My very first baby was born in 2017 when I decided to take a giant leap of faith, quit my full-time job, travel the world and work for myself. As the months (and years!) went on, my baby grew up: from being a solo freelance journalist to owning a content and communications agency. My income increased, I started making six figures, won big clients, and felt an incomparable energy and motivation to succeed.
Then, my personal life hopped on the same rollercoaster. I met and married my now-husband, and I was the happiest I’d ever been. Then a positive pregnancy test changed everything. We were among the very lucky ones who didn’t struggle with fertility. For that, I’m eternally grateful. We weren’t trying — but we weren’t preventing — so I was surprised to discover I was carrying our first child a few hours before we took off for our honeymoon. I had always wanted to be a mom, but it happened so fast, I struggled to accept this path diversion.
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Over the next 40 weeks, I took 15 flights, moved twice, bought a house and set up a nursery. I did all of that while working full-time and meeting deadlines. Though it was a lot, it was manageable up until I became woefully uncomfortable around 37 weeks.
My second baby (my first human baby) arrived in mid-March, exactly on her due date. I struggled with stepping away from my business to take maternity leave. Thanks to the encouragement (and help) from my fellow mama friends, I knew it would be necessary. I hired a senior writer on my team to step up and take over my duties for 3.5 months, and I intended to return in July.
Give Yourself Time to Adjust to a New Schedule
The first three months of my daughter’s life were a blur across a steep learning curve. Through the fog of postpartum anxiety, I tried to enjoy my time with her. And once we hit a stride — her, me and my husband — I decided to dip a big toe back into work. I missed the thrill of pitching, the zing of landing something new. The idea of putting on real clothes was intoxicating when sweats had been my only wardrobe since she arrived.
I took on a few assignments for outlets, edited content for my agency, and avoided taking calls as much as possible. This smooth transition was helpful for me, but truly, it didn’t prepare me for going back to full speed. Suddenly, everything felt different when I returned full-time. I had already experienced difficulty adjusting to my postpartum body and new life. But my career, my work, my first baby, that was my sense of steadiness. A safe harbor. A place that always felt like ‘me,’ even when I didn’t feel like me.
Consider a Career Coach
When I started to experience dread, guilt and overwhelming feelings signing into work at my home office, I knew I had to figure out a solution. I started by hiring a career coach. Then, I grew confident enough to let go of clients that were difficult to work with. Next, I started the very beginning of a new business plan, which I hope to relaunch and rebrand in 2023.
I also set up some crucial boundaries: I don’t check email from 4 until 9 p.m. each afternoon. That’s my time to pick up my daughter from her nanny, spend time with her and then enjoy dinner with my husband. Weekends are a no-go, too.
In truth: I’m still figuring out how to make my schedule work for my family. But I find comfort that I’m not alone. Many women have come before me and will follow after me. And together, there’s strength in saying: “Hey, this isn’t working anymore. My priorities are different. But I can still be successful and fulfilled by my career — and my kids.”
Know When to Lean In — and Lean Out
After Erin Donahue Tice’s second of three babies were born, she knew she needed to take a step back from her career in public relations. At the time, she was living in Austin, working for a NYC-based company, sitting on its executive committee, managing 10+ accounts and 15 people, and traveling all over the country every month. She had two children under two, and she wanted to prioritize her time with them. However, after eight months, she started to miss the outlet of something just for herself.
She began to paint at night and during nap time. Six months later, she started selling her work online. She’s self-taught and considered art a hobby until it took off. Eventually, she brought in more income painting than she did as an executive. “I decided to focus on being an artist full time. I treated it like the business that it is and invested in marketing, photography and web design,” she shares. “Becoming a full-time artist is the best of both worlds now that I have three little kids. I have a home studio and can do most of my other business work from home. I’m around a lot for my children and can take them to school and activities, yet I’m fulfilled personally and professionally by my new career.”
Tice’s advice to other parents navigating this brand new world is to know when to lean in — and when to lean out. “It’s hard to be all things to all people at all times. After years of working like a crazy person, I ‘leaned out.’ But by the time my third baby came along, my older two were 4 and 6, and I was a bit more freed up to throw myself back into work,” she says. “Luckily, by then, I had found a new career that worked better for my family’s needs and was ready to lean in again.”
