Menu

Want to thrive at work? Take more ‘me time’

Working motherhood expert Allyson Downey talks overcoming guilt and what it really takes to thrive.

Want to thrive at work? Take more  ‘me time’

Allyson Downey is the founder of weeSpring, a Techstars-backed startup she launched in 2013 that makes the process of finding the best baby and kids products easy for parents—like Yelp, but think reviews of Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit and Burt’s Bees lotion instead of the new sushi joint downtown. (We couldn’t live without it.)


Allyson is also an author of Here’s the Plan and the host of Motherly’s class for working mamas.

This book is a game changer, ladies. It answers the who, what, where, when, and hows of everything parental leave, balancing your nights and weekends, finding childcare—and beyond.

We sat down with Allyson to talk about how to deal with the guilt of unplugging on the weekend and how to work to make things equal at home.

It seems like in a lot of situations today, both women and men are ill-informed about what they are entitled to or what they should fight for when it comes to parental leave and work flexibility. Do you think there should be a class offered in high school or college detailing all the intricacies of work and parenting?

Allyson Downey: At the risk of sounding like a zealot: Yes. But it’s a more complicated yes, because I don’t think it’s just about “teaching” work-life balance.

There are so many simple tactical skills that we totally fail to educate kids about in high school and college.

And while I’d love to see conversations starting early on about family balance and the economic case for parental leave (see Jessica Shortall’s outstanding TED Talk for more on that), I’d be pretty satisfied to see girls taught simple fundamentals like negotiating. If girls came out of high school knowing about anchoring high and finding the efficient frontier, they’d have a fantastic foundation to build from when it’s time to negotiating their compensation while on parental leave.

I think a lot of women may have crucial maternity leave, extended leave questions, etc. for their potential employers while on interviews, but are scared to ask them because they’re afraid they may not get hired. Advice for women in these situations?

Don’t ask them when you’re interviewing. Devote 100% of your energy to putting yourself out there as the rock star you are. Don’t muddy the waters by inviting people to think about you as a mother or a prospective mother.

I know it’s discouraging to hear that, but you don’t want to distract someone for one second from hearing about how phenomenally you’ve performed in your previous roles, and what a tremendous asset you’ll be once they hire you.

Save your logistical questions (and even cultural questions, when you’re digging for insight on work-life balance) for after you get an offer.

The details of maternity leave, parental leave, disability policies, etc. often seem secretive at companies. We need to dig for the information ourselves. Why do you think companies aren’t more up-front about these details?

I wish I knew! Despite that corporate opacity, there are some great new resources—like Maybrooks [now Après] and Fairygodboss—that crowdsource data to try and shed light on company policies (as they relate to women) and culture.

But one of my calls to action in the book is for companies to wear their policies on their sleeves.

We’re seeing more and more of that as companies like Etsy and Netflix trumpet their generous leave packages, and my hope is that there will eventually be enough companies being transparent that all companies feel compelled to do so.

In terms of your home life—there’s a quote in Here’s the Plan that says, I’m so glad you always ask what you can do, but I don’t want to have to be the one who always thinks of what needs to get done! I think this hits the nail on the head for a lot of women. We strive for an equal household—the mother and the father do equal amounts of childcare, planning, prepping, household chores, and both work—but a lot of these things ultimately fall on the woman. How do we continuously work to make things equal at home?

This is one of my very favorite lines in the book. It’s funny: I didn’t initially dig very deep into what I call ‘household division of labor,’ but a few of my early readers seized onto the little bit that was there and begged for more. So I sent an email around to what I called my book ‘brain trust’—a couple dozen women who I’d ping when I wanted to get outside perspective and insight. And it wound up being the most active email thread throughout all my research for the book. The topic just hit home for people, and I think it comes down to what one woman described as ‘executive planning.’

Even if Dad is the one doing all the baby laundry, Mom is the one thinking about getting hand-me-downs in the next size up, and that ‘thinking’ work is rarely acknowledged—despite being cumulatively exhausting.

My best advice is to think in terms of responsibilities (not tasks!), and divide things along those lines, so the ‘thinking’ work becomes part of the overall job. I also am a big advocate for putting things in writing and clearly assigning responsibility. I posted a worksheet on herestheplanbook.com that couples can use as a starting point in thinking about how they want to divide things up.

