Being a working mama is hard—and we all need to learn from one another

“It doesn’t get easier you just get stronger.”

I came across those words on Instagram a few months after my second child was born.

I had been struggling to make everything fit—jugging multiple part-time jobs with not enough child care.

While I knew we wanted to have more children some day, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how.

But once I saw those words, my entire perspective shifted.

It’s not about life-hacking my way through motherhood (though I adore people and products that make my life easier.)

It’s about accepting (and celebrating!) that I am growing and evolving as part of this experience, and that I am capable of so much more than I even imagine.

Even though I feel like my hands are full now, many women before me have found ways to grow as their families do. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but I trust that I can start to figure it out along the way.

When I read this hilarious (and #sotrue) essay in New York Magazine about how motherhood can help you get your act together at home and work, I nodded my head in agreement the entire time.

Motherhood—and the demands of being the person that two little people now call mom—continues to be the most transformative experience of my life.

My husband and I need to keep talking about roles

We promised to have an egalitarian marriage (I even asked the priest to take out a standard prayer from our wedding ceremony about women doing the housework that struck me as particularly sexist), but the reality was that after my maternity leave, I began working from home—and I started default-parenting.

My husband is the best dad I could ever ask for my children, but we noticed along the way that things like doctor’s appointments, laundry piles and bedtime were all defaulting to me. And then there were times that he was pitching in around the home in ways that I wasn’t fully appreciating. So we started talking it through—over and over again. They can be emotional conversations to have, but we are better because of them.

After we read “Who cuts the fingernails?” together, we decided to be more intentional about how roles are divided. Sometimes, my job is more flexible and I pick up the slack, but lately, he’s been taking over on the homefront while I work on a big project. We’re still trying to figure out which roles and responsibility work uniquely for us, and it’s a constant conversation that we need to keep having.

Oh, and he now cuts all the tiny little fingernails.

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Eat breakfast

Coffee doesn’t count.

I’m a convert to morning smoothies, which I pack with protein by adding almond butter and chia seeds. I sip them all morning and feel somuchbetter if I just remember to eat food before noon.

This is the whole “put on your own oxygen mask first” philosophy. Fuel yourself, mama for all you have to do.

Encourage others

It’s really hard to feel like you’re never going to fit into your pants again, or that you’ll never sleep through the night again, or that you’ll never get out of the house again.

But once I survived some of motherhood’s trials (thanks to the encouragement, humor and help of dozens of girlfriends who literally flew in to help, or texted encouragement, or found ways to make me laugh), I found myself wanting to be that same support for others.

Now I try to take the time to let new mamas know that I’m thinking about them, or check in on them, or send them a simple note of encouragement.

We make motherhood better for all of us when we create a culture that acknowledges how demanding it truly can be and find small, but incredibly meaningful, ways to help.

Invite a new mom to hang out. Spontaneously care of her kids for the afternoon. Send her a little gift to let her know you’re thinking of her. Be the change you want to see in the world. Be the diaper change?

Know when to push ahead—and when you give yourself a break

Some nights after my children are asleep the most important thing I can do is sprint through emails and try to catch up at work.

But I’ve found that it’s just as important to sense when my overwhelming to-do list is starting to make my head explode, and that the most beneficial thing I can actually do then is take the night off and watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine with my husband—(starring my back-up husband, Andy Samberg. I love you Jake Peralta.)

I don’t need Harvard Business Review to tell me that working too much actually decreases productivity, now I have my own experience as an occasionally-frantic working mother.

I’m slowly figuring out that putting in too many hours at the office actually prevents me from being effective, and that a night on the couch can actually a good choice for my career.

So bring it on, Brooklyn.

Redefine "productivity"

Sure, research (and our own experience) show that mothers can be incredibly productive at work.

We agree that moms can actually get done in three hours what might take others a full day. Nothing like a 5 pm daycare pickup time to make a woman work through her massive to-do list in rapid order.

But don’t let those ideas of what “getting things done” looks like keep you from recognizing the value of being with your kids and doing absolutely nothing “productive.”

When you take your toddler to story time, change her bedding, kiss her skinned knee, cook a nutritious dinner or just simply are present with her—that’s incredibly important work that is too-often dismissed as “unproductive.”

Don’t be deceived. The small acts of caregiving that women do every day are the building blocks of a loving family and a meaningful life. You’re investing in the most precious resource—your little person.

You’re raising a human being. That’s the most spectacular achievement of all.

We’re proud to know you, mama.

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