Prior to having children, I envisioned myself as a working mother.   I really enjoyed working and when I became pregnant with my first son, I knew (or thought I knew) that I would have no issues returning to the work following maternity leave.    I mean, I’ve seen other parents in the office return from maternity/parental leave.  They all seemed to adjust fine; still staying on top of their workload and tasks at home.   

I thought I could have it all: ​marriage, kids and a career. Sounds easy, right?

Then I had children and realized how hard it really was, juggling motherhood, a career and any element of a social life.  Then the guilt kicked in.   I quickly realized that it was anything but easy.  At some point, I even contemplated quitting to stay at home.   However, staying at home was not an option.

​This then begs the question, is it possible to have a career and be a mother?  Yes!
Is it easy?  Of course not.

The transition returning to work following maternity leave is hard. It comes with challenges, namely getting ready on time, leaving work on time and daycare illnesses, just to name a few. I remember returning to work following my first maternity leave. My son got a fever for the first time ever. At the time my husband was starting his first year of his respirology fellowship and could not take any time off. So it all fell on me. I remember that feeling of guilt of calling my boss on what should have been my first day back at work. At the time, we lived about an hour and a half away from family, so help was very limited. Luckily, my employer was very understanding of the situation and assured me that it was okay.

There are days I love going into work and having adult interactions.

Challenging myself in my role and immersing myself back into a routine feels good.   It’s a nice break and gives my brain that stimulation which was lacking following a year of Baby Einstein, baby talk and Sesame Street.   It’s also nice to feel productive outside of the household and have that sense of fulfillment. 

Yes, motherhood is the most fulfilling thing, but it’s nice to feel as if I am
​contributing to society in a different way. 

On the flip side, I would feel guilty the moment I dropped off my kids at daycare and then experience this immense sadness knowing that for about 8 hours a day, I couldn’t tend to their needs.   It became a vicious cycle:  I felt guilty for being away from the kids while at work.  Then, if they got ill and I stayed at home with them, I felt guilty for being away from my desk.

​At some point this past year, I began to feel as if walls were inching in on me, because I didn’t have enough time to clean or prep a meal for the next day.  

Whenever my kids got sick, it felt like things took ten steps backwards both at work and at home.  I felt like I was barely keeping on top of the chores at home while looking after my kids.   There were nights I would sleep 5 or 6 hours as I was up the night before catching up on laundry.  It got to a point that I was working on simply adrenaline. 

Over time though, I’ve learned that not everything is going to be perfect and I have come to a point in my life that I have ACCEPTED that yes, it is a balancing act when one is a working mom.   When I got to my lowest point, I realized that some things just had to give.   Therefore, I decided to implement the following strategies to make life easier.  It’s not perfect and I still have to improve on some areas, but I have learned to do the following:

Let go.  

​So what?  You didn’t clean the house this week.  Who cares if you have boogers all over your blouse, or that your kid is refusing to wear a shirt because it has buttons on it.  Let it go.  Not everything is going to be perfect. 

It’s okay to say no.   

You can’t be everything to everyone and you can’t be at every event every single time.   Sometimes we overschedule ourselves and it can cause chaos.   Your kid doesn’t need to be in 30000 activities, just pick a few each season.   If you have a birthday party every weekend, know that it is okay to decline an invitation.  Those who are parents WILL understand.   We live in a society in which we are too overscheduled and not only is it causing anxiety for us, but our kids too.   It’s okay to step away and say no. 

Forgive yourself.   

It’s so easy to feel guilty for everything.   Guilty because you made a frozen meal instead of a fresh, home cooked one.  Guilty because you forgot your child’s sun hat or forgot it was your daycare’s show and share.  Studies have shown that mothers are more forgetful because their minds are working on overload.   Sometimes we need to step back from our comfort zone and accept things for what they are.  FORGIVE YOURSELF.   It’s okay to not be perfect, not everything is going to be.   Tell yourself you ARE doing an amazing job, because you are.

Ask for help.  

It’s so true when they say, it takes a village to raise a child.   Look around for your support system, be it family, friends or neighbours.   Talk to your spouse/partner and get them to help you with household chores or weekly groceries.  If your kids are old enough, get them to pitch in with some errands and reward them for their work, even if it’s just tidying up their toys.   Delegate tasks if you can.   If your vacation time is running out, ask your parents, in-laws or any other (available) friends and relatives to be back-ups for you in the event your child gets ill at daycare (because they do get ill at day care a lot).   I am so grateful to have family around to help me when I need it most.   

Take a break.  

​DON’T feel guilty for doing this. You can’t be everything to everyone and know that is okay! I know it’s easier said than done, because sometimes I feel guilty too if I use that extra hour off for myself. But remember why you do it – because you need to make yourself happy. Take that trip with your spouse if you can. Whether it’s going to the gym every night, or having a girl’s night out once a month or just an hour a day alone to read and drink some vino, DO IT. If you are going to splurge on a dress or a pair of shoes, DO IT and don’t feel guilty. Why? Because you are a person too who has their own personality and character. Whatever it is, do it, because when you are a happier you, you are a happier mom and wife/partner.

Talk about it.  

When I am overwhelmed, the first person I talk to is my husband.  When I get to that point of no return, I realize I need to step away and talk about my feelings.   Talking to my mom helps a lot, because she’s gone through many of the challenges I face today.   I also find talking to my girlfriends helps because we are all at the same stage in our lives.  It’s all about having your network.  There are other resources available in the community as well if you feel that it’s a deeper issue, or consult your GP.  If you feel like it’s more work-related, talk to your employer about it.   They will definitely sit down and have a chat with you.  Some employers also provide an Employee Assistance Program which is completely anonymous and free to use.   The point is, find your network and talk to someone about your feelings, as it could definitely change your outlook on working and motherhood. 

Remember why you are there.   

​Remember why you are working.  Yes, working is a means to an end, but remember you are there for so many reasons that don’t require justification.  Not only are you working to financially provide for your children, you are also providing them access to other benefits such as medical/dental insurance or work-place scholarships for instance.  Furthermore, you are setting the stage by teaching them responsibility early on.   Finally, working provides you with a sense of fulfillment outside of the household.   

Savor the precious moments.

Don’t take any moment for granted.   Look forward to your weekends off with your kids or that Monday night run to Costco.   Enjoy those hectic mornings and give yourself 5 minutes of solace around the breakfast table with your kids.   Life is too short to be stressed about their outfit not being perfectly ironed or that your walked out the door with milk stains on your shirt.  Enjoy all those precious and messy moments, because it will be gone with a blink of an eye.

With my coffee in one hand
and dirty diaper in the other,
​here’s to you!!

Natalie resides in Burlington, Ontario along with her husband Michael and two boys, Tomislav and Ivan.   Natalie’s interests are food, wine, travel, reading, coffee, and anything preemie.