“Trust us--you will understand very soon,” my friend said to me when he saw the confused look on my face. Eight months pregnant, I had walked into a Washington, D.C. power lunch spot to meet clients when I spotted my friends across the room. Juggling two demanding jobs while parenting a one year old, they were the last people I expected to see having a leisurely lunch during the workday.
That’s when I learned my first working parent hack: in addition to date nights, they did date days — regularly meeting in between their offices for a nice lunch.
“Two words,” he said to me. “Free babysitting.”
Even as his wife reminded him that free could hardly describe what they paid monthly for daycare, I knew that they were onto something. It was just one of the many (many) things I would learn about working parenthood that nobody tells you. Two kids and three years later, here are five more:
1. Work can be a surprising place to find “alone time.”
Going back to work after my daughter was born, I thought the 40-minute subway commute each morning would kill me. But after being home for 5 months, I luxuriated in it. Having time to leisurely read the newspaper on the train each morning was a novelty. At the end of the workday, listening to a podcast gave me time to myself before soldiering through the whole pickup/dinnertime/bath time/bedtime routine.
2. Parenthood can be an accelerator.
For all of the fears I had about motherhood and my maternity leave setting my career back, I found parenthood to be a surprising accelerator. My impending maternity leave allowed me to “pull forward” a promotion and its accompanying new business line launch. Chatting about kids and parenthood was a new way to connect with my (typically much older) clients in a new, peer-to-peer way. At my company where most employees were in their 20s and early 30s, but where most executives were in their 40s and 50s, I noticed important internal stakeholders suddenly viewed me as "older." That was an asset and a differentiator.
3. Your kids will be home all the time.
The nanny will be sick, the school will be closed for parent-teacher conferences, your kid will have a stomach bug and there will be snow days. You will also learn what something called Hand Foot & Mouth Disease is (spoiler: there’s a reason they don’t tell you about it before you have a kid). There is always some reason why your kid is home on a day you didn’t plan for it, so here’s my advice: plan for it. Whether it’s a grandparent, banking sick and PTO days or a reliable babysitter, have a back-up plan in place. You will need it.
4. Not all working parents are champions for other working parents.
Some of my biggest champions at work post-baby have been non-parents or, in one case, a working dad with a stay-at-home-wife. Unfortunately, for all the parents trailblazing for the moms and dads behind them, you may meet a few stragglers who are late to jump on that bandwagon. They will go out of their way to make it hard for you because it was hard for them. Hazing wasn’t cool in college and it’s certainly not cool at work. Don’t let those people define your working parent experience and build community where you can find it.
5. Building community is a game changer.
The best experience I ever had was working on a team of four directors. We were three moms and a dad, each with at least one kid under three. When one of us would walk in late, nobody rolled their eyes or so much as raised an eyebrow. Instead, we asked: "what happened?" Always leading with empathy and never passing judgment. Similarly, when one of us had morning sickness or a kid home with an ear infection, we’d jump in to cover for each other — no questions asked and no need for the boss to know about it. Those relationships mattered. If you don’t have that built-in support on your immediate team, look to build relationships with other working parents inside your organization. The support they can provide as people who uniquely understand both your work life and your personal life goes a long way — especially on your hardest days.
Here's what I know about working parenthood: there were a lot of things I didn't know until I lived them. Some of them were harder than I thought (four winters in, I still miss just binge watching Game of Thrones on my snow days) and some things were easier (I couldn't imagine how much I'd appreciate having that first, quiet cup of coffee at my desk every morning). Perhaps my biggest surprise was that — for all the hype — a lot about your core work-life stays exactly the same.