We all talk about the importance of achieving work-life balance to preserve our mental, emotional and physical health, and nothing can be more motivating to achieve this than becoming a parent.
After spending more than a decade in the workforce and focusing on my career, I made the plunge toward parenthood — and it has hands-down been the most rewarding experience of all. I was lucky enough to take more than three months off to fully enjoy those first few months of my son’s life. But when it was time to go back to work, which I was very much looking forward to, I got a bit of a shock.
Now I always thought that I was good at time management and prioritizing my work, but turns out, I wasn’t as good as I thought. And I quickly realized I worked more than I needed to.
I no longer had the freedom to start as early as I wanted and work as late as I needed. I had to set a strict schedule and become more efficient than ever before — there simply was no other option. And I’m proud to say that I feel like I figured it out fairly quickly.
So when my dear friend and colleague Danielle Salvato-Earl announced that she was expecting, we synced up to discuss the transition, life as a working mom, and how to balance work-life with family-life. She had some specific questions:
Danielle: How did you transition from mom-life back into work-life?
Tanya: To say it was a transition, would be an understatement, it was a total culture shock. Three months of maternity leave doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but when your days become filled with baby snuggles, giggles, long walks, and a lot of free time, coming back to the fast-paced world that is tech PR can rock you. That first week back, I sat down with myself and made the following commitments:
• Set a strict schedule: It was more important than ever for me to set a schedule – I needed to dedicate enough time to work and enough time to my family. I was not willing to compromise either one. I decided that from 8:30 – 5:30, I would be 100% committed to my work, colleagues and clients, and any time outside that was strictly reserved for my family. No exceptions. As a former workaholic, this was the biggest adjustment — but I made a commitment to myself and my family, and I was not going to break that. After a few short weeks, that became routine and I no longer had to think or worry about it. It’s just the way it is now.
• No time wasted: Often times in a work day, you can find yourself becoming distracted and might have a ton of side conversations, taking walks, grabbing coffee or food, checking your social media, etc. because well, you have the time. Now with my set schedule in full force, there is no time for that. Every. Second. Counts. I of course make sure to eat and take short mental breaks but I am conscious about doing it, I set aside time and quickly get back to work. In our line of work, there is always something of importance to be done, and to avoid it piling up or feeling guilty for not working late — being efficient on not wasting any time, becomes crucial.
• Prioritize and organize: With set schedules and ensuring not to waste time, being organized and prioritizing your work is number one for being able to stick to those things. Every morning, I make a new priority list and note the things I absolutely need to tackle that day — leaving room for fire drills and unexpected projects (because well, you know, PR…)
Danielle: What was your learning curve when you got back into the tech PR world? Did you pick it right back up like riding a bike or is it like learning a new language?
Tanya: In terms of the learning curve, it was easy enough to come back. It’s amazing what your brain can remember and pick back up after checking out for a few months. What was harder was going back to speaking like an actual professional adult. Being at home with a new baby, you become softer… your demeanor, the way you talk, and the things you think and talk about are so vastly different at home… you have to learn to turn off your mom brain, and turn on your bad-ass work brain. When those two cross, things can get a little weird.
Danielle: What are your best tips and tricks for making life as a working mom easier at the office and at home?
Tanya: Aside from being strict about your schedule and being super organized, you must think ahead. I always consider the days in front of me — with work meetings, deadlines, commuting, baby appointments, meal prep, family activities, etc. Having a plan and keeping an updated calendar is key. Another big one: Ask for help when you need it! Being a full-time working mom (in the PR world nonetheless) can be hard, and it’s OK to ask for help. As a type-A control freak, this was really hard for me. But when you realize that family, friends and colleagues are here to support you, it can make the world of difference in bridging the two roles.
Danielle: How did you prepare for your first day back to work?
Tanya: In the weeks leading up to my return, I made sure to start executing on a more structured routine. For example, I set my alarm for the same time every morning, I got ready (as in dressed and makeup), took care of errands, made sure that my home office and computer were cleaned up and ready for business, and made sure that my calendar was up to date with work commitments and personal commitments – to avoid any overlap or conflict. I also made sure that any to-do’s that I had at home (errands, bills, housework, personal appointments, etc.) were all taken care of so I could focus on work when I came back. I made sure to tie up all personal loose ends so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed or distracted upon my return.
Danielle: Be real — how bad did you miss your baby coming back to work…or how bad did you miss work?
Tanya: Honestly… BAD on both fronts. While on maternity leave (although I was having the time of my life with my baby), I missed my work, colleagues and clients so very much. Seeing everyone’s faces and feeling a sense of professionalism was definitely missing. But thanks to social media and great colleagues, I was able to keep in touch with everyone and keep up to date on what was happening back at the office.
After coming back to work, yes, I missed my baby like crazy! At first, it felt like I was constantly forgetting something, like a limb was missing. I found myself thinking about what he was doing, what he was eating, if he was happy or sad… the list goes on. I think I drove our nanny to insanity with the number of photo requests and texts I would send her on the daily. But after a few short weeks of getting settled into my new routine and knowing that my child was in good hands, the stress and anxiety disappeared.
So at the end of the day, I feel as though I have the best of both worlds. A career that I love and that keeps me feeling challenged and fulfilled, and a life at home with a family that makes me feel loved and whole.