I’ve been juggling motherhood and work for 4 months, and it’s only now that I feel I’m starting to get the hang of it.
After finding myself unexpectedly pregnant in 2016, I had to hustle both before and after my baby was born. In Canada, working women are entitled to 15 weeks of paid maternity leave, and then 35 weeks of paid parental leave can be taken by either parent. However, because I am self-employed, I didn’t qualify for this generous government-sponsored leave which means I had to create my own self-funded maternity leave. I went back to work only 3 months after my baby girl was born, and one of the biggest challenges has been to earn more money while working fewer hours.
Thankfully, parenthood not only makes you super efficient, guarding the livelihood a tiny little human is also hugely motivating. I now work 10-15 hours per week and generate the amount of business (and income!) I used to earn in 40 hours. Here’s how I manage that difficult work-life balance with a small baby in tow!
The Schedule is Sacred
I started easing my baby into a routine at 5 weeks old. Initially this just looked like doing eat-sleep-play (the EASY Baby Schedule, if you’ve heard of it), but eventually, our rhythm morphed into a scheduled routine. By the time she was 2 months old, I could count on her nap schedule within 5-10 minutes. Every day is not perfect, but more than 80% of them are, and that has made a huge difference in what I’m able to accomplish as a working parent — especially one working from home!
Once you know how long your baby will be napping and when, it gets much easier to plan your workday. Not only will you know how long you have to sit at your desk and finish a project, you’ll also know which times of day a sleeping baby will let you take a business call without interruption.
Some babies are easier to wrangle into a routine than others, but rest assured, so long as you keep doing the same thing day-in, day-out, eventually, your child will get the hang of it and start to go along with little to no protest. If you’re feeling discouraged, remind yourself that 3 or 5 or 10 days of struggle is worth the months of freedom a baby on a schedule will bring. Invest your time and effort in this, it’s worth it.
Never procrastinate anything
The thing I miss most about my old, childfree life is the freedom of procrastination. If I didn’t finish a task one day, I could do it the next, or the day after that, or on the weekend. I could get up early or work late or carve out a few hours any random afternoon to do what I need to do. I don’t even remember what that luxury of time feels like anymore, and I regret each day I took it for granted (which was every day).
When you have another person to take care of, your freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want is gone.
Even if you accomplish my very important first suggestion of getting them into a routine right away, that still leaves in a cycle where you can only do certain things at certain times of the day. Which means, you cannot put off until tomorrow what can be done today. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Maybe you won’t get any sleep tonight and you’ll be too tired to function tomorrow. Maybe your baby will fight their morning nap. Maybe something will come up that you’ll really want to do and you don’t want to be burdened by tasks you could have done the day before. You never know.
The danger in procrastinating — and I mean procrastinating anything, from housekeeping to business work — is there is a point of no return. If you avoid enough things enough times that they hit this point, you will not be able to catch up without professional intervention. DO NOT GET TO THIS POINT. Whatever can be done now, do it right now. You’ll be glad you did.
Seize the day early and fast
One of my personal rules is to shower, start the dishwasher, and get a load of laundry on within the first 2 hours of waking up. This two-hour window is important because it’s about how much time from the time my baby and I wake up, to the time she goes down for her first nap of the day.
If I’m showered, the dishes are taken care of, and laundry is in, when I put her down to sleep for that first nap, I can sit down at my desk and work without worrying about anything else.
It also didn’t take me long to catch on that my daughter was content so long as I was within eyesight. Contrary to seemingly popular internet wisdom, you DON’T have to be focusing on your child’s language development or gross motor skills or musical acumen every second of every day. I don’t think my baby knows why I unload the dishwasher, but she seems happy to watch me do it from her exersaucer or jolly jumper. Household tasks and personal hygiene are not optional, so don’t let them fall by the wayside every day (some days they still will, it’s ok mama) in the name of infant care. Your infant doesn’t mind if you fold laundry while they play on the floor next to you, so take those small wins early and fast by knocking nagging items off your to-do list right from the get-go.
Stop working for free
Working for free is something childless you did, but new parent you can’t afford it. The hours you have each week to devote to your work are precious and extremely limited, so you cannot flitter them away on things that do not pay. In the past, you may have said yes to things for “exposure” or attended events to “network”. You’re not doing that anymore.
Whenever someone offers to pay you with “exposure” or “connections”, remind yourself that you cannot buy diapers with that.
You don’t have to be rude, you only have to decline the free work so you have time to say yes to the paid work. Look for the projects, clients, and business that generates the most money in the least amount of time. I want to say the least amount of effort, but I generally find that’s not true. Earning money always takes effort, but the time you can optimize.
Likewise, focus on major results, not just busy work. Look for the things that will give you the biggest payoff for the hours you do put in. You can check your email in line at the grocery store, but other tasks like taking a client call need to be done ASAP (during your baby’s nap time!). You need outcomes, and those outcomes have to have lots of dollar signs in front of them. Say sorry-but-no-thanks to everything else.
Get help on all fronts
It takes a village, people. Make it a really big village if you can.
I don’t have a lot of family nearby to help with childcare, so when I went back to work, I hired a nanny to come to my home part-time. Occasionally I will work while she’s there, but often I use my childcare hours to work from my office or have meetings outside of the house. Without these hours, I wouldn’t be able to earn what I do.
I don’t know why some people romanticize parents doing 100% of childcare on their own. Everyone deserves a helping hand, whether that’s a neighbor, friend, family member, or paid professional to help wash dishes, rock a baby to sleep, or give mom much needed love and support.
If you can’t or don’t want to get help with childcare, you can get help with your business instead. Outsource that tasks that don’t need to be done by you, and take some things off your plate so you can better direct your energies where they’re most needed — which might even mean back to the baby. The truth is, as a parent you won’t be able to “do it all”, but what’s more, you shouldn’t. Which brings me to my next point: you shouldn’t feel guilty about it either.
Unwind, de-stress, and ditch the guilt
One of the mistakes I made when I first went back to work as a new mom, was using all my free hours to work on my business. I used every single one of the daughter’s naptimes, plus early bedtimes, in addition to the childcare hours I paid for to work on my business. As a result, my entire day was baby care and work. Nothing else. I burnt out fast, and then I was less productive than ever.
Once I started taking one of my baby’s naptimes to chill out and read a book or scroll through Instagram and let myself work for 1-hour after she went to bed and then spent 2 free hours on myself, I was a happier, healthier, more balanced mom. Now when I really feel the stresses of parenthood or work, I’ll even use some of my nanny time to unwind.
I don’t feel guilty using some hours to relax — and you shouldn’t either.
You also shouldn’t feel guilty about working as a parent. Earning an income is a way of providing financial and physical security to your child. They need you to keep a roof over their heads, so keep doing what you’re doing to the best of your abilities.
Parenthood isn’t easy, and working as a parent is harder still, but the cliche is true: it does get easier. Or maybe you just get better.