A friend called me an inspiration this week, in the context of recent changes I’ve made in my work and family life, specifically a part-time return to work while managing a baby and toddler. The feedback prompted me to write this post. (Thanks, Rikki!) The topic of “work / life pressures on mothers and young families” has been done to death in general, but here’s an example of one way to balance things that is working for me and my family.

The new baby arrived back in November, and about a month ago I reached the point of wanting to seek fresh intellectual stimulation. Happily, at that time a part-time opportunity came up.

It was a short contract, just right for testing the waters of professional work while the baby is still small. It was with a company with a strong culture of working from home, which is important while Baby is still breastfeeding and actively disdainful of bottle feeds.

I found a lovely pair of babysitters, and I got to engage my brain with proper analytical research – not to mention interacting with fellow adults. The professional work was such a contrast to childcare that in some respects it felt like a break ;) I also noticed having more energy and enthusiasm with my little ones. In other words, picking up work helped me be a better mum.

Unexpected bonus: when babies nap, babysitters reload dishwashers, run laundry, and generally clean up. This is excellent.

It wasn’t stress-free. For example, a babysitter was ill at one point shortly before a deadline, leaving me scrambling to find childcare - but there wasn’t anything insurmountable.

A few tips:-

  • work in a separate area that’s specifically for work, and absolutely not the same room as baby and babysitter: that’s too distracting for all of us
  • trust the babysitter: interview the babysitter, check their references, take your time showing them around, explaining routines and answering their questions - then don’t hover. Let them get on with their job
  • have excellent communication with the babysitter: I try to be crystal clear about when I’m in calls and shouldn’t be interrupted unless it’s an emergency
  • make sure the babysitter is arriving at least 30 minutes before any scheduled calls: allow time for late buses, handover and getting into the work headspace
  • have back-up babysitters in your contact list for emergencies!

Someone asked how I had the energy for this work with broken sleep. Honestly, I think it’s just that I’m enthusiastic about this kind of work, and/or that my toddler has trained me in coping with broken sleep for the last 2.5 years ;) The work being so different to my other day-to-day activities really does help; it also helps that this particular variety of research and analysis is right up my street, something I’m very comfortable doing.

Rikki commented, “You’re showing how it can be done, and importantly doing it because it’s what’s right for you, not because it’s expected.” That second point is so important: there’s no single model of balancing family life with professional activities. My view is that a certain amount of trial and error can go a long way in working these things out, although I appreciate that not everyone has those kind of opportunities.

In any case, the first contract ended last week, and I’m now happily at the start of a second contract.