10
Ways to Balance a Career with a Baby

It will be challenging, but you can do it.

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Striking a successful balance between maternal and work concerns can be one of the most difficult juggling acts a woman faces in her life. The emotional impact of leaving a young child at home is heart-wrenching, and the constant internal and external pressures of a career can make even quiet, personal time with baby bittersweet. Even if you consider your work life a simple livelihood instead of a vocation, an economic climate that pressures companies to do more with fewer employees can make the idea of a reasonable workday a thing of the past, and even green parenting strategies like homemade baby food and cloth diapers a distant dream. So how can you plan and execute a life strategy that will satisfy everyone? The short answer is that you can't -- not all the time, anyway. What you can do is plan and be flexible.

On the next pages, we'll take a look at 10 ways to balance a career and motherhood more efficiently, creatively and with less guilt. Hopefully, a few of these tips will help dial down the stress, too.

 

10: Plan Your Pregnancy

Business and Mommies

If you think having kids and a career is next to impossible, take heart. At least 65 percent of women in senior management positions are also moms [source: Sexual Harassment Prevention Center].

Today, women are important in the workforce, prominent in politics and even visible in the clergy. Women are everywhere, including at home raising children. Because having a child is a huge undertaking both financially and personally, more women and couples are planning the big event well in advance. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), women are having children later, and although there can be complications when postponing motherhood until after the age of 35, waiting is more common now than it was even a couple of decades ago [source: Gracco].

If you think having a child at your present age may shift your career focus at the wrong time, making the decision to wait could take the pressure off for a few years and allow you to concentrate on one large challenge at a time. Yale Psychologist Edward Zigler suggests that having children at a younger age has some real advantages, but that ultimately, "Good parenting is a process of bonding and attachment. This is more important than the age of the parent" [source: Smiglis]. Advance planning or delaying a pregnancy can make it easier to align finances and career challenges with family goals, and although it isn't always possible, waiting and advance planning may be for you.

 

    9: Concentrate on the Here and Now

    When juggling two or more equally important goals or tasks, it's easy to become distracted. If you find yourself worrying about the baby when you're at work and obsessing about work when you're home, chances are you're wasting precious brain power you could be spending more effectively concentrating on whatever the current task happens to be.

    The fact is that worrying can seem productive when it really isn't. Concentration and focus, however, actually help you accomplish more -- and with less stress along the way. When spiraling thoughts get out of hand, psychiatrist Monisha Vasa suggests taking a deep breath and refocusing your attention on the here and now. The goal is to stay in the moment, and when you find your mind wandering into worry territory, draw your attention back where it belongs. Like all good things, this technique takes some practice, but it's worth the effort [source: Baumann].

    The fact is that worrying can seem productive when it really isn't. Concentration and focus, however, actually help you accomplish more -- and with less stress along the way. When spiraling thoughts get out of hand, psychiatrist Monisha Vasa suggests taking a deep breath and refocusing your attention on the here and now. The goal is to stay in the moment, and when you find your mind wandering into worry territory, draw your attention back where it belongs. Like all good things, this technique takes some practice, but it's worth the effort [source: Baumann].

     

    8: Understand the Culture Where You Work

    Women and Education

    According to the National Center for Education and Statistics, more women than men attend graduate school [source: NCES].

    Having a baby while you're trying to build a career can produce a few bumps and hiccups. Parenthood doesn't have to be career suicide, though. With some judicious planning and a little luck, you can avoid landing in that mommy backwater somewhere south of the fast track.

    The best way to plan for a successful post-baby career is to align yourself with a company that's new-mommy friendly. You've heard the horror stories about organizations that dump new moms with the least provocation. Make pregnancy policy part of the criteria you use to evaluate potential employers. You'll avoid surprises that way and save yourself disappointment. If you're already in a job you like, understand the business culture as it relates to children. Women are pushing the glass ceiling higher every year, so attitudes about executives with young children are changing -- slowly. Perks in your organization like onsite daycare or liberal flextime will let you know that a call from the nanny during business hours probably won't be frowned on. Reread the employee handbook so you understand exactly what's expected. Whatever the parenting attitudes are where you work, recognize what you're dealing with before an innocent infraction lands you in hot water.

     

    7: Consider a Flexible Work Schedule

    Have your baby right there while you work!

    Comstock/Thinkstock

    A flexible work schedule, compressed work week or the option to work from home may not be offered by your employer today, but that doesn't mean you can't devise and pitch a program that your employer will accept. The price of gas, the cost of maintaining office space for many employees and the widespread use of the Internet for teleconferencing and other important office functions are making the argument for allowing reliable employees to telecommute more attractive than ever before. Clearly, this option isn't practical for all types of jobs, but if you think the work you do is compatible with a flexible arrangement, and you have the discipline to work outside the office or on an altered schedule, do your homework and talk to your employer. You don't have anything to lose.

