How to balance work & parenting with a toddler
August 7, 2017 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm a parent of an 18-month-old toddler. I've accepted a new job with longer hours (mostly due to a longer commute), but I'm having really big second thoughts and all kinds of feelings like "I never wanted to go back to work in the first place!!" Can you let me know what mattered most to you as a parent of a toddler, in terms of balancing work and home time, and let me know what you'd do in my situation?

My angst over having accepted a new job (with somewhat longer hours) has really taken hold and has me questioning whether I should be working at all. It turns out I have a lot of grief pent up about having gone back to work before I really wanted to (at 5.5 months pp). I don't know if I "regret" it exactly, but I can clearly remember how it felt to hand the baby over to someone else -- my arms being empty and feeling bereft. It makes me cry just to think of it. I really wish I hadn't done that to myself. Life is so short, and that time of holding one's baby all day is SO short; I wish I'd figured out a way to give myself another 3-5 months to sit on a blanket in the park watching baby learn to crawl.

Our situation now is okay. Baby is an 18-months-old toddler now. And the time he has with his nanny and nanny-share buddies, and the time he has with us, is in a good balance -- good for him, good for us as a family, and it feels good to me most of the time. (Then there are those bad feelings every so often, when I see pictures of them playing in a fountain and get the same "that's supposed to be me with him" feeling. But mostly, it seems good.)

But I just took a new job that will require being gone from 7:30-5:30. My goal had been to find a job with more long-term stability and less stress so I could focus at home, and with room for growth as my ambition returns. And I succeeded at that! But what's slowly dawning on me is that it's way more rigid, and that with the commute, the hours are much longer.

I'm now having all kinds of second thoughts and worries that maybe this was a really wrong decision. I know I can move through the fear and pain step by step, the way I did back when I went back to work, telling myself I can always quit if I have to. But seeing all my pent-up feelings from the time period of first going back to work resurfacing, I'm wondering if maybe just because you can get through something step by step doesn't mean that you should. I fear that this job (and getting out of the house early enough to make it there on time) is premature and will feel wrong, and that I'll then be looking back at his toddlerhood thinking "why did I leave the house at 7:30 AM every day? I could have fed him breakfast. :( :("

But I don't know what to do about it. I mean, quitting this job? That's kind of a big deal. I've already put in notice. (I'm not in tech; there aren't a million employers.)

I feel like I have not figured out how to balance work and parenting in a way that doesn't leave me feeling like I'm slacking off at work and like I've failed to develop key skills and routines as a parent. I keep searching -- I thought a very 9-5 job where I didn't have to take work stress home with me would be the answer, but now that I've taken one, it's not feeling right either. This job is definitely not flexible, so I can't negotiate to work less time, at least not for the first year. (The one thing I could do is accept lower pay and get 2 extra days off each month, but I think there's a moratorium on using those for the first 6 months.)

I tried working 80% time, and that didn't go super-well -- Fridays always felt like "I don't know what to do home alone all day," since I didn't have systems and activities set up (and since the weekend was usually special activities as a family that didn't quite work to do just one-on-one with a baby). I was starting to get them set up ... then the holidays ... then a few random Fridays without systems ... then a work stress period in which I worked a few Fridays ... Then I let myself be bumped up to 90% time, and anyway, he was already 4 months older by then.

If I quit my job, I wonder if I would have the space and energy to really focus on being the parent I want to be. Or would I miss my professional field in a way that pulled attention away from parenting anyway? I have this kind of creative, entrepreneurial side, and I wonder if I wouldn't be distracted as a parent, trying to get projects started up...

Can anyone relate to this post? How do I figure this out? What do I do about this job? Parents of toddlers or older kids (especially parents who are like me, though I totally understand and respect that there are parents who are like "woo hoo! work!"), any advice? In retrospect, what mattered most for balancing work and home life? And I'd love to hear anything from stay-at-home parents or parents who quit your jobs (started consulting?) how your experience was.

Thanks for reading, and sorry that this post is kind of a long, emotional mess.
posted by slidell to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, whew. I clearly should have taken a breather then shortened this question. Apologies for the length and degree of rambling.
posted by slidell at 3:04 PM on August 7, 2017

I would take the job with a self-promise to re-evaluate in 2 years, or sooner if the job isn't want you want. You can definitely make this work and your child will not know the difference in schedule as much as you think. If you were asking whether or not you should work part time or not at all then there would be different questions, but I think what you are describing isn't going to affect your child as much as you think. Working moms have a tremendously positive impact on kids in so many ways. I worked full time as a single mom for most of my daughters life and had tons of guilt but I know that she saw me as a strong provider. I also tried working 60% and that was a nightmare at work because I was given full time responsibility and less input into decisions. It sounds like your new job will have significant benefits so I would take it. It's hard for working moms because we want to do both so well, understandably. You are a great mom, don't sweat it. Once you are acclimated there is a very good chance you can get a more flexible schedule.
posted by waving at 3:11 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

My daughter is 20 months, I work full time - I happen to really enjoy my job (and need it financially), but sometimes feel conflicted.