I think relinquishing control of parts of our home life and our children’s care is hard for women. How do we become comfortable with and good at delegating tasks to others in our home life?

You have to get comfortable with imperfection. That’s not to say that women are perfectionists and men aren’t, but women often have a clear vision for how they want things to be—and they’ll jump in when it looks like something is going awry. And sometimes it just seems easier to do something yourself than explain it to someone else. You have to accept a little short-term discomfort (like some well-intentioned but pantsless baby outfits) for long-term equality.

How do we deal with the guilt of unplugging for the weekend or leaving the office at 6 every night? Basically, how do we prioritize things based on what is best for us and our families, but leave the guilt behind?

I think it’s important to remember that guilt is something we’re projecting on ourselves; it’s not about other people. It would be overly reductive to say, ‘You’re in control! Just turn it off!’ But to an extent, if you don’t want to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel guilty.

Another thing that’s important to remember: If you want something to get done, ask a busy person. And there’s no one busier than a working parent. It’s almost like there’s a magical switch flipped when you have kids—a superpower that enables you to get way more work done between 9 am and 5 pm (or whatever hours you have childcare).

Acknowledge that you’re getting more done in less time.

I recommend that women devote 15 minutes at the end of each week to writing down what they’ve done that week. We spend so much time worrying about what we haven’t done that we forget to celebrate what we have accomplished.

As mentioned in Here’s the Plan, working from home can cut commute time, which means more available work hours and more productive employees. So why do you think more companies don’t offer this option?

I think we’re starting to see a shift away from ‘forced face time,’ but it’ll be a slow evolution. There are so many technological tools at our disposal that make it easier, but there are some definite downsides to having a fully remote workforce. It’s much harder to establish culture and rapport—so it can take longer to build a well-oiled team. And there are some tasks that are just easier to accomplish when you’re sitting next to someone. But I see almost no downside to empowering people to work remotely a couple days a week, particularly if you’re able to cluster that face-to-face teamwork onto ‘office’ days and have home days be the ones when you’re working on more solitary projects.

You talk a bit about the Pomodoro Technique in Here’s the Plan: 25 minutes of distraction-free work sessions followed by a short break. Do you think this process is the answer to working distraction free throughout the day?

Lots of studies have shown that taking a short break helps refresh your thinking. And the reality is that most people are taking short breaks right now when they take a few minutes to scroll through Facebook, but they don’t necessarily conceptualize it as a break because it’s rarely planned and it often can interrupt the flow of what you’re doing.

I also talk in the book about how multitasking can be your worst enemy because you wind up doing everything half as effectively (there’s a great sample task in there that I think will convert even the most emphatic multitasker).

Pomodoro forces you to be disciplined about remaining focused on one task. It’s about doing more in less time.

Me time is important. Often we feel guilty about taking time for ourselves—trying to fit it in with work, playing with our children, cooking dinner, bedtime routines, time with our spouse, etc. How can we prioritize time for ourselves?

Here we are talking about guilt again! I jest, but it’s such a pervasive part of working motherhood.

When you’re with your kids, you feel guilty about not working. When you’re working, you feel guilty about not spending time with your kids. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with this.

I think of my ‘me time’ as my opportunity to refresh myself, so I can be a better person when I’m with my kids or running my company. This past year, I spent 12 days in Cape Town solo visiting my best friend from business school. (Side note: My husband should be sainted for encouraging me to do this while he stayed home with the kids.) Oh, the guilt. The guilt! I wasn’t with my kids. I wasn’t working. It felt horrible. But after a couple days, I relaxed into it, and when I got home, I just had more energy. I had more energy for my kids, I had more energy for weeSpring—and I was a better mom and CEO because I ‘indulged’ myself (I couldn’t stop using that word the whole time I was gone). What I really did wasn’t indulgent. I was replenishing myself.

So carve out that you time. While 12 days may sound crazy and impossible (it sure felt that way to me), you can derive benefits even from 12 minutes. One woman I talked to told me that she uses her morning shower to reflect and be alone in her own head. Do that, or go play tennis, or have dinner with just your girlfriends—and remember, you’re not just doing these things for you.

You’re doing them because taking care of yourself will make you a better mother.

Join Motherly

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

Keep reading Show less
Life