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Photography: a gift that keeps on giving!

Photography: a gift that keeps on giving!

The countdown to Christmas is quickly winding down and while we still have a long list of things to do in preparation of the big day, we put it all aside for a morning just playing in the snow as a family.  We dressed in matching sweatshirts, put on our toques and mittens, drove to a beautiful area in our city and cozied up with one another in the cold.

I very recently wrote about how difficult it is to find a work-life balance in a home with two working parents.  After spending some time talking with friends, colleagues and family members, the message is the same from everyone: it’s all about what you prioritize.

I am only starting on my journey to find a work-life balance but there are a few things we have valued as a family for a long time and one of those things is photography.

We’ve all heard the saying that ‘time is a gift’ and when you have young kids that grow like weeds in their sleep, those words begin to resonate with you more than ever.  Super Dad and I have always enjoyed capturing life on camera and are firm believers that photography is a gift that keeps on giving.  We already find ourselves looking back on our milestone pictures – engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn – reminiscing of all the good memories those pictures represent.

This holiday season we teamed up with ‘Of Wild Dawn Photography‘ (OWD) for a family session in the woods and could not be more excited about how well the pictures turned out.

Crystal is the photographer behind OWD with a vision to bring out the natural, raw and candid moments.  She offers a candid, uncluttered photo session in a natural beautiful setting. One that isn’t too long (but isn’t too short!), one that isn’t overly posed, and one that will be fun, enjoyable and capture the tiny, beautiful moments.

Our session was relaxed and felt very natural.  With minimal prompting and props, we simply enjoyed being outside and playing in the snow.  During our time together, Crystal was able to capture us as a family, as a couple, our boys as brothers and each of them on their own.  We even got to squeeze Nana into some pictures along the way!  Crystal is professional, easy to work with and so friendly – taking Clyde by the hand in search of our next location.

This time of year is particularly busy for all of us as we wait for packages to arrive or race to the store in search of the last few gifts.  Our family photography session was the perfect reminder to make time for ourselves to play, relax and enjoy each other’s company.  We are so grateful to have invested in a gift for ourselves that we will enjoy for many years to come and in the words of the Grinch, “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Consider giving the gift of photography this holiday season to your family or to someone you know will value the time together and memories captured.  Book a last minute holiday session with Of Wild Dawn Photography here!

 

A letter from a working parent.

A letter from a working parent.

It’s 10:15pm on December 5.  There are soon to be less than 20 days until Christmas and I am staring at my computer screen with dry, tired eyes just starting to work on our annual family photo book that we do as a Christmas present for my Dad and Step Mom. I’m honestly not even sure that I’ll get it done and ordered in time for Christmas this year but I’m just now finding the time to pull all of the pictures into an album so I certainly haven’t had the time to search out the date for ‘must ship by (blank) to receive in time for Christmas.’  At this point, our little family is operating full steam ahead on a ‘it will get done when it gets done’ philosophy.

Having recently returned to work from my second maternity leave, I am here to tell you that being a working parent is freaking hard.

When I returned to work after having my first-born, I was moderately excited about the idea of going back to work: more adult interaction, a different kind of mental stimulation, a work wardrobe, time with colleagues that have become friends, etc.  Of course, it was heart breaking to leave my wee boy in someone else’s care but we valued the experiences he would gain from being in a good childcare environment and I enjoyed my job in recreation.  More than anything, to be completely honest, it was bearable because I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would be going off on maternity leave with our second baby so there was a faint light at the end of the tunnel right from the get-go.  Almost exactly one year later, I was off again at the end of my second pregnancy and was giddy at the thought of having a full year ahead of me to be home with my boys.

Our transition to being a family of four was more challenging than I expected, but it didn’t take us long to find our stride.  The rest of the year was everything I had hoped it would be and, just as everyone said it would, it flew by.  Jude is a labour day baby, born September 5, so Super Dad and I agreed to take the summer off together with our three year old and soon-to-be one year old.  We spent our time playing at home, checking out local beaches and travelling throughout various parts of Eastern Canada.  The emphasis was low on structure or schedules and high on adventure and time with friends making it a memorable summer to say the least.  When September inevitably rolled around, we were ready to pack up our tents and join the ‘back to school’ brigade.

Having previously returned to work in July, going back in September felt like a breeze.  I packed backpacks for daycare, laid out my new ‘back to work’ outfit and looked forward to all the same things that I had previously enjoyed when returning to work.  Even day care drop off was easier knowing that the boys would go together and sure enough, there were no tears.

