I stayed home with my kids for 5 years, and it was a very sweet time in my life. But at certain point I felt a need to go back to work, even though it meant introducing a new level of complexity to our lives. The first few weeks—maybe even the first few months—were hugely stressful, largely due to organizational challenges. Below, the eight rookie mistakes I made when I went back to work.
1. I didn’t give any autonomy to the babysitter. For the first month I was back at work, I was constantly fielding texts from the sitter about what activities to do with my two sons. I’d also arrange playdates between my boys and other kids, and then field the other sitter or parent texting about plans and timing, and then relaying that info to my sitter, and then texting her reply back to the other sitter. I’d also text what there was for lunch and remind her to cut up the grapes for the toddler. It was, to put it mildly, crazy-making. At a certain point I threw up my hands, gave the sitter all the relevant phone numbers, and left a drawer of petty cash for groceries and outings. Life immediately got a lot more peaceful.
2. I didn’t give any autonomy to my husband. I start work earlier than my husband. That means that the first hours of the day, he’s in charge of the kids while I get ready for work and start my day. I found it nearly impossible, after 5 years of getting them up, fed and dressed, to not interfere. Sometimes he’d give them something for breakfast that I wouldn’t have, or put the 5-year-old’s shorts on the 2-year-old. At first, I’d race into the kitchen and switch out the cups for the toddler, because that’s the one he always spills, or change their clothes. But a few late arrivals for work cured me of that habit, and now I just walk out the door. Who cares if the 2-year-old is wearing enormous shorts?
3. I ate some really lame lunches. A friend told me that lunch, for people in the workforce, is the often the one moment of peace and pleasure you get all day. I alternated between packing a lame lunch I didn’t really like, to ordering an enormous expensive sandwich that I didn’t really like. Now I take time to consider what I want to eat. It’s probably the highlight of my day.
4. I didn’t ask about workplace flexibility. Most jobs have an “office culture,” which means start times can range anywhere from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and end at wildly different times, too. The first job I took going back to work, I didn’t ask about flexible work hours, or working from home, and I tried to shoehorn my family life around a standard 9–5 schedule. But now I always ask if a supervisor is okay with a shifted, earlier schedule, or working from home, and nine times out of ten, they are.
5. I didn’t make time for self-care. So, I know I’m weird, but I like to exercise. For one thing, it’s one of the few opportunities to be alone. For another, it boosts my mood. But the moment that our family life gets crazy, my exercise time is the first thing to go. But it can’t be—I have to take care of myself or the whole household starts to fray. Otherwise I end up feeling like a broken-down old pack horse who’s perpetually running to catch a train.
6. I kept trying to cook from scratch every night. Twenty-minute meals are the biggest lie ever told. Now, I may be a stone-cold moron, but it takes me an hour from when I walk into the door to get a home-cooked meal on the table. I was going bonkers with the kids whining with hunger while I tried to sauté some beef and broccoli. Now I cook a big batch of something on the weekends, eat that twice, freeze some of it, and otherwise rely on convenience foods and takeout. I know there are parents who can pop a well-balanced meal on the table within minutes of walking in the door, but I’m not one of them, and it’s important to know your shortcomings. Sometimes dinner is a can of lentil soup and buttered toast, and that’s totally fine.
7. I didn’t set my bag by the door every night. This is something I learned in middle school, for crying out loud. But the first few mornings of work I’d wander around the house in my underwear, looking for my wallet, my keys, my office key, my laptop, the cord, my coffee mug and subway card, and somehow, 45 minutes later, I’d be standing in the kitchen in a skirt and bra, wondering why I was running so late. Now I set out everything the night before, right down to my underwear and earrings.
8. I didn’t consider my shoes. Early on, I had a meeting with a potential client, so I carefully picked out an outfit the night before. Naturally I chose the cute-but-serious shoes that tied the whole outfit together. But I forgot—because these were shoes from my pre-kid days—that these particular pumps shred my feet like a cheese grater. Seriously, if you’re a working mother, the comfort of your shoes should be your very first consideration. Actually, it should be your first consideration if you’re a SAHM, for that matter. If you’re any kind of mom, you need to be able to vault a sandbox or break up a brawl.
It’s not like I’m a model of organization these days—in fact every morning feels like a sprint through an obstacle course and every evening feels like I run back through the course in the other direction. But regardless, I’m not a rookie anymore. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to plan out tomorrow’s lunch.