I have a few friends that are pregnant with their first right now, and all of them have careers they plan on returning to after their maternity leave. By no means do I think I have it all together, but I think I am doing a fairly good job of balancing a demanding job with being a Mom, so I thought I would share some of the things that I think have helped me achieve a work/life balance. And no, I don't think that term is a myth. I really do think it is possible to have both, with some sacrifices and organization.
Let Them Help
I absolutely would not be able to work outside the home if The Husband was not on board and hands-on. He knows I enjoy working, and he supports my decision to do so. He also splits this parenting thing with me 50/50. I take H to school, he picks up. I do bath time, he does bed time most of the time. I like to think that he is the CEO of Fun and I am the COO. I keep up with her laundry, packing her lunch, etc. But he does just as much as me and it makes our busy lives manageable.
I think it works well for each parent to have their duties and for the other parent to let them own it. If he dresses her for school, I make no comments about what he chooses. And if I am having book club one night, and he chooses to feed her ragu as a main dish, so be it. (Yes, that actually happened). She is not going to die and since I married someone that is not an idiot, I trust his judgement. I do however, sometimes fail at the no judging thing, so I have to be mindful of it.
With busy jobs, we get limited time with H. So I want to make sure as much of that time is spent doing fun things with her, and some of it is spent relaxing. I am all about having a cleaning person, and ours comes once every 3 weeks. With no pets, I don't have to do much maintenance in between visits. Wipe down counters, sweep the kitchen, wash sheets. Its one of the best things I do for myself. If you make good money, you shouldn't worry about outsourcing things that you are not good at or take up too much time. Need to bring cupcakes to school but hate baking. Go freakin buy them. Who cares they are not homemade? Not crafty? Don't feel like you have to make all the birthday decorations. Ask your Mom to help or buy them on etsy. And don't feel bad about it.
Having a Mom support system is important, but for working Moms that can't attend play dates or go to classes during the week, it can be hard. I recently joined a Mom's organization for women in my industry, and it has been a great combination of professional networking and Mommy time. Connect with other Moms at your office and do a once a month lunch or weekly workout. That way you don't have to bore your non-child-having friends with kid talk.
I am a little OCD, but an organized house really does reduce my stress level. All the lunch packing supplies are in one place, all baby medications are together, her clothes are organized by size so only what fits now is accessible. If you are starting with a mess, I suggest organizing one room a week. That is totally manageable. And if this is going to be your first, organize your shiznit now, because it only gets messier!
This goes along with organization, but a baby requires lots of stuff. And all that stuff now needs a place in your house. Which means some stuff is going to have to get out of the house. Get rid of stuff you don't need. Clean out closets. I constantly have a donate bag and a sell bag, and I put things in there as I am organizing.
We also bought a shelf and tub system for the garage so I could store old baby stuff and seasonal items. It only cost about $150, but it has made much more room in the house and reduced the level of clutter in the closets greatly.
I am big on using my Outlook calendar at work. I am not super nuts about it, no color coding or anything, but it helps me stay organized. When I realized I could "invite" The Husband to meetings so he could accept and get stuff on his calendar too, I was super excited. So now he can see my haircut appointments, work weekends, dinner dates, etc, and he knows when he needs to be available to watch H. It really helps each of us not schedule something that is going to conflict with other plans.
Man, I used to love to shop. It was my hobby. But I don't have time to clothes shop, and hardly have time to grocery shop. I don't like stopping on the way home from work b/c there are only a few hours in the evening I get to spend with H. So I started doing my grocery and Target shopping at night after she goes to bed. It may seem odd, but the store is less crowded and I don't feel like I have to rush to get home. Its made shopping much less stressful to me.
Sunday Prep Day
This one helps us out during the week a ton. On Sunday I try to make a few things we can eat for dinner during the week, a few lunch options for H, and a few snacks. For example, I'll do shredded chicken in the crockpot I can use for a casserole, make pasta and sauce for lunches, and some homemade granola balls for snacks. It helps me eat healthy, prevent us going out to dinner, and have less to cook each night.
This one often gets neglected, but even a working Mom needs to take time for herself. We work all day, rush home, eat dinner, hang out with the fam, and go to bed. It leaves little time for alone time or girl time. My job requires me to be "on-call" one weekend a month. In exchange, I only work a half day on the following Monday. I leave at noon and use that afternoon to run errands, return things, get my hair done, etc. I try not to feel guilty about her being at school when she doesn't have to be, and use the time to recharge.
You would be surprised at how your employer might handle a request for a 1/2 day off each month. Consider talking to them about it, it will make you less stressed I promise. And less stress = more productive worker.
I wrote a similar post when H was a baby, you can check out some more tips here