When I’m asked how it’s going being back to work, I always hear myself say that it’s been better than I expected and that we are all benefiting from the routine.  While this is true on so many levels, the weight of operating a household with two working parents eventually catches up to me and I find myself contemplating how to go about a drastic life change to find a better work-life balance.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you already know that our family loves and deeply values time spent adventuring together – from hiking, biking, beaching, and camping to playing in the yard, pulling vegetables and tending to our chickens.  I am three months back to work and have yet to figure out how we find the time for these things after an 8-hour workday and a two-hour commute.  This time of year being especially hard with the shortened daylight.

When I get home from work, Super Dad has already brought the boys home from daycare and started something for dinner.  We save any conversation about how our days went for later in the evening and do what we can to look at day care crafts and squeeze in a few minutes of play between dinner, bath, jammies and books.

Does a work-life balance even exist when your kids are this little?

I think one of the biggest differences for me this time around is that the light at the end of the tunnel is much more faint than when I had my sights set on baby number two…in fact, it’s retirement in 25 years.

I can imagine what some of you are thinking.  Quit your job!  Drop down to part-time work!  Take an extended leave!

These are all great suggestions and trust me when I tell you that I have weighed the pros and cons and pursued all the options but here’s the thing…

I have worked my butt off to get to where I am in my career, I like my job and for the first time in my professional life, I feel like I am absolutely in the right place at the right time.  I returned from my maternity leave to a new role in a new building and I am flourishing.  I’m building valuable relationships with my colleagues, I’m establishing a network of contacts throughout my department, I’m gaining confidence in my role as a manager and I’m in a place where I can see the difference that our work is doing in the community.

I think I’m less interested in finding a way to lessen my role as a working professional and more so in finding a way to have it all – or at least a better balance!

How do we working parents thrive in our careers, as parents, as spouses and as individuals?  It seems like a logical solution to ditch the housework, pick up take-out for dinner and postpone our workouts to next week in favour of working all day and playing with the kids in the evening but isn’t that why we’re becoming a generation with obesity and diabetes levels that are considered epidemics?  Not to mention that it’s an added challenge to get everyone out the door in the morning when bedtime snuggles replaced laundry on the ‘to-do list’ and there aren’t enough clean socks to go around.

If there was ever a time when life would allow you to have your cake and eat it too, this is when I would sign up for that option.

I would like to climb the corporate ladder, be home for all the major milestones, remain a best friend to my spouse and set aside some time for myself.  Does anyone have a cake recipe for this?

My greatest hope is that the modern day work environment will soon catch up to the reality that more and more households are operating with two working parents.  Families today need flexibility and the ability to modify their professional lives without having to commit to permanent change.  The option to do a gradual return to work after maternity leave, work one or more days from home or return for half days until the kids are in school.  Stepping out a little further, let’s let the 9-5 work week go the way of the dinosaurs and capitalize on true productivity, engaged employees and wellness in all areas of our lives.

 

Meet the [blogger]: 4 Financial tips from Erin!

Meet the [blogger]: 4 Financial tips from Erin!

Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are just waiting for your turn to talk?  Adam and I often get home from work with so much to say to each other that it’s as if we’re taking turns sharing information without ever truly ‘investing’ in what the other person is saying.  When it’s at its worst, we know that we’re overdue for a date night – a time to talk uninterrupted and without the looming timelines of dinner, bath, bedtime, clean up, sleep.

Amidst the chaos and patched together conversations, Adam works tirelessly to update me on our budget.  I am forever grateful for this quality in him because the other half of the patched together conversation is me taking my turn to tell him about the things I’m currently trying to purchase – anyone else in this boat?  Nevertheless, when we do finally sneak away for an evening of uninterrupted conversation, I am always so impressed by the time and energy that he puts into our financial plan and it’s reassuring to know that our family is moving ahead with clear goals.

One of the people that often acts as our soundboard for new financial ventures is a long time friend, fellow Mom and Certified Financial Planner, Erin Genderon.  Erin is currently off on maternity leave with her youngest but is working on some articles to post on their company blog when she returns to work.  In the meantime, she agreed to give us a sneak peek and I am so excited to be sharing some tips on ‘money mindfulness.’

Without further ado, 4 Financial tips for young families from Erin:

With the start of a new fall season and the end of care free summer days, the ‘responsible, let’s get organized’ side of me kicks into high gear.  Fall has always had a ‘fresh start’ feel about it for me – similar in a sense to New Year’s Eve; a time to reflect on what’s going well and what new opportunities lie ahead.

