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.