"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
The opening statement in Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" is also an accurate descriptor of my life right now. After a busy year that was bisected with the birth of my son on July 6, I realized that life as I knew it would never be the same. While everyone tells you that before you have a baby, I think it's easy for some people (especially stubborn, type-A personalities like myself) to disregard these comments and continue to imagine that life will go on the same, just with baby in tow. And while life has gone on and baby has been "in tow" (literally, baby boy travels with me everywhere I go), life as I knew it is over.
So what have I learned from almost six months with a high energy, intense, persistent, hates-to-sleep baby? And what can this possibly have to do with work? A lot, actually.
1. Treat people with grace. The most important thing to successfully being a present mom with a busy job is the grace that everyone in my life has extended to me. Baby has the stomach flu and I need to cancel a trip? No questions asked. Childcare ends at 4:30 and I need to shut down until bedtime at 8 pm? Ok. I have not been in a situation where I have had to choose between my son and work, and I attribute this to the behavior of the people I work with. In the same vein, I've learned that it is important to extend grace to others. This does not mean becoming a pushover, but it does mean that you empathize with people and understand that people have a life outside the office. It also helps you remember that everyone is someone's son or daughter, and to treat them how you would want someone to treat your child when they grow up.
2. Put "first things first" (as originally said by Stephen Covey). Since my work hours have firm boundaries, I have found that I am exponentially more focused and take action immediately at work. I no longer have the luxury of time to procrastinate or overthink decisions. This does not mean rushing through things, multitasking, or not paying attention to people. On the contrary, it means doing things right the first time, focusing on one task at a time, and emphasizing the quality of time you spend with people rather than quantity.
3. Delegate. While I delegated in the past, I also retained way too much and did it myself. Sometimes, it was faster in the short term to do it myself; sometimes, I was stubborn and wanted it done "my way". Regardless, I was working every night, lunch, weekend, and holiday to check everything off my to-do list. Even worse, I was preventing other people from having the opportunity to lead or learn to help their professional development. Now, I delegate to many people, and - magically - more work gets done faster. I also feel more refreshed and level-leaded after actually enjoying the weekend rather than working through the weekend to get ahead of Monday.
I read an article about "mom burnout" and how the feeling of needing every aspect of one's life to be perfect - work, family, home, marriage, friends, etc - leads to feelings of inadequacy for many women. I anticipate this could be for both men and women, but I think women feel it more acutely, particularly in this age of social media where it is so easy to compare yourself to someone else. The article talked about recognizing and celebrating your limits, which is a simple way of summarizing what I've learned. Before, time seemed limitless, so I made choices about how to spend my time accordingly. Now, I have limits on my time and I make better choices. I realize the value of every minute and every interaction, whether it's spending time feeding my son sweet potatoes at dinner or connecting with someone at work.
Has becoming a mom made me a better employee? While it's still early days, and I'm still a little sleep-deprived, I'd like to think so.