A constant source of review in our household is how we’re managing our money. How to plan, be smart and make the most of every dollar while juggling the multi-faceted financial priorities of an active household can be a daunting task.

As a financial planner by day and a wife and mom-to-two by night, the following are 4 of our essential tips that will help start you and your family down the path to money mindfulness.

1. Build your budget

Not unlike so many things in life, we need to know where we’re starting from in order to know where to go next. For this reason, I’m going to come right out and say it – the first unavoidable step is to prepare a budget.

A simple income vs. expenses (fixed & variable) = surplus or deficit as well as a basic idea of your family’s net worth (net worth = assets – liabilities).

This is the hardest, most time consuming part – and sometimes what stops us from even getting started. Let me assure you that it’s not so bad and well worth your time. Make use of great apps like mint.ca or get started with an Excel template. If all else fails, break out your trusty pen and paper; whatever you need to do.

2. Positive cash flow is key

Next up! Track your spending and understand where your money is going every month – in the financial world, this is called your cash flow.

Is your cash flow positive or negative every month?

Which direction are you trending?

An app, like mint.ca, links all of your bank accounts and credit cards into one spot and makes this process relatively painless.

3. Remember the bigger picture

The third step to rounding out a simple financial plan is to think about what your bigger, long term goals are – primarily, retirement and kids education. Other things to consider might include buying a recreation property or starting a business.

My husband and I had our kids in our mid-late 30’s – a reality for many Canadian families. This means that raising expensive kids, helping them pay for an education plus saving for our retirement become competing priorities over the next 20 years.

A big mistake is putting off retirement planning, simply because it’s the furthest away and the least in your face – waiting for a time when you can “afford it”.

The power of tax free compounding, dollar cost averaging, and good savings habits will have a bigger payoff the sooner you start.

Give some thought to what these goals look like and what time frame is involved. Allocate money in your family budget to these goals. Small steps you take now will have big impact later.

4. Insurance: What no one truly enjoys talking about it.

A last consideration that can’t be overlooked; insurance and wills.

Having put some hard work and thought into your family’s financial plan, it’s worth going the extra step to ensure it’s all protected.

Specifically when you have dependents, insurance and wills are non-negotiable as we don’t have the saving level to ‘self-fund’ in the event of a ‘worst case scenario.’ Some questions for you and your partner to consider…

  • Have we discussed and agreed on who would look after our child(ren) should something happen to both of us? How would this person cover the additional expenses?
  • If we were suddenly without one person’s income, would our family be able to maintain their standard of living? Most employees have life insurance which includes one or two times their salary but this is rarely enough.
  • Do we have a plan in place financially to carry on in the event of disability or critical illness?

The ability to earn an income is your biggest asset – especially during a time when kids are small, debts are high and savings are low. If this is taken away, even for a small amount of time, the financial impact to your family could be severe.   Although not a simple task, once the above items are analyzed thoughtfully, a real life plan can be put together. This will leave you with a feeling of confidence and peace of mind to meaningfully move forward with clear goals and purpose.  Remember to review your plan periodically. A financial plan is meant to evolve over time, to adapt with your families changing needs, wants and priorities as you grow.

 

Erin is a Certified Financial Planner CFP® in Ottawa and an active mother of 2; a curious, energetic 3 year old and an alert 4 month old. She is also a licensed Investment and Insurance Advisor. She loves working with young families to help them understand their unique situations and give them peace of mind to achieve their life goals.

 

Erin Gendron, CFP®, FMA®
Associate Investment Advisor & Financial Planner
HollisWealth®, a division of Industrial Alliance Securities Inc.
Vandermeer Wealth Management
www.vandermeerwealth.com | erin@vandermeerwealth.com 

To work or not to work?

To work or not to work?

In the days leading up to my return to work, I had a friend make a joke that really resonated with me.  We were messaging back and forth about how I would make it through my first day and how my family would adjust to the change and then she wrote: “When was it that women fought for the right to work?”

I laughed but the thought has really stuck with me and changed my perspective entirely about going back to work.

In an instant, I went from wallowing about not staying home with my boys to feeling empowered about having the opportunity to hold a challenging and satisfying career of my own.

This isn’t by any means a knock against stay-at-home parents.

It’s simply a reminder of how fortunate we are to have the choice – to work, to stay home or to balance a bit of both.

