I consider myself someone who can juggle a lot — multiple jobs, extracurricular activities, blah, blah, blah. That said, after coming back to work from maternity leave, I was struggling just to get out of the house and to keep up with basic email. And the guilt! I felt guilty pretty much all the time, worried I wasn't doing it right as a mom.
Fast forward almost two years later to a point where I've gained some critical experience and perspective. Here's what I would have told myself before going back to the office:
1. Put down that baby food cooker, Jen Brown!
When I was going back to work, it seemed like all my new mommy friends were really into making their own baby food and swapping cook books featuring the latest vegetable puree. Like, really into it. Thinking that this was something I owed my child, something I could do for her if I couldn't be home for her during the day, I invested in a (rather pricey) baby food steamer. This turned out to be a waste of money, and as my husband reminds me from across the room, counter space. I used it exactly three times, and all three times my daughter preferred the perfectly delicious, organic jarred food to what I made. Hence, in the immortal words that my now not-yet-2-year-old can officially sing, "Let it go." Your time has never been more limited, so don't use it on things you don't enjoy, especially if it's just out of mommy pressure.
2. Bobby pins and a little flair go a long way
I distinctly remember almost laughing out loud in a big meeting a few weeks after coming back to work when someone told me I looked great. I think they really meant it, but the truth was I had not showered in at least five days. Lesson learned: A couple go-to messy hair do's and an eye-catching necklace can hide a multitude of sleepless nights and many a day without bathing.
3. Double up…and befriend your fellow mammas
Getting out of the door with a newborn at home is a major challenge. Anything you can forget, you will forget. So double up on anything you can keep in the office — an extra shirt, extra bottles, an extra set of house keys . When you do inevitably leave something critical behind, the fellow moms in the office can save your day. I'm still indebted to my friend and fellow new mamma Sam Go for hooking me with extras when I forgot that little filter thing you need to make the breast pump work. (How can something so small and flimsy completely thwart this critical activity?!?!?) Ahem. What I mean to say: Thank you, Sam Go.
4. Meal planning: All the cool kids are doing it
We have dear friends who would spend every Saturday at our local bar meticulously working on their grocery list and meal plans for the week. I used to think that was extraordinarily nerdy; now there are few things that bring me more pleasure than knowing exactly what's for dinner. I love Randi Zuckerberg's insight about backloading frozen meals toward the end of your mat leave. I will take that one step further and say I should have spent the last month of maternity leave just freezing meals for the next year…or at least the month. Mmmm, lasagna.
5. You didn't go to the class? The photos tell me otherwise
For a long time I was racked with guilt for not going to my daughter's biweekly gym classes. (Hooray for free classes for kids up to six months!) But I did get to one and made sure to take a ton of photos. Now my daughter flips back through the pictures and tells me about mommy and Charlie going to the gym together. Score one for revisionist history.
6. Get down on the floor and play
This piece of hand-me-down advice comes from my good friend and mother of four JoAnne Kennedy. When I was still pregnant and already worried about not having enough time for my daughter, JoAnne told me that 1. It would all be ok, and 2. Make sure whenever you do get home to immediately get down on the floor and play with your child. No cell phone, no interruptions, just good quality time. She was totally right. I may only get 30 minutes with my daughter on most nights, but it's quality time and she goes to bed super happy.