Hello there, Under the Oaks readers! My name is Stephanie and I blog over at Girl Versus Dough – mainly about yummy foods, but also sometimes about the little love of my life, my baby daughter Avery. I’m going on a year now with life as a mom so while I can’t say I’m by any means an expert on all things baby, I do know a thing or two about scrubbing mashed avocado out of a rug, teething tantrums and changing a blown-out diaper in the back of a car on the side of the road in the middle of a cornfield. Aren’t you excited to read more already?
But in all seriousness, Annie asked me to write today a little bit about my experience with the whole “work/life” balance thing as a new mama – something I must admit I’m still trying to figure out. But I’ll start at the beginning and work my way toward the present, and hopefully you can glean a thing or two from my experiences.
Way before Avery was even a twinkle in my eye, I was a newspaper reporter for a couple of years. It was, at the time, what I thought was my dream job – however, I was also blogging on the side at Girl Versus Dough about bread and desserts and anything else I decided to whip up in my and my husband’s teeny-tiny apartment kitchen (that had no windows, mind you, so I won’t even tell you how many times the smoke alarm went off… but know it was more than once and less than eleventy billion). Fast forward a couple of years to a tipping point, when I realized I was more passionate about food blogging than continuing my career in journalism, and so I decided to go full-time with the blog. And that’s where I am today.
When Avery was born, I had these expectations: expectations that I would be able to, somehow, keep a tight grip on a baby in one hand while stirring a spoon in a soup pot with the other. Expectations that I could miraculously train my baby to keep herself entertained for a half-hour so I could photograph a plate of muffins. Expectations of perfectly propped photos and neat and tidy little blog posts that I could hammer out on a keyboard during the baby’s three long, peaceful naps each day. If you’re a mom, I assume you’re already laughing.
I also had this expectation that I could somehow continue feeling equally fulfilled in my career and in motherhood simultaneously – in fact that I would feel completely whole, now that I am both a mom and a blogger, in a way I never felt before. That everything would just feel right and work itself out, because hey, these are the things I’m supposed to be doing with my life!
And then reality struck.
The baby barely napped, and when she did, it was time to do a mad dash to clean the dishes or dust the shelves or tackle the pile of laundry that cascaded down the stairs earlier in the day when the cat jumped into the basket. Whenever I even thought to make a meal, it was like Avery knew I wasn’t thinking about her and instantly clung to my heels (or my knee. Or my face. The girl is a face-clinger). And on the miraculous occasion I actually had time to put together a recipe for a blog post and went to photograph it, inevitably that was the moment the Johnny Jump Up was no longer The Best Toy Ever but instead The Evil Toy From Which I Must Be Released Immediately.
For a while, my husband – who works as a physician assistant in an emergency room, so he has weird hours – would take full baby duty for a few hours a day so I could furiously finish my work in the most haphazard of ways (parbaked muffins here, a burnt casserole over there, half-written blog posts and blurry photo after blurry photo on my camera because I didn’t have the time or patience to set up my tripod, etc.). Eventually, we signed up Avery for a once-a-week daycare, which was HUGE. We could go out to breakfast without baby! We could clean the house! We could turn up the music loud! I could do my blog work in peace and tranquility! And then a half-hour later, we were depressed because we missed her. Go figure.
There was a time when I’d started to make myself go crazy because I’d try to just type one more sentence, just check one more e-mail, just take one more Instagram photo before getting Avery up from her nap or feeding her or playing peekaboo with her for the hundredth time. Then, I’d feel guilty for not being attentive to my little girl. Then, I’d feel guilty for letting my blogging career slide. Then, I’d feel guilty because I just stress-ate a bag of M&Ms from all this guilt and now I feel guilty about eating candy. It. Just. Wasn’t. Working.
So here’s what I did: I stopped. I stopped trying to be the “Best Blogger Ever” and the “Best Mom Ever” at the same time. I stopped flip-flopping my brain between blogger and mother every few hours, or minutes, or seconds. I stopped making myself feel guilty all the time because there was no fruit or productivity in it – it was simply making me feel worse about everything.
And I started compartmentalizing my days. I’d get up at the hey-hoo of dawn and write my blog posts (or take photos – artificial light FTW!). Once Avery was up for the day, it was time to turn off the computer and get down on the ground and play with blocks and read books. Once she went down for a nap, it was time for me to get ready for the day, time to decompress, time to have to myself to take a shower or make the bed or do whatever it was that would make me feel like “me” again. Then, once she was up from her nap, it was back to all Avery time. And during her second nap (or sometimes third nap, hallelujah!), I would take care of e-mails, editing photos, etc. After her bedtime, if my husband was home, it was time to spend with him. If he wasn’t home because he was working late, I’d take advantage of that time, too, to work on the blog. And I’d productive-ize the ish out of that one day a week Avery was in daycare.
I’d also make certain times and days sacred times – that is to say, weekends were (mostly) off-limits to the blog and solely dedicated to family time, as were some mornings when my husband was off work and we were all together. And little by little, I figured out a “balance.”
I put the word balance in quotes because to this day, it’s still not perfect. There are times when I find myself racing against the clock to get work done and feeling slightly resentful that Avery is stirring in her crib before she’s supposed to and it’s going to make me miss a deadline (and then comes the feeling of guilt for feeling resentful, and… well, you know how this goes. Where are my M&Ms?). There are times when I feel a little lost in this whole motherhood thing as I sit on the rug in my pajamas with my hair in a lopsided topknot, un-showered at 2 p.m., cleaning old, crusty spit-up that dried up between pages of one of Avery’s board books (lovely), wondering how this same person was getting dressed up every day and going to an office just a few years ago. But that’s life, right? That’s motherhood. It’s messy and imperfect and frustrating and maddening and lovely and joyful and beautiful all at the same time. And we mothers are just doing what we can to be the best mom we can be in the midst of it all – in the midst of the “balance.”
I know my situation is very unique, and that many moms are full-time at the office – so I can’t speak to how they navigate these waters. But for me, as a work-at-home/stay-at-home mom, it’s about making office hours versus mama hours at home, keeping them separate, and sticking to them as much as possible. Just like a baby needs a predictable schedule to thrive, so do I. And sleep. We all need sleep (and perhaps a cookie, too).
Thanks for contributing to the Mamahood Advice Series, Stephanie!
Mamahood Advice series features blogging mamas from around the web each month sharing their advice for new moms. Interested in being a guest blogger for this series? Email me! hello [at] undertheoaksblog [dot] com.