been about two months, and nobody has starved to death. My children still recognize my face, and I like to think that I’m still sane. In hopes of helping other moms out there in the trenches, I’ve put together a list of some working-mom tips that have gotten us through this transition:
Maximize your Pumping Bag
I have the Medela Pump-in-Style which is fantastic and I highly recommend it. I ordered extra sets of the pumping kit (I have a total of 4). At night, when I prep my bag, I pack 3 sets of the pumping kit, bagged separately in quart-size ziplock bags. This way, if I’m pressed for time at work and don’t have time to clean the equipment, I throw my “dirty” kit back in the bag and use a clean one for my next session. At night, I wash and sterilize the components, then re-pack my bags for the next day. In addition to this, I pack:
- pumping bra – The Simple Wishes Hands Free Pumping Bra (recommended to me). I love it. It fits everyone and is easy to put on and take off between sessions.
- bottle cooler and four milk storage bottles – when I get home, I pour the milk from my later session into another bottle and place them in the fridge or freezer so they’re ready for daycare.
- bottle cleaning wipes – I’m lucky to have a sink in the room where I pump, so I rinse my pump kit and then wipe it down—but these wipes can be used without water.
- 6’ extension cord – so I can pump where I want to put—not four feet from where the outlet is.
- snacks and water – because this is a hungry (and thirsty!) business.
Set up a “Bag” System
A working mom is still a mom—which means she has to have the “mom bag.” You know the one I’m talking about—that 35 pound purse you carry when you’re with your kids that has diapers, snacks, hot-wheels cars, and sunscreen.
This time around, instead of getting a diaper bag that could also hold my few necessary items, I bought a bag I actually want to carry, purchased a diaper bag insert, and turned it into a diaper bag. Additionally, I purchased the matching clutch that fits into my mom bag as well as a slim card holder—so that I have a grab-and-go clutch that has all my essential items. Now that I’m working, I simply transition this clutch to my work bag on the days I go to the office and back to my “mom bag” on the days I’m home.
I know, I know. This is not new information, but it bears repeating. Before children, I was up, dressed, and out the door for work—with freshly brewed coffee!—in twenty minutes flat. Now, with two in tow? It takes an hour, and I’m scrambling. To help manage the madness, I do what the magazines tell me to do and get everything ready the night before. I pack the aforementioned bags, my assembled lunch is in the fridge; we wash, prepare, and pack our daughter’s cloth diapers into her diaper bag; and lay out all of our outfits (including jewelry and undergarments). Anything I could potentially forget (deodorant/ medications) are placed right by my outfit because, in addition to extra baggage and responsibilities, I have MOM BRAIN—and the last thing I want is to be halfway to daycare without the breastmilk I painstakingly pumped the day before.
Mornings are hectic, but by my husband and I each taking responsibility for one child, we’re able to get out the door with all the necessary gear and clothed children with full bellies. I’m still nursing, so my husband takes charge of our son and gets his breakfast while I feed our daughter. At almost four, our son picks his clothes out the night before (which can lead to some pretty crazy outfits) and earns a sticker if he comes down to breakfast dressed for the day. He “plays/works out” with my husband while I tend to our daughter/get ready for work. All this is made possible by the Bumbo, Fisher-Price play chair, and a handy floor mat. We’ll develop a new plan once she is mobile!
I owe an apology to all the working-mom’s out there. In my naïve, one baby/toddler/pre-schooler state, I rolled my eyes at all the magazine articles advertising quick and easy dinner ideas and looked down my nose at those people getting take-out. I mean, how hard could it possibly be to get a decent dinner on the table? Most things only take thirty minutes, right? Then we started swimming lessons. I get it now. I’m sorry I judged you. Now that I work outside the home, I miss dinner two to three nights per week. My husband, (have I mentioned he’s a rock star?) picks up our children from two different locations and gets dinner on the table. Since I somehow feel an inherent responsibility to feed my family, I use a few different strategies to get decent food on the table:
- I plan our dinner menu for at least a week out. This saves time, money, and the frustrating “what are we eating tonight?!” scramble. I work full-time, but essentially only 3 week-days per week, so on the nights I know I’m working, I have meals prepared that can be re-heated quickly or are ready and waiting in the crock pot.
- I make a meal list. I have a go-to list of nutritious, delicious, family-friendly meals that I know will be a success. If there is interest, I can share some of these in a future post!
- I double up and freeze. If I make a lasagna, or a pot of chili, it’s just as easy to make two. These are then easy to take out of the freezer and thaw for a quick bake up, or throw into the crock pot frozen.
- Snacks are an extension of dinner. While my husband and I have no problem waiting for dinner to fully cook and make it to the table, my four year-old is not so patient. Instead of dealing with a hangry pre-schooler, we let him snack on meal components. Peanuts are a protein-packed snack for the car ride home from daycare. Carrots or cheese sticks are an accessible, healthy choice while the casserole heats up. He may not eat quite as much at the table, but we know he’s getting the nutrients he needs.
- Order in. Sometimes you just have to order the pizza or pick up BBQ. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Which brings me to my last life-hack:
We are all parents. We all do the best we can. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom busy taking care of the kids and getting them to-and-from their daily activities or a mom working full-time outside the home or a work-from-home mom struggling with the balancing act entailed there, we all battle the same pressures and time constraints. Sometimes, something has to give.
I know that if I want my house to be immaculate, I need to call in some help—and even then it’s only going to last twenty minutes. That’s okay. We cloth diaper, but sometimes we forget to start the laundry at night, and when I’m running errands, it’s easier to take and toss. That’s why we keep a case of disposables. That’s okay! And if I’m being 100% honest? When I’m at work, I enjoy being at work. I miss my kids, but I’m happy to be doing my job and using my skills. That’s okay! On those days when I’m off, I try not to think about being at work. I don’t check my email. I take my kids to the park or to the movies or to the store with me, and I try to focus on just being their mom. And that’s okay too.