This past Friday marked my first “month-a-versary” of having been back to work full-time.  Just like with everything else these days, the weeks flew by and I’m not sure I can say with full confidence that we have our feet under us yet – but we’re getting there!

This being my second time back to work from maternity leave, a few things felt a little easier.  Namely dropping Jude at daycare knowing he would be with his big brother all day was a breeze.

Otherwise, I am referring back to my own “survival guide” if you will.  So many of these tips remain true for me today as a working parent…

1. Love your job.  Coming back to work this fall, I had the opportunity to start in a new role at a new Community Centre.  The learning curve has been pretty steep – on top of adjusting to a new routine at home – but in less than one month, I got to bring my kiddos along to a weekend event in the community where I work and we all loved it!

2. Love your childcare arrangements.  If I can’t be with my boys all day, everyday, it’s important to me that they be in an environment that adds value to their day.  Our boys spend their time with the sweetest family at a French home daycare.  They bring home crafts and Clyde tells me stories about playing with his friends.  They are practicing a second language and spend much of their time playing outside.  When I told Clyde in September that Jude would be joining him at daycare, he was so excited and to see them run into the house together warms my heart.

3.  Make plans to socialize after bedtime.  In the last year, we have established a monthly ‘guys night’ and ‘ladies night’ with our friends.  We meet up once a month after bedtime on a weekday for drinks or a late dinner and catch up!  It’s become something that I really look forward to and takes the pressure off of getting together without the kids during precious weekend time.

4.  Let brunch be your best friend.  I have written many times about my love for breakfast outings with kids.  Whether we’re at a restaurant or making pancakes at home, it is one of my favourite times to socialize with the kiddos.

5. Quality over quantity.  I am a firm believe in the value of playing with your kids and when I get home from work, everything waits until after bedtime so I can make the most of every minute with the boys.

Perhaps step number 6 should be to remind myself, on the hard days, that having the choice to work was worth fighting for.

Fast forward six weeks: life update!

Fast forward six weeks: life update!

hold.  the.  phone.  Has it really been over a month since I’ve last written?  I’ll admit I had to go back to the blog to see what my last entry was but it immediately felt like it was just last week that I was sitting on the back deck writing about our trip to the East coast.  In what feels like a blink of an eye, six weeks have gone by and we have been through so much change.

For starters, I cut my hair.  Like really, cut my hair.  Yikes!  A hair cut is always a shock but there’s something about a Mom bob that feels so good.  Who’s with me?

In more serious news…I’m back to work now!  I started back at my full-time job in recreation after the labour day weekend.  I was more ready than I realized to get up, get dressed and get out the door in the morning but we are all still adjusting to the transition.

Before getting back to a more ‘traditional’ routine, we were able to squeeze in a few more things into our unforgettable first summer as a family of four.

Just one week after getting home from Nova Scotia, we loaded up the truck once more with our camping gear for another 10-day tour – this time of Southern Ontario.

We joined my Dad and Step Mom for a visit in Welland, Ontario where my Dad grew up and my Aunt, Uncle and cousins live.  Clyde got to swim and ride bikes with his cousin – second cousin?  First cousin, once removed?  My cousin’s son…for anyone that understands how that works.  We drove into Niagara to see the falls and enjoyed some long overdue family time.

From there, we continued on with my Dad and Step Mom to join them in Toronto for a few days.  My Dad was staying in a hotel on business and made room for our family to tag along.  We lounged in the lobby for continental breakfasts, walked down the hall to the hotel pool and snuck back to the lobby once the kids were asleep for an ‘adults only’ Haagen Daaz.  We briefly left the comforts of hotel living to peruse the Yorkdale mall and to visit a friend from home and her two boys.  We made sure to enjoy our last sleep in the hotel knowing we were leaving the next morning for one more camping trip of the summer.

From Toronto, we carried on to Gateway Camping in Wasaga beach.  Super Dad’s sister and her family live just 20 minutes from Wasaga so the boys got to spend time with their cousins everyday.  I’m wishing this heat wave were in now had come through a month ago but we still made the best of our time by the beach.

We stopped in to see some more family in Whitby on the way home to Ottawa.  My Mom met us there and I stayed behind to join her at the Bruno Mars concert in Toronto!  We all made it back to Ottawa and this time with two of my older cousins in tow!

The last week of our summer flew by.  We unpacked, prepped meals, stained the deck, harvested the garden, shopped for fall clothes, planned Jude’s birthday party… oh yes, and bought a condo that required a full renovation…because, why not!  Honestly.

