I learned quite a bit from having kids while working – though I don’t know if ”learn” is the right word. “Brought into sharp clarity” might better describe my experience of working while having children. None of the lessons I am sharing were new information to me when I started having kids, but their importance became much more clear. This non-exhaustive list highlights the priorities that I have lifted up for myself as I navigate parenthood and career – and rest assured, these lessons are not exclusive to me as a working parent.
1. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries offers markers for how we exist in relation to one another. As someone who sees their work as a vocation, boundaries can be a little blurry for me. I am also grateful to have had multiple workplaces where my children were welcomed, celebrated, and wanted. But when work comes up against my family life, family life takes precedence.
It used to be much easier to stay late or put in extra time for a project. Now, I have doctor’s appointments, school schedules, ballet, and swim class that hold me to a stricter schedule. This doesn’t mean that my colleagues without kids shouldn’t also be out the door or protective of their time and space.
Delineating between the spaces in your life (even if the lines are sometimes dotted) can be difficult, especially when those lines have to be held firmly. But remember that boundaries offer us the space to be our fullest selves without one space overtaking another.
2. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your life choices.
When, if, and how you choose to build a family is between you, God, and your spouse. Whether it’s marriage, kids, pets, traveling, living in community, or a host of other commitments, there will always be choices that require careful discernment because of how they impact your life, including your career.
Careful discernment doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but you do get to choose whose voices you prioritize or include in your decisions. People may struggle to understand why you have made the choices you have – and that’s okay. It’s up to you how, when, or even if you share what you are discerning in your life.
3. Everyone has hard things at different times.
We all have people in our lives who need our care. Kids are an obvious one, but many people have aging parents, or loved ones with a disability or a terminal illness. Family also doesn’t look the same for everyone. This season of my life has required a lot of support while having three kids. This season of my life has also seen death, cancer, infertility, mental health struggles, and other challenges for people I love. Not everyone will share about these kinds of struggles (see above!) and you have no obligation to, either. It is important to remember that you and your colleagues are all likely carrying something difficult at any point in time.
4. You know your potential and your limits better than anyone else.
I got on a plane three days after returning from maternity leave with my 8-week-old baby strapped to my front and my laptop shoved into my diaper bag. We made it to eighteen states before she turned a year old. It wasn’t always perfect, but it worked and it opened up avenues I hadn’t imagined. It brought different conversations and reminded me that most of the hurdles I saw in front of me were primarily in my mind.
Not everyone thought that I could travel the way I did, but I knew I could and so I simply did. Insights from colleagues can be helpful, but don’t lose sight of what your potential is and the things you believe you are capable of – even if others doubt you.
5. People need support, not pedestals.
I am not a hero for getting on a plane with my baby, for going back to work after six weeks, or for any of the other things I juggle with my career and my family. If you find you need a different way of working or some kind of adjustment, ask for it. If you are a manager and sense one of your reports is struggling, ask what you can do to support them. It’s an important gesture to encourage others and to express gratitude, but do what you can for yourself and your colleagues to back up your words with actions.