Photosanity‘s Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick shares her thoughts and advice on the age old problem parents face.
Going back to work after having a baby is tough, whether it’s been 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years. Unfortunately, corporate culture here in the US does NOT make it easy. The fact that the US is the only industrialized nation without mandated paid family leave speaks volumes. We are finally starting to see a small glimmer of hope as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island provide partially paid family and medical leave, and New York will be soon (in New York and California, paid leave will be or is provided through employee payroll deductions). But we still have a long long way to go.
And by the way, while everyone is different and needs to figure out what works for them, what I’ve experienced, seen and heard from women typically is that it is really hard to go back 6 weeks or even 3 months, and that many find 6-9 months a little easier.
I started my own photography business working from home after becoming a mom, taking 3 months free and clear, and then around 9 months before really getting serious with my business. I pretty much worked through having my second baby (not recommended!) then went back to work in my previous career as an architect when my youngest was 18 months (I left that job last summer to relaunch my business).
Here are some lessons I have learned from navigating the work environment as a woman with kids.
Impress By Doing Less: Don’t accept the idea that you can only provide value by putting in long hours. I did 70 hour work weeks early in my career but knew that was no longer going to be viable or sustainable for me, so this became my mantra. My goal was to be as ruthlessly efficient with my work as possible by prioritizing, leveraging and simplifying, and it actually made me better at my job.
Know Your Worth. Don’t devalue yourself just because you just had a baby and don’t feel at full capacity, or because you have small kids and can’t put as many hours in, or because you took time out of your career, or because you don’t want to travel. Don’t just focus on what you’re not doing and where you’re falling short. Try to really see and acknowledge yourself what you are doing both at home and at work, and don’t let others devalue you either, whether it’s your boss, your spouse, your friends or even your own kids!
You’re not going to win at putting in long hours (see above) but this is not the only way to provide value. Spend some time thinking about what you’re really good at, find your “zone of genius,” and place yourself there as much as possible.
Set Boundaries. Decide what is and isn’t ok and be firm about it. Know where you’re willing to be flexible, but set your non-negotiables also. This applies to all areas of your life, not just work.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” – Brene Brown, Rising Strong
Speak Up. In addition to setting boundaries, ask for what you need, both at home and at work, and get help and support. Talk about how you feel, appropriately of course but you are not alone and don’t need to carry all your feelings by yourself.
And don’t just speak up for yourself. Speak up for your ideas and expertise, and speak up for others whose voices may not be getting the play they should. Using your voice in the world is a way to provide value and bring about change, even if you get pushback.
Delegate. You don’t have to do everything! Again, this applies both at home and at work. If you struggle with delegation, remember that you do have to invest some time up front handing over tasks, so it won’t save you time instantly, but it will save you time in the long run.
Self-Care. I wish I’d known to prioritize this earlier, and it can feel impossible with a baby. But even if it’s just enjoying a book or listening to a podcast while commuting and/or pumping, taking a little time for yourself each day is best for everyone in the long run!
Finally, especially for those of you just going back to work soon after having a baby, know that the challenges you face today won’t last forever. A whole host of new challenges will come up, but you will be less sleep-deprived. It really does get better!
Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick is a family photographer turned photography coach for parents. She founded Photosanity to help parents find joy & connection through photographing their kids. Born and brought up in the UK, Alethea lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her two sons, Liam, age 8, and Jack, age 5.
Alethea has taught workshops at the Apple Store, Brooklyn Baby Expo, Brooklyn Babybites (now Mommybites) and online through Photosanity.com and other platforms. She has been interviewed on 1010WINS and featured in The Daily Mail, Cool Mom Picks, Apartment Therapy, Ask Moxie and Mom365.