Any change in routine is hard, and you've just changed up your routine, so of course you're going to be having second thoughts. I wonder if some of your feelings are just your run-of-the-mill "buyer's remorse" that often crops up with a new job, and that it's being filtered through this other conflict. I agree with waving - in my opinion, you should follow through with the job and reassess after you've been there long enough to really give it an honest assessment. The extra commute time is a concern, but mainly because it'll be harder on you, not on your kid. If traffic isn't too stressful, you can always use it as an unwind time (podcasts, audiobooks, music, whatnot).

Things that work in terms of balancing work/home, for me, are making sure that I'm as present as possible when I am present. That means that sometimes things like housework take a backseat, so that I can make the most of the time I have to spend with my kid...or I try to involve her in the things I'm doing. I try to leave work at work (as much as possible). You carve out your rituals and quality time where you can.

I see a lot of stay-at-home parents in my line of work, and it's a good reminder to me that having a ton of time with your kid doesn't guarantee the energy/time to do ideal parenting (whatever that means). Stay at home parents have lots of other things on their plate as well, and being with your kid all day every day with no break is stressful in a different way. Some things are easier, some are harder - whatever you decide, your kid will be OK. :)
posted by Knicke at 3:32 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would honor your creative entrepreneurial side and not quit right now to be full time parent. Instead focus on two questions:
1. In the short run, what I can do to feel connected with my kid when I'm home? He's doing fine, but you have a real need for squishy kisses and silly faces to make your own heart happy. My suggestion is focus on having a extended bedtime routine that really satisfies your urge to reconnect with your kid at the end of the day. Bath time, story time, bed time songs, tucking in, prayers.- most kids are happy with an extended set of bedtime routines. While you do this, focus on just being in the moment with your little one - appreciate their quirky and personality and enjoy that chance to be their mother.

2. In six months, seriously consider asking for the extra two days off. See how it works. Think about what you might want to ask for next. Maybe in a year, you can see a way to reconfigure the work so that it would be an advantage to them to only use you 60% - 75% time.

3. Remember there is a difference between what you need and what the kid needs. Sounds like kid is doing ok - well adjusted and happy with his mix of caregivers. You aren't - and your needs matter too but just because you are distressed doesn't mean the kid is (unless you fail to take care of yourself.)

ps. I worked all kinds of part time configurations when my kids were little. My favorite was 7:30-12:30 four days a week, 7:30 to 6:00 on Tuesdays = 30 hours). I LOVED it. I was happy to go to work in the morning and I was happy to come at spend the afternoon as a mother. As bonus, since people were used by me leaving at 12:30, on my late day I got so much more done without the usual interruptions. There were some special snowflake things that made it work but one thing was that I was able to off-load work onto someone junior who saw it as an advancement and got a raise, which the department could afford since I was taking a pay cut. win-win-win.
posted by metahawk at 3:44 PM on August 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

If 7:30-5:30 includes your commute time that seems pretty good if you enjoy the work and it pays well.

I have a now 6 year old and have worked full-time-ish (I worked 4 days the first year) since he was 13 weeks old. I had a lot of the feelings you do about leaving him and missing out on some of his firsts, it was hard when he was younger. Now that he's happy to go to school I'm thankful I have a stable 9-5 (that is more like 8:45-5:45 - I have a very short commute). While I wouldn't necessarily choose to work as early as I did if I have another baby I'm happy with things now, we have a solid bond and I needed to support us. I think the feelings you're experiencing are very normal. I've watched friends stay home with their kids and while I know they wouldn't trade lives with me, I see how tiring and frustrating that route can be too and the financial trade-off is no small thing in a lot of households.

When my son was younger I focused on the fact that he spent a good chunk of his daytime asleep (like 3+ hours sometimes!), and we actually had a lot of quality time in the evenings and on weekends.

