Jessica Wey was one of the original #MINDRMAMAS. With her sweet babe Max in tow, she joined us at our second ever event in Brooklyn, and has remained a thoughtful, lovely and insightful member of the community ever since, including through her transition back to work full time in the corporate world as a creative director. In the third part of our series exploring the different ways modern parents work, Jessica shares her reflections about how care and career intersect in her life. If you haven't already, check out parts I and II of the series too.
I had never considered not working. Aside from financial practicality (we need my income) and personal philosophy (my mother worked), my job keeps me intellectually engaged and creatively curious.
Once I became pregnant with my daughter Max, there was no doubt in my mind that I would continue in my role as an Associate Creative Director in advertising. Whether or not I could maintain momentum – that was the question.
For the past decade, my strategy has been to work incredibly hard, sprinting through my career to get as far as I could before I had children. I never gave much thought to the after baby part, and to be honest, I had trepidation. Mostly I worried that motherhood would consume my identity and that I would lose my sense of self. Rationally, I understood that things would change, but I didn’t know to what extent.
For the past decade, my strategy has been to work incredibly hard, sprinting through my career to get as far as I could before I had children.
Similarly to how I packed away my box of jeans into storage (“See you never?”) I metaphorically stowed away my career expectations for a little while. There was little point in worrying about what would happen. All we could do was prepare.
Both my husband and I work, so we needed to find full-time childcare. Our families live far away so we didn’t have the option of family care. We investigated daycares, but ultimately decided to go with a nanny share with another family in the neighborhood. This way, Max could get an instant baby best friend and we could pool resources with another set of parents.
I’ve been living the working mama life for just about a year now. Here are some observations on transitioning back to work and sustaining that full-time working mama schedule!
Making it through
Gradual on-ramping: The return to full-time work can be a slow roll. The best advice I ever got was to return on a Thursday. You get that day to reacquaint yourself with adulting, dig yourself out of your inbox, figure out your pumping schedule, and then, Friday is generally slow. Starting with an abbreviated work week helps to quell the feelings of being overwhelmed. Also, I was able to negotiate working from home 2 days a week, for the first month of my return – dropping to 1 day a week for a few months thereafter, until Max was about 6 months old.
Oh, the places you’ll pump!: Even though I wasn’t in the office full-time, I traveled a LOT on my return, probably at too frenetic of a pace (~75,000 miles within 6 months). Because I was breastfeeding, I had to research tactics for pumping on planes (trains and automobiles). I have pumped in terrible domestic airport bathrooms and amazing airport mother suites in Asia. Once, I learned the Japanese characters for “FREEZER” (not to be confused for refrigerator) so I could chat with the Tokyo hotel concierge to freeze my milk bags and ice packs in advance of my 17-hour return flight. In retrospect, I probably stressed too much about this. Next time, I will more directly advocate for company sponsorship of services like MilkStork, or allow myself a more liberal use of formula.
Once, I learned the Japanese characters for “FREEZER” (not to be confused for refrigerator) so I could chat with the Tokyo hotel concierge to freeze my milk bags and ice packs in advance of my 17-hour return flight.
The gift of presence: You know that saying, “Presence is a gift.” It really is! It’s the gift of your time. I started to reframe business trips from the emotional perspective of #fomo (fear of missing out) to the more pragmatic perspective of #romo (risk of missing out). Is it business-critical for me to be there? Would a different member of my team benefit from that opportunity? I’ve found that this line of questioning has eased my conscience and my travel schedule. I still maintain a great relationship with my clients even if I don’t see them multiple times every month. Plus, my role has become increasingly important with internal business at the agency. It’s not just that I’m needed at home – I’m also needed at home base.
Making it work
Mom shift: Many working mamas know all about this: the dash home at 5 pm, leading to the 2 hours where dinner, bathtime, and bedtime happen. Often this is followed by work from 8 pm to late in the night. In the early months of my return, I would do an 11 pm pump while typing on my laptop. I marveled at the physical manifestation of how I was simultaneously tied to my obligations – laptop plugged into the powerstrip, and me to my pump. I’m no longer pumping, which makes it easier. But I still protect that 2-hour window of time that is Max’s and mine. Because that’s where life – and the majority of my mothering – happens: the in-between.
Scale with the situation: Mom efficiency is pretty legendary. You have to prioritize everything in your life, and because of this I don’t sweat the small stuff quite like I used to. There’s really no time. On some days, my mantra is, “Think, do, follow through.” I plan out my calendar and think through the logistics of what needs to happen, from short-term planning (What does tonight look like?) to medium-term planning (How can we prepare for our family trip to DC?). Thank goodness your baby starts out immobile. Over time, as baby gains skills, so does mama. We’ve slowly built our repertoire of dealing with emergent situations (childcare gaps, our first bout with hand, foot, mouth, YIKES!) and honing our parenting ninja skills (we’re pros at international travel now). Still, not everything scales. On most days, Legos are strewn on the floor and we order from Seamless more often than I like. But so long as we are happy and healthy, I can live with that.
Expand your team: Having sufficient support means expanding your team – and their roles. At home, my husband has a flexible work schedule, so he’s able to do drop-offs and pick-ups when Max goes over to her bestie’s place. He does breakfast duty and packs her lunch, helping streamline the morning routine for me. At work, I am extremely fortunate to have a team of talented and understanding colleagues. Now I empower my team to run meetings and lead projects that previously, I’d have taken on. It would have been difficult for me to relinquish control in the past. But, in allowing myself some space, my team can shine and advance. They are here for me and I am there for them.
Motherhood has been transformative. Yet, through it all, I was able to maintain my sense of self. I eventually fit into my jeans again. I didn’t lose career momentum. Before my maternity leave, I continued to show my commitment and meaningfully engaged with my team. While I was on leave, my boss put me in for promotion to SVP – and it got approved upon my return. That says a lot about the culture at my agency. If I didn’t have a supportive partner, boss, and team, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Motherhood has been transformative. Yet, through it all, I was able to maintain my sense of self.
There are certainly days when things don’t come together. Days I’m already exhausted on my 45-minute morning commute into the city. Days when I am perplexed that I’m paying my nanny to take care my child so that she can pay a babysitter to take care of her child. Sometimes I think to myself, what is this chain of absence that we are perpetuating? Nevertheless, I have never regretted being a full-time working mother.
I salute all the #mombosses out there: the stay-at-home-moms, the work-from-home moms, and the full-time working moms. Together, we make it work.