A Working Mom's Guide to Navigating a Career and Motherhood

Advice on being a working mom – from announcing your pregnancy to the team to returning to work after maternity leave.

If you’re a mom, you know that nothing can truly prepare you for parenthood. 🐣

It’s a universal truth: you have to just be thrown straight into the fire, like all the women that came before you, and now it’s your turn to figure it out. And no matter how much elder wisdom you gather in preparation, you’re still gobsmacked when that baby comes. 

Whether you choose to go back to work or care for your children full-time, you’ve got a tough job.

At the end of the day, my take is this: You can have a fulfilling career and happy, well-adjusted kids, and it really helps to talk to other working parents to gain insights into what has worked for them to make it all happen.✨

While I am by no means an expert, I have learned some valuable lessons in being a working parent over the last few years, and I am honored to be given the space to share them here. 

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • Delivering the news to your team

  • Planning for your leave

  • Easing back into work after maternity leave

  • Setting clear boundaries with your team

  • Redefining balance in motherhood

Delivering the News

In 2019, nearly six months after starting a new role, I found out I was expecting. I was only five weeks along before the morning sickness hit me hard. Most people don’t want to share the news until after the first trimester, but there was no hiding it. My company was preparing to go public and it was the worst possible time to be down for the count, but there I was, hunched over in a bathroom stall at the office with my face in the toilet.

At seven weeks, I called my boss and shared the news. 

Share When You’re Ready

Perhaps you’re sick as a dog just a few weeks in and sharing the news early could help your team better support you during that rough time. Maybe you “pop” quickly and there’s just no hiding it! Or, maybe you’re nervous about complications and want to wait a while until you feel like you’re “in the clear”. Whatever your choice, there is no miss here. This is your pregnancy and your baby! Enjoy this time (the best you can!) and share the news when you are ready.

Planning Your Leave

If you’ve taken maternity leave before, you know what a mess it is to navigate that whole process. Thankfully, your HR team should be there to help. Some will even outsource to companies that will handle most of the process for you.

Once you’re ready to share the news, sit down with your HR department to understand your options. Know that it’s okay to change your plans – you may go in thinking you want to take the full leave all at once, but after having the baby you decide you want to split it into chunks.

After you sit down with HR, start working with your team to ensure they are set up for success while you’re out. This could mean splitting up work, hiring a temp or outsourcing as needed. Chances are, the further along in your pregnancy you are the more distracted you’ll be with planning for baby’s arrival, so start the backup planning early! 🗓

Going Back to Work

I had my son in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. The thought of entrusting a stranger with my newborn baby was already terrifying, much less the fact that they could be carrying some invisible illness and infect my family. So, when it came time to go back to work, I just couldn’t do it. My body was still healing, my son was smack dab in the middle of his four-month sleep regression, and I could barely manage a daily shower much less a full-time job. I ended up pushing my leave date back and taking additional, unpaid time off so I could stay home with my son for a little bit longer. 

Ease Back In

The decision to return to work is a tough one. I know some women who were clamoring to get back to work after baby, and others who were sick at the thought of it. Most of us don’t have the luxury of choosing, especially if our income was relied on in our family prior to baby. The good news: employers are becoming increasingly flexible as it relates to maternity leave and ramping back up.

When discussing your return to work, ask if you can start out part-time. I found that this really helped me to readjust to the working world, rather than being thrown straight into the fire. 

👉  Learn about Nicole Misek’s return-to-work journey after being promoted to VP of Decision Engineering while on maternity leave.

Give Yourself Some Grace

People talk about the “fourth trimester” like it’s just three months. Spoiler alert: It’s not.

Everything changes when you have a baby – your body, your brain, your priorities – everything. The idea that life just goes back to the way it was before a mere three months after giving birth is ridiculous. Unfortunately, this is also commonly when women are expected to return to work.

No matter when you go back to work, that transition will be tough. It may take time to get ramped back up. You might have major brain fog (hi, it’s me). You may find yourself pumping on the toilet at work and storing your breastmilk in a coffee cup in the beer fridge (hi, also me). You just had a baby, for God’s sake! If you forget to send an email or have to angle your camera up so your colleagues on Zoom can’t see the breast milk stains on your shirt, it’s okay.🍼

Getting Back On the Market

Perhaps your return to work isn’t just back to your old job, but back to the job market . That can feel really overwhelming, particularly in our current climate. I’m happy to say that even if you’ve been out of work for years, getting back into the working world is absolutely possible.

Start by beefing up your resume and LinkedIn. And yes, you absolutely should add your parenting experience to it! Caring for kids is arguably one of the most demanding roles… any employer that sees motherhood on your resume should be very excited about the prospect of having someone with that kind of work ethic on their team. 

