Open Thread: Work After Maternity Leave

work-after-maternity-leave

2017 update: We still stand by the advice below, but you may also want to check out our discussion on what to wear to work after maternity leave!

What are some of your best tips for adjusting upon returning to work after maternity leave? What do you wish you’d known, or what did you come to realize?

For my own $.02: Among my friends, the end of maternity leave has loomed large in all of our lives — but on a kind of sliding scale. Women who had to go back to work at 10 weeks (or even sooner) dreaded it terribly, while women with longer leaves — 6 months or more — typically felt much better about it and almost welcomed the end of their leave. A few bits of advice along those lines:

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Working Moms — and Playdates

Working Moms -- and Playdates | CorporetteMomsAs proud mama to a 4.5-year-old, I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m in playdate hell.

To be clear: I like the other moms I meet. I want my kid to be friends with their kids. But I’m tired of arranging playdates — and feeling guilty if I don’t arrange them — and if I’m expected to be at the playdate, I’m tired of worrying if I’m social and happy and likeable enough. (Caveat: I may have general social anxiety issues in addition to being an introvert, but that’s another story for another time.) There’s the added stress of symmetry when trying to arrange these things — for example, in my experience most SAHMs would rather meet for a playdate with the mother, not the nanny. As a working mother, furthermore, setting up a playdate where I show up and supervise necessarily means it’s during my two least favorite times to be obligated: the post-work/pre-sleep period that we still rightfully call “the witching hour” — or the weekend, when it feels like we have a million errands, classes, family fun, and grown-up social obligations as well to juggle around.

I don’t even think it’s a working mom problem — I think all parents feel like this! — but I do think working mothers get the brunt of it because it’s yet another thing on our plates. (Speaking of plates — another source of stress! If you’re hosting you’re supposed to have kid-appropriate food and a vaguely tidy house! To be honest I haven’t brought food to any playdates we’ve been to, but perhaps I should be? See, more stress.)

Ladies, what are your thoughts? Do you feel stress regarding playdates — and do you think your status as a working mother increases your stress?

Pictured: I’ve actually read this book, though long ago — it was funny! Clearly I need to give it a reread. 

Starting a Working Parents’ Group at the Office

working parents groupA few months ago, a friend and I were talking about how her huge company has a pretty strict face time requirement at the office. As a parent she felt it really limited her upward mobility at the company, and she felt somewhat like she didn’t have a voice in the matter. So we began pondering: how do you start a special interest group at your office to give people in a similar situation a voice? Do you think starting such a group puts a target on your back (as in, you want to work on Easy Street, not Real Life)? Do you think it’s better to band together with other working parents — or couch such a group’s interests in terms of “women’s interests” — or a more general work/life committee?

(Some offices even have work/life committees, of course — which sometimes leads to pretty comical comparisons of things like “making it a priority to go to a Katy Perry concert” vs. general parenting, or “Katy Perry concert” vs. labor and delivery. I swear I am not making that up, that was actually a comparison used in a law firm memo.)

Some tips for starting your own affinity group, such as one for working parents:

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Productivity… and Family Time

productivity and family timeHave you found that your best, most productive hours sometimes conflict with family times that you try to hold sacred, such as family dinner? Have you had success shifting your schedule so you can be productive at other times of the day? Did you find an early bedtime (9:30?) to be helpful, or have you found another way to recharge so you can eke out a few more hours of productivity after putting the kids down for the night?

I don’t know why the other day, but I was really, really missing the days when I could work late at the office (8:00 or 10:00ish usually — sometimes 12:00ish in my younger years!) and get stuff done. I was also missing the days when I could get up “early” at, say, 5 and get a ton of work done before I had to be presentable at work at 9:30 or 10. Because maybe it’s me and my situation, but it seems like those days are gone, at least for the foreseeable future — even if I do work in an office, either for myself or someone else, I’m going to want to be home for family dinner — if not every night, then certainly 99% of the time. “Family dinner is sacred” is the advice I keep reading, and I love that idea — the idea of us all sitting around the table, phones and other devices put away, TV off, to reconnect and tell each other about our days. But… a kid-friendly dinner time is usually in the midst of my most productive time, late afternoon/early evening. Similarly, “getting up early” means something different to parents, am I right? My four year old, at least, laughs at the idea of 5 AM as being “early” — it’s the best time to get up, Mommy! In fact, if you’re up earlier, why shouldn’t I be up also? I feel like if I were really to make an attempt to get up early, I would have to get up around 3 or 4 — and even then I’d only have an hour or two at most to get work done, unlike those long, luxurious mornings where I could get up at 5 and get four solid hours of work done before I had to be at work. Of course, you can always put your partner on “parent in charge” duty, or schedule another caregiver for that time in the morning — so maybe I should try that. (If you do get up, do you work in the house — or leave entirely, like to go to a coffee shop?) As for the evenings… my husband and I often feel like from 5pm to 9pm we go into the family tunnel of dinner, bath, and bedtime (with at least one incident each night of a meltdown, a water-soaked bathroom, or some other bedtime fight) — and when we emerge we’re too wired to sleep and too exhausted to do anything of substance.