Super Dad is easily the handiest and most hard working person I know.  He, with the help of family and friends, built the house that we live in now.  Together, he and I are very interested in maintaining rental properties and stumbled on a great investment opportunity in a building we know and like!  Our hope was that it would close mid-August leaving us time to renovate before starting back to work but no such luck.  We closed on September 1st with an ambitious goal of renovating and renting by October 1st so needless to say, this month has been busy.

We are so incredibly fortunate to have grandparents nearby that are willing to help out in any capacity – whether it be childcare or building Ikea kitchen cabinets – and even family that will come from out of town with their work clothes to lay hard wood.  We are a tired family but so thrilled to be on track to meet our goal.  Before and after pictures of the condo to come!

Until then, I will leave you with these… some pictures from our sweet Jude’s first birthday party.  I’ve said it before and I will say it a thousand times over – it was the most wonderful year spent with this sweet boy.  He is gentle, funny, curious and so full of love.

Thank you for coming back to visit after six weeks of silence… I am slowly but surely getting my feet back under me and am thrilled to be back writing again.  See you all next week xo

My 5-step survival guide for a working parent

My 5-step survival guide for a working parent

I recently attended the Can-Fit-Pro conference in Montreal and spent some (more) time stewing about the inevitable end of my maternity leave.  I am not even at the halfway point of my year at home but the thought of going back to work with two little ones at home hasn’t left my mind since being pregnant with Jude.  Adam and I both work full-time in recreation.  We have explored the option of me staying home with the boys many times but we always end up in the same place – in part, neither of us are willing to make the lifestyle changes to lose one salary but more than that, I truly enjoy what I do and I worked very hard to get where I am today in my career.  That’s not to say that it’s a case closed decision but for now, I’m focusing more on living by my own personal “survival guide” for a working parent.

  1. Above all else, love your job.  I know it’s not realistic to love it everyday but be sure that you are doing something you enjoy because it’s true what they say… time flies when you’re having fun and when you’re spending the day away from your little one(s), it’s not helpful to be counting the minutes.
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    Halloween at Mom’s work
  2. A close second, love your childcare arrangements.  Whatever childcare looks like for your family, take comfort in seeing that your child is happy during the morning drop-off and knowing that they will benefit from this day learning, socializing and feeling loved.  Clyde spends his day in an amazing french home daycare or with his Grandma.  We live in the rural West end of Ottawa and chose childcare close to work so that we can pick him up for activities or errands in town.
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    Proud of his daycare craft!
  3. Make plans to socialize after bedtime.  Much like the first few weeks after having a baby, I essentially became a recluse again for the first few weeks back at work.  I was missing so much of Clyde’s day that I didn’t want to miss another minute in the evening.  The odd time that I made plans after work, I stressed about it all day and often cancelled.  Before long, we started to find our rhythm at home and I realized that I had a magical window of time between 7-10pm.  Late dinners, dessert dates and moonlight snowshoeing became the perfect solution to seeing my friends (and my husband).
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    Date night with hubby!
  4. Let brunch be your best friend.  If you are making plans to see someone on the
    weekend, find a toddler friendly restaurant (i.e. casual seating, toys, informal service etc.) and enjoy a mid morning meal with friends!  Mid-morning gives you ample time to get up and out the door but ensures that you’re home in time for nap.  That’s a win/win in my book!  We frequent Alice’s Village Cafe in Carp for this very occasion.  $1 day-old scones are a staple in Clyde’s diet and the bench seating/toy section make it the perfect getaway for a mom with a +1.

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    Brunch with West Coast family!
  5. Quality over quantity.  In the first few weeks of being back at work, we would
    keep Clyde up with us until 9pm just so that we could have a few hours with him in the evening.  Unfortunately for our early riser, this made for some undesirable behaviours and a 7pm bedtime quickly became his new normal.  This left me with approximately 2 hours to hang with my mini bestie during which time we also had to accomplish dinner and a bath.  The words of a close family friend stuck with me that quality over quantity can go a long way so if you’re looking for me, I’ll be down on the floor with my big boy playing cars, making meals in his kitchen, hanging in our blanket fort, jumping on the couch cushions and making the best of every minute I have with him during those two precious hours.

Wherever you are in your journey as a working parent – whether you’re a seasoned pro or are coming to the end of your first maternity leave, solidarity, my friend.  We are hard working warrior mamas and papas out to change the world!

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