👉  Read about Serene Taleb-Agha’s decision to re-enter the workforce after taking a career break to raise her children.

Optimize for Motherhood

When searching for a new role as a parent, your criteria will probably look a little different than they did pre-kids.

Ask the questions that will help you to understand what your life might look like working there as a parent: What is the work-life balance like? Are there other parents working there? What kinds of childcare benefits and leave programs are offered?

The things you once valued at a company and in a role might be very different now. Think this through before you dive into your search and make sure you know you’ll be supported as a parent before you accept an offer.

👉  Dive into Amy Dharmani’s insights on finding jobs that allow you to build a career while raising a family.

Redefining Balance in Motherhood

I was recently speaking to someone about the challenges of balancing working and motherhood and she made a great point: there is no such thing as “balance”. ⚖️

As a working mom, you’re holding a heavy load in each hand and just kind of teetering back and forth trying not to drop one. Some days you sway too far in one direction and almost lose your balance – some days you sway too far in the other. Maybe when my son is a teenager and more independent this will change, but for now, I’m trying to embrace it.

Set Clear Boundaries

My career was once the center of my world. Since having a child, I’ve had to reprioritize. The best thing I’ve done to help with balancing the loads as a working mom is to set very clear boundaries. For instance, my team knows that I sign off at 5 pm every day on the dot, and I don’t get back online until 8:30 pm (after I put my son to bed). Perhaps you have to say no to work-related travel (when possible) or excuse yourself from happy hours in order to spend enough quality time with your kid(s).

Whatever boundaries you need to put in place to function as a mom, make them clear and give yourself permission to stick to them.

👉  Check out Shreya Parekh’s advice on setting “loose” routines as parents – after all, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to doing this.

Be the Change

I returned to work after maternity leave a whole new person with new priorities and a new perspective on life.

Perks that once mattered to me in a workplace now paled next to ones that benefited parents. Where I saw gaps, I began to spearhead new initiatives: an ERG for parents, a lactation room, new leave benefits.

If you can find (or are already at) a company that invests in working parents, awesome. But if a company isn't investing in parents, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care or that they won’t. They may not have any parents on the team or anyone dedicated to making those changes.

So, be the change yourself! If you’re traveling for work and pumping, ask your company to cover the cost of shipping your breast milk back home. If all the company events are happy hours, volunteer to plan a companywide family day. If your company is down to hang, you’ll have a workplace where you feel more supported and fellow current and future parents at the company will thank you.

👉Here’s how Ashly Stewart secured a maternity leave policy at a company that didn’t have one.

Embrace the Chaos

For me, the hardest part about being a working mother has been the “mom guilt”.

I get maybe five hours a day with my kid during the week, where I am also supposed to be getting ready for work or making dinner / giving baths / putting him to bed. If I have to go in early or work late, that time is cut short. If I have to pick up my phone to respond to a ping, that time is cut short. Meanwhile, he’s growing like a weed and I don’t want to miss a second of it. The guilt is real.

This year, I gave up social media for lent. It was harder than I care to admit, but it forced me to really be present during my “downtime”, particularly with my kiddo. Instead of having one eye on my phone, I was on the floor playing with kinetic sand or chasing him around the house with my full attention – and loving it.

Your time with your family as a working mom is limited, so make the time you have count. Put your phone down when you get home and don’t pick it back up until your kids go to sleep. In 20 years, you won’t remember who Slacked you at 7 pm on a Friday – but you will remember those special moments with your little ones.

There will be days when you check off everything on your Asana task list for the day, stay productive and present in every meeting, leave work promptly at 5 pm and manage to spend quality time with your kid, make your family a healthy dinner and even sneak in a bath before bedtime. On those days, you’re a great mom. There will also be days where your “mom brain” is in full effect, you’re late to every meeting, you don’t get home until 7 pm, your family eats chicken nuggets for dinner and you’re responding to emails until bedtime. On those days, you’re also a great mom. This is hard. This is fun! This is messy, crazy, exhausting, hilarious… this is motherhood. 

Wishing all my fellow working moms a very happy Mother’s Day. May you get a decent amount of rest the other 364 days of the year, too. 💐

💼  Want to work with Rachel at Volley ? Great news, they’re hiring! Here are the latest job openings at Volley:

Open positions at Volley:

See 8 more jobs at Volley

🍼  Looking for more companies that will support you as you build your career while you grow your family? Check out the Elpha Talent Pool for companies that offer fertility benefits, childcare benefits, 12+ weeks of maternity leave, and more.

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