Becoming a mother is a life-changing experience that pretty much throws your world upside-down. Let’s be honest – the sleepless nights, countless diaper changes and feedings every 2-3 hours. A new parent doesn’t have time to use the restroom alone let plan out their road map for career-related goals.
When my daughter was born nearly three years ago, I was 1.5 years into my part-time MBA program. While I had overwhelming thoughts of, “How am I ever going to finish my education with a newborn?” It took the right mindset and a supportive husband, family and friends to get me through the toughest days.
I went back to my MBA classes when my daughter was one month old. I was breastfeeding, so I would pump enough to cover my class time then go to class once a week 6-10pm and come home in pain because I didn’t think to bring a pump with me. But I pushed on, and each class I completed felt like a mini accomplishment for having gotten through with a newborn, baby and eventually, toddler in tow.
What I learned from pursuing career goals while having a little one is that no matter what you did before your child came along, they undoubtedly take up 95% of your attention and energy in the early days. It does get better as they get a little older and can learn independent play and start helping with small tasks.
When I was feeling the overwhelm of trying to balance school, a full-time career and my little one plus marriage and a household, there were good and bad days, but keeping in the back of my mind what my ultimate goal was what kept me chugging along.
You might be thinking, “How in the world can you really focus on your goals while having a newborn?” I’ve been in that exact place and I questioned it after having my daughter. What I found was that by having a goal to pursue all the while feeling like a complete human adult for part of my time- made me a better mother.
I’ve always been goal-oriented and constantly thinking of my next steps. By taking the time to focus on a small part of my goals I felt like I was not losing touch with the person I was before motherhood. It was always important me to continue pursuing my dreams and not give up on my career goals after having children.
In the newborn stage, I continued my MBA classes, because I really wanted to accomplish what I had started pre-pregnancy. There were many days and evenings I would either be simultaneously breastfeeding my daughter and doing my homework – or pumping and doing my homework.
Let me say that if you are wanting to go back to school the newborn phase is by far the easiest to manage with at home. This is because a newborn is needy, but those are very basic needs – eating, sleeping and pooping. Let’s be honest- they can’t talk yet, run around, wreak havoc on your house while you work- they are the perfect companion to work on things on the side – whether that’s school, career or your own business. At the same time those tiny babies are a welcome break from your hard work. It was always so nice to come home to a little one to cuddle and to watch grow and develop each step of the way.
I highly recommend partaking in any activity with adult interaction while your children are young. Sometimes just one adult conversation is all it takes for you to get a renewed sense of purpose and to move forward in pursuing your goals. My classes, while exhausting at times, gave me the chance to participate in a discussion outside of “What color poop does the baby have today?”
Baby Stage (6-15 months)
Once your baby starts rolling over, then scooting or crawling, cruising and eventually, walking – you have entered the territory of a whole new set of balancing your time. No longer was I able to sit down on the couch, breastfeed and type out a 10-page paper. Once my daughter became mobile, it was apparent I needed to manage my time in a different way.
Nap time is the ultimate tool in the younger baby stages. My daughter would nap for 3 hours at a time for the most part up until recently and she’s almost three. During naptime, I would be able to focus on my homework for longer stretches and knock things out. When you have deadlines and you know your time and attention will be divided for most of the day, you find the small windows of opportunity to get stuff done.
That is not to say the 2.5 years I balanced all these things were always sunshine and rainbows. There were times when I would almost break down in tears because of feeling so overwhelmed with balancing nurturing a baby, home life, school and work. My saving grace was always looking at the big picture and practicing gratefulness for what I have in life. This is where self-care also comes into play. Exercise, yoga and meditation are three huge stress relievers for me, especially in busier times. Squeezing these activities in always made my days feel more purposeful and made me a better mother.
Toddler Stage (15 months – 3 years and beyond)
Just when I thought I figured out how to manage my time and goals with a baby, then came the whirlwind toddler phase. My daughter is very high-energy, and she loves to play, especially pretend play, dress-up and with her play kitchen. She has become more independent approaching three, but from about 18 months to 2.5 she demanded our attention a great deal of the day.
This is not to say that you should ignore your children – I am not suggesting that at all. But, it is so great to teach them independent play from an early age because I think it allows them to develop an imagination and to be creative and express themselves. Sometimes, I am sure just like the rest of parents out there, I am guilty of browsing my phone while my daughter asks me to sing the same song for the nth time. Or, trying to get in some writing time while she watches a movie. At the end of the day, though, I know she is learning daily in her daycare/early preschool class, we’re engaging with her 95% of the time and she is having experiences out in the world that are priceless.
In the older toddler stages, I think it’s important to balance your time between active play with your child and setting them up for success in independent play. This allows for you to have time to explore your passions and reach your goals. Giving all my attention to one area in my life has never worked out for me in the past. I’ve given up on exercise for months at a time because I told myself I was “too busy.” I’ve delayed starting a writing career because I told myself “I’ll never catch up and get anywhere with writing because it’s too late.”
I decided this year to banish the “I’ll never achieve this” mentality and to just do the things that make me happy, fulfilled and healthy and balanced, while still taking care of my family. This has worked out far better than the negative self-talk method.
There’s no questioning that children are very active, time-consuming tiny humans that can often consume each hour we’re not at work (if you work outside the home). Work at home parents have added-on challenges of balancing the time with their kids and getting in their work time.
Whichever stage your child is in, it is important to create a plan and set goals for what you would like the next year to look like. I like to use a Passion Planner to map out my big goals for the coming year. So far, I have reached strides in achieving my goals this year (set up a blog, moved it to a self-hosted WordPress platform and started to monetize and create more content on a regular basis.)
Honestly if I did not have my daughter I probably would not have been inspired to come up with a business plan for a blogging side hustle. She’s my daily inspiration for trying to achieve the ultimate work/life balance and one day hopefully be able to work on my writing career full-time instead of as a side hustle.
Instead of thinking of children as a barrier to your important goals, think of them as inspiration and as a reason to pursue those goals. One of my big goals is to start writing books. My daughter absolutely loves books and reading. I am even more passionate about pursuing my dreams because my daughter is passionate about her little library collection.
Thinking about our lives in terms of fitting all the puzzle pieces together is the way I have tried to live the past few years. Having children is life-changing, but if you allow them to – they can change your life and bring you so much inspiration and even truth and beauty in life that you would have never discovered without their little heart and hands coming into your life.
Visit my new blog project over at The Working Mom Collective. I explore a variety of Real-Life Working Mom Stories and topics such as workplace flexibility, postpartum anxiety and depression, and mom career goals. My goal for The Working Mom Collective is to be a community of moms, sharing experiences and supporting one another in their career and family journeys.
Until Next Time,