     

      6: Make "Me" Time

      This is probably one of the hardest suggestions for new moms to follow, but it's also one of the most insightful. Think of your energy, patience and passion as a full tank of gas. If everything is going out and nothing is going back in, pretty soon you're running on empty. Psychologist Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett, author of "The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood," believes that moms need at least 15 to 20 minutes of me time every day and a larger decompression session weekly. It sounds selfish, and it is -- but that's a good thing. Without some me time in your day, achieving balance will be a lot harder to accomplish.

       

      5: Maintain a Strong Network of Contacts

      Sleep and a New Baby

      Sleep is important, and if you have a new baby, life will get easier once he's sleeping through the night -- because you'll be able to get some serious rest, too. That should happen at around 9 months [source: Baby Center].

      Life doesn't stop because you've had a baby, but sometimes it can seem as though the world has dwindled to work and home. If that's the way you feel, you aren't alone. Developing strong contacts with other women who are trying to balance work and family can help you cope with common stressors in both areas of your life. Seeking out the ear and council of others who are going through, or have gone through, what you're experiencing can help you keep up with the latest tips and tricks, too.

      Working to maintain other business contacts is also a good idea. Priorities often change drastically after having a child, and it's easy to forget how important networking can be for the future of your career. You may not have the time to stay in touch as often as you did before the baby came, but don't wait a couple of years to reconnect.

       

      4: Ask for Help When You Need It

      Super celebrity moms can be a tough act to follow. The rest of us struggle to make parenthood, personhood, career and personal partnerships look easy -- and invariably we fail -- and blame ourselves. Parenting is hard work; having a career is hard work; interpersonal relationships are hard work, too. Dealing with the stress and exhaustion that can result from trying to "do it all" is alternately discouraging and infuriating.

      Raising a family in the 21st century presents unique problems and challenges that are hard to tackle alone. At work, at home, at rest or at play (if there is much play these days), don't suffer in silence. Ask for help. Develop a network of supportive family members, friends and neighbors, and don't feel ashamed to ask for backup. Every little bit helps.

       

        3: Avoid Comparisons

        Is Working Outside the Home a Bad Idea?

        It's only natural to feel some trepidation about leaving your baby home when you head off to work, but concerns that you're making the wrong decision may be exaggerated. A report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that children raised in households with two working parents tend to feel pride in their parent's accomplishments and often learn self-reliance and problem solving skills at a young age [source: USAA].

        You've heard it before: The grass is always greener somewhere else. In every mom's circle of friends or acquaintances there's a paragon of virtue who seems to have it all: success, recognition and a wardrobe with no telltale signs of spit-up or pet hair. The lady down the street who doesn't have to work and the high-powered female executive who just happens to be the boss's daughter are great candidates for a little grousing, and fodder for the occasional pity party. When you focus on what's wrong with your life today by comparing yourself to others, though, it threatens the balance you're trying to create and cultivate -- all for an idea that could be -- and probably is -- way off the mark.

         

        2: Develop Your Own Style

        When you're done with work, really focus on your baby!

        Photos.com/Thinkstock

        In recent years, time and resource intensive parenting recommendations made popular by books like William and Martha Sears' "The Baby Book" may be changing the definition of good parenting and putting additional performance stress on working mothers. At least that's what author Erica Jong claimed in her scathing 2010 Wall Street Journal essay, "Mommy Madness" [source: Jong].

        The fact is, though, that every woman has a right to choose her own style of child-rearing and establish priorities when there are conflicts between work and home. One of the definitions of equilibrium is balance or equal distribution. A vital part of finding a comfortable balance between career and baby is in discovering a style that works for you, your child and your life in general, and being satisfied with it regardless of the latest childrearing fad.

         

        1: Forget About Perfection

        Sometimes OK is good enough. Women are often taught that adequacy is awful, but that mindset can be dangerous, especially when there aren't enough hours in one day to get everything done. At the end of the day, sometimes literally, the key to success in juggling a family and a career may be in learning to let go, dismiss some things from your mind and move on. Your mom may have told you that a well-made bed has to have hospital corners; your boss may be passionate about the best way to format an e-mail; even the dog may have a preference for certain types of food or the proper orientation of his water bowl -- whatever. They aren't the perfection problem, though. The perfection problem is in trying to satisfy everyone, reasonable or not, every day. Psychologist Alice Domar has a simple recipe for making women's lives easier: Accept the fact that perfection is unattainable. After that, the Monday morning meeting is a piece of cake [source: Boston Globe].

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