I don’t know, ladies, maybe you’ve found The Way — have you managed to shift your productive times to another time of day? Do you swap “sacred times” with your partner so one of you gets a weeknight or early morning spot to yourself?  Or do you think it’s all mental, the way I convinced myself in high school and college that my most productive hours were from 12AM to 3 AM? 

School Break Camps: Open Thread

School Break CampsDo your kids go to school break camps during winter and spring school vacations? With day care, you usually don’t have to worry — just send them to your regular provider. But parents of school-age kids need to find an alternative child care situation.

Good sources for information about school break camps include local parent magazines and websites, and local parent email lists/groups. Last month I asked about camps in a Facebook group for parents who live in my town and got some great ideas. (They included unexpected options from a chess center and aerial arts studio!) Depending on where you live, you might find school break camps from providers like these:

  • Cultural attractions: Check museums, art galleries, zoos, and other institutions. (Think outside the box: Even our local animal shelter offers break camps!)
  • Kid-oriented businesses: Good bets include martial arts centers, dance studios, climbing gyms, or places like The Little Gym.
  • STEM & arts centers: Your kids could spend a week enjoying photography, creative writing, robotics, Lego building, or Minecraft.
  • Grocery stores: Larger stores may offer kids’ cooking classes during breaks.
  • Libraries and bookstores 
  • Gyms/pools/YMCA 
  • Community centers/rec centers
  • Academic/tutoring businesses 

So, let’s talk about what you do during school vacations! Do you ask family for help or hire a babysitter? Do you ask your nanny to work extra hours? Do you enroll your kids in camp? Do you take time off, or go on a family vacation? Also, how do you find out about camps? When you’ve chosen a school break camp, does it usually fit your work schedule? (Or does it seem geared toward families with a stay-at-home parent?) When do you think kids are old enough to stay at home while you’re at work?

Pictured at top: Lego Club — 2012, originally uploaded to Flickr by Clearwater Public Library System Photos

Framing The Idea of “Work” With Your Kids (Or, the “Mommy Needs to Work” Discussion)

mommy needs to work - how to frame the idea of "work" with your kidsAs a working mother, do you think a lot about how you frame the idea of “work” with your kids? Did you need to have a special “mommy needs to work” discussion? Do you find that it’s important to you to frame it differently than, perhaps, your partner does?  Do you do it as a reaction to mom guilt, a feminist statement, or some other lesson you’re trying to share (e.g., find work you enjoy! — or, we must earn money in order to live)?

This came up for us a while ago.  My husband always likes to tell our eldest how sad he is to leave him to go to work.  After a while, my son turned to me and asked, “Mommy, are you sad you have to work right now?”  And I thought about it a beat or two and then said, “No, honey — Mommy likes her work.  I’m always sad when I’m not with you but I like what I do, and it brings a lot of value to Mommy’s life.”  (Or, you know, something vaguely coherent in that same vein.)  Maybe I’m just being defensive because I work from home, or because my son sees a lot of playmates whose mothers’ don’t work.  But the more I started thinking about it, it seemed like there were a lot of valuable lessons to impart — work can be fun if you find the right work.  Or, yes, work can be fun but it is also important to earn money because things cost money, like toys… and underpants… and shelter… and food.

I’m apparently not the only one thinking about the “mommy needs to work” discussion because Amazon has a TON of books.  I haven’t read any of them — any reviews, ladies?

I don’t know — what are your thoughts on the matter? Are there important parenting lessons to impart in the simple way you frame “work”?  

Pictured: I was recently at a bar in SoHo that had mirrored frames on the ceiling! It was a really cool look so I snapped this photo. I have of course forgotten the name of the bar.  

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