What helps now is that my son goes to bed a bit later than most kids, so I see him more in the evening, and we have our weekends together. I don't really do work at home beyond some reading or emergency work as needed which is rare. I don't put him into a lot of activities so we can relax more together and be more flexible when we can be. I don't expect myself to cook all my own meals and pack all of my lunches, I prioritize my own rest and time with my son versus trying to do everything. Things really do shift a lot once kids are 5-6 and you have more time again, my son plays so well with other kids or independently most of the time that I can do more while he's awake now.
posted by lafemma at 4:17 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Returning to work was important to me for my mental health and general enjoyment of life - I enjoy the adult space of work, I enjoy making a wage, and I enjoy not having the "am I doing ENOUGH" feelings about parenting, because I know that days at care involve so many structured activities that I don't feel any pressure about our time at home together.

I currently work four days a week, and I'm out of the house from 6.30am to 5.30pm. Sometimes I regret that I have to leave so early, because it can be a struggle getting the kids out of the house when I've had to wake them up out of a deep sleep and get them dressed, and I don't feel any of our time together in the morning is really enjoyable for any of us, as it's such a rush. But I don't regret it enough to try and change things - it mostly works, and when I had an arrangement where they had to have breakfast with me at home, it just ended up being more rushed and stressful every morning.

In your situation, I would think about the benefits of your new role - long term stability and less stress sounds great! You're earning a wage, you're (presumably) enjoying the adult company/mental stimulation of being in a work environment. And most importantly - you haven't started yet. Give yourself some space to start the job and see how it feels in 6 months. Focus on quality evening time with your child, and having great family time on weekends.

With this - "I wonder if I would have the space and energy to really focus on being the parent I want to be" - I wonder what sort of parent you do want to be that you feel you aren't being now? (Apart from simply spending more time with your child). And whether you can focus on incorporating any of those things that make up your Platonic Ideal Parent into the time you do have with your child? This might also ease the transition into the new job.
posted by fever-trees at 6:51 PM on August 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am gone 8-530 and have been since my youngest was 14 months old. We have had daycare, nanny and now full time dad as childcare, all of which were fine and hard in various ways. I don't regret the time away from my kids at all (I was a stay at home mom for three years and did not enjoy it, so there is no grass-is-greener mentality for me). I think you should take the job and decide on a transition period now to give it time before you make any changes - 6-12 months minimum.

Key things to making it work for us: I relaxed my housekeeping standards A LOT. We do dishes and pick up toys daily and that's it. Weekends get one bigger chore only. I take the kids out on Saturday at least half the day so my husband gets a break and I get to be fun mommy. I get up before anyone else every day to have some me time, and I use my commute for more solo time. When the kids wake up and from when I get home until bedtime, I try to be focused on them (they are now 2.5 and almost 5, so they still want that). My goal is to make the time count when we are together - and do something important when we are apart, too. I like my job and I work hard and I try to leave work at work. My kids have seen both parents be breadwinners and primary caregivers and I feel really good about that.

My husband would say that he is much happier to be home than working. He was gone 8-7 with frequent late nights/weekends. It was tough on both of us. So I'd find out what your likelihood of having even longer hours is. But he does miss having a commute which is built-in me time that doesn't require sacrificing sleep to get. Podcasts, books, and pokemon go while commuting help(ed) us feel a little bit like our pre-kid selves, which is nice.

This sounds like a good opportunity for you, and I think your kiddo will be fine.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:07 PM on August 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a better parent when I have a full and satisfying career outside of the home. I didn't work until my son was shy of 1 and I was so ready to have adult time again. That said, every parent goes through work/home tradeoffs and responds differently.

Your grief about working sounds more concerning to me than anything you described about your child's care. If you're carrying around that much emotional weight then it is worth talking to someone (read: therapist) who specializes in family/parenting struggles.
posted by toomanycurls at 7:14 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all of these answers. I really appreciated those who took the time to share your feelings or help me sort this through. I marked a few as best answer. I particularly resonated with the advice to focus on how to feel connected at home, and to think about what sort of parent I want to be.

I'm also doing some thinking about toomanycurls' comment that "If you're carrying around that much emotional weight then it is worth talking to someone (read: therapist) who specializes in family/parenting struggles." I did know that going back to work was really hard, but I got through it with relatively few tears at the time, and I've felt pretty happy day to day, so I didn't think I was carrying weight. That's why it really caught me by surprise yesterday when those feelings surfaced, and I'm still trying to figure out what it means. I definitely need to do some emotional work around all of this.

P.S. Yes, 7:30-5:30 is total time away from home. Thanks again!
posted by slidell at 12:27 PM on August 8, 2017

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