Focus on Long-Term Goals
Suki Mulberg Altamirano worked hard to build her successful company, Lexington Public Relations. It brought her joy and fulfillment, and then she had two sons. Though she still was proud of her business, she needed to find a happy medium between her desire to spend time with her children and continuing her work. In addition to childcare, she decided to become a stickler over meetings; if they weren’t absolutely needed, she wouldn’t have them. If they weren’t going to move her work goals forward, they weren’t making it onto her calendar.
She also narrowed down the list of important work initiatives. “I let go of the idea that it was ever going to be realistic to clean through my inbox and check every box that came my way,” she says. “I began outright dropping things — anything that did not directly contribute to my highest priorities or was based in some sense of unnecessary perfectionism.”
Through these practices, she gained productivity and eventually shifted her work week from five to four days. “I realized I was just as productive working Mondays to Thursdays and began taking Fridays off as a day to be with my kids.”
Altamirano wants moms to know that it gets easier over time. And to try to see the forest beyond the trees by thinking more long-term. “Know that there will be days when you probably feel like you’re failing at being there for your kids or getting your work done. But don’t relish in that. “Accept that you’re doing your best and move forward,” she says. “When you feel like this, remember your long-term goals. How do you see yourself as a parent and in your career in another 5-10 years? This helped provide clarity on the days I wanted to throw in the towel with my career because I was tired or burned out. It gave me the motivation to stay the course.”
Listen to Your Intuition and Identify Your Priorities
Kim Rittberg’s work-life epiphany came to her while she was in the hospital awaiting the birth of her second child… while reading resumes. At the time, she had launched the digital video team for US Weekly and was leading a 17-person team. A larger corporate entity had just acquired it and it was so messy and chaotic that she didn’t feel she had time to take off. You know, even during contractions.
While the gig was originally a dream job, once she became a mom of two and the company was acquired, she realized despite being successful, she still had no control. She had to ask herself: why was she working on her phone during her second child’s birth?
So, she decided to work for herself and created her company, Henry Street Media, offering video strategy, brand strategy, digital content consulting services and on-camera media coaching. “Ironically, once I shed the need for a fancy title or business card, I landed several large clients and won two prestigious awards. It was a great lesson: to listen to my intuition when — and especially when — it’s scary.”
For other parents who feel these same frustrations with their current job, Rittberg says don’t slam the door to the career you had before. “Be detailed and analytical about the life you want – not just the ‘job’ or ‘career,’” she says. “My priorities were to be able to get my kids from school some days, go for an unstructured, spontaneous adventure with them to find worms (or maybe just birds!) yet still do creative work in content (video and podcasts) and help people be better on-camera.”
Let Go of Your Ego
Even before magazine editor Lauren Finney Harden welcomed her baby in December 2020, she knew something would have to give. She was working 24/7, meeting deadlines and attending one event after another. She was grossly underpaid and overworked — and soon, she’d have a newborn that needed her more than a magazine. She was writing on deadline until they cut off her email the first 12 hours post-labor. It was during this experience that she realized she needed a job where she could be out for a few days — and it wouldn’t matter so much.
Her solution was doing something similar but still within her professional writing wheelhouse. She switched gears from editorial to content marketing, resulting in better pay, hours and flexibility. Her first new gig was a very corporate 9 to 5 job at a bank — about as far away as she could get from the glamor and chaos of media publishing.
This role made her a free agent with ample time, so she started freelancing for magazines she used to work at and other companies. In the last six months of 2021, she made most of her entire editorial salary in freelance, on top of her corporate employment, simply working at night and, occasionally, on weekends.
But once the bank asked her to return to the office, she quit and took a fully remote start-up job in content marketing. “It might seem silly, but taking 15 minutes to change a crib sheet or prepare ingredients for dinner makes a huge difference in my day,” she says. “I’d rather spend those minutes at home than commuting or talking to coworkers.”
Harden says if you have the opportunity to make a big change but you’re worried about prestige, allow your ego to soften. “I had a very coveted title — editor-in-chief — but I had to put my ego aside and do what I thought was best for my physical and mental health and financially for my family,” she shares. “I gave up a high-power, very visible job for stability, respect, and more pay. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even looked twice at my current position, but by letting go of my ego, I’ve achieved balance and found relative happiness.”
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