One of the questions that was top of mind when we made the decision to start a family was how I would be able to maintain my career and side business as a new mom. I know that having a career or growing a business isn’t a priority for every mom, but this post is geared towards women who have the desire to raise a family while balancing a career and/or side business.
For context, before I got pregnant I had accepted a new position at work, and at the same time I was getting more freelance opportunities through my blog. While this was all happening, I felt a strong desire to start a family. It was an exciting time for me but I couldn’t help but wonder if my life had room for it all. More importantly, was I mentally and physically prepared/capable to pursue this lifestyle?
I figured that I could. After all, I live in Canada where parents are entitled to up to 18 months paid leave and where increasingly, men are taking on more and more responsibility in parenting. I had many examples of mothers around me who were balancing a career or their own business while still being an involved mom. Surely I could do the same.
Expectation vs reality in the first year with a baby
After I had my son I was pretty enthusiastic about growing my freelance business. My motivation was that I wanted the option to reduce my hours at my full-time job after my maternity leave was up. I started answering emails and lining up a couple of projects. I quickly realized that was a bad idea when I started to experience postpartum anxiety. It was then that I knew I couldn’t do all I thought I could do – at least not now.
I scaled back my freelance work entirely and found peace in knowing that although I was take a break – my son would only be a newborn for a short period of time. He needed me, I chose to bring him in this world, and he was and is my first priority now and always.
But in between the periods of extreme exhaustion there would be moments when I had bursts of energy or inspiration. I would take those opportunities to create content for my blog and social media outlets. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that the subject matter for the past year was mostly related to my experience as a new mom – so the words came naturally to me. nd because of the nature of my work (food photography, recipe development), I could create content that (literally) fed my family. During long, daily nursing sessions I would try to keep up my social media presence.
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I decided to join an agency to help me manage my freelance work and grow my business once I was ready to jump back in. This allowed me to hand over the tasks related to my business that I wasn’t strong in (contract negotiations, legal stuff, business development) and to focus on the part of my work that I loved (the actual creative stuff). It was a huge load off my shoulders and allowed me to generate a stable income.
Something unexpected happened at my workplace during my leave. Almost my entire team had been let go or had quit. Our organization underwent massive changes while I was away. This caused me a bit of concern. I knew that if I wanted to go back to my job, I needed to keep in touch. No one asked me to do this – but I felt it was important to be aware of the changes that were happening, build my rapport with the new team and understand how the changes would impact my job (for the better or worse).
Finding the right balance post-maternity leave
It’s been over a month since I have been back at work.
My freelance work made it possible (financially) for me to return to my job on a part-time basis. I chose to go back part-time because I still wanted to maintain the career I was developing prior to having my baby. But like a lot of parents, I didn’t feel comfortable being apart from my baby almost 10 hours a day while he was still so young. Aside from that, have you seen the waitlists on child care centres? Most are upwards of a 12 months long. And the costs (something like $2600/month)?!
What I’ve learned in my career to date is the power of asking. And I’m not saying to ask for unreasonable things. I believe you need to prove your worth first, but once you have proven it, ask for the things you want. If you demonstrate your worth to your company and build a good rapport with your boss, you should feel confident to ask for raises or in this case, flexible hours while you transition back to work.
At the same time I think employers should offer flexibility when possible to new moms re-entering the work force. A lot of new moms want to continue to breastfeed their baby beyond one year. Or spend more time with their young babies. Many are still dealing with sleep deprivation and a lack of child care options. How do employers expect families to manage these days without someone burning out? Are we really surprised that women are more likely to work in part time roles or exit the workplace after kids? If you are an employer reading this, consider investing in the new parents in your company. I am sure it will pay off in loyalty and talent-retention in the long run.
My role at work changed to a primarily office-based position (whereas I used to be on the road a lot, something I loved). Although it looks quite different from what I was doing before, it is exactly what I need right now. On the other hand, I know there is much more I could do with my side business; I’ve been dreaming up ideas for over two years now. But I’ve come to accept that now is not the right time to pursue those ideas. I’m taking baby steps, and when I can I chip away at the things I want to do. But I know what happens when I take on more than I can handle and being burned out defeats the purpose of pursing a passion project anyway.
My husband and I decided this was the best compromise and that it will have long term benefits for our family. And so far, I don’t regret it.
I will end on this note. Mamas if you are dreaming about raising a family while maintaining a career, I cannot emphasize how important it is to have a supportive partner who pulls their weight (and if you are a single mama, then enlisting some sort of support, whether that’s family or friends). You cannot, I repeat, you cannot do it all – not without some sort of help!
Everyone divides the labour in their household and family differently but as long as there is a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s goals and aspirations, teamwork is what will allow you to succeed.
And of course… coffee helps.