Mom to Charlotte
Principal and Owner, Gaines Elevate Group LLC
Maternity leave: 6-weeks full-time & 6-weeks part-time
Childcare: Daycare & Grandparents
What did you struggle with most about returning to work after having your kids?
Well, when Charlotte was three weeks old we experienced an attempted break in of our home. At around 3 a.m. as I was feeding her, a large man threw a brick at the sliding glass door of our master bedroom and made several attempts to kick down the door. Thankfully he never got in. However, it was terrifying and led to us having to find a new home all within seven days.
Quite frankly, that move ruined my maternity leave. From unpacking boxes to the post-traumatic symptoms, I completely missed out on so much bonding time with Charlotte that was supposed to happen during that timeframe. Not only that, but my stress hormones completely shut down my milk supply and just like that, I was no longer able to breastfeed and had to switch to 100% formula. I felt robbed – robbed of my body and robbed of my time. I jumped into work three weeks later since I couldn’t step away from my business for a full 90 days without actually losing my business. I really struggled with that but did everything I could to spend time with Charlotte ‘between the cracks’.
I chose not to focus too heavily on revenue goals and only worked when it was absolutely necessary. It still resulted in me working almost full-time hours, but my wonderful father flew in to help me during that time to take care of her, which allowed me to pop into her nursery and steal a few snuggles throughout the day. I did the best I could with the little time that I had. Wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone.
What do you find difficult about being a working parent?
It’s easy to wrap your identity up in your work, your family, or in your role as a mother and lose a part of who you are in the process.
The struggle between feelings of guilt and feelings of significance. It’s easy to wrap your identity up in your work, your family, or in your role as a mother and lose a part of who you are in the process. There are days when work goes really well, and I feel this huge adrenaline rush of significance. Then there are days I feel guilty I can’t pick Charlotte up from daycare earlier. However, I know my wiring and I know that I’m doing what I’m created to do. I only hope Charlotte can do the same when it’s her time to decide.
What do you enjoy about being a working parent?
Being a working parent establishes a healthy distance between me and Charlotte that allows me to save the best time for the best things. I’m much more intentional and organized with my time than ever before. When I’m at work, I feel the freedom to work with my clients and be hyper focused on their needs, and when I pick Charlotte up I’m hyper focused on spending time with her before and after work. It also allows me to realize that although she’s my child, Charlotte is not who I am and although I love my work, my identity doesn’t come from it. Identity is something I find through my faith and spirituality, not anything else. That’s clearer to me now than ever.
After being back at work for some time, have your views about career and family changed?
Earlier in my career when I worked for a PR firm, I always thought I would stay at home because I just couldn’t see how I could be a great mom and great at what I do. Now I know that there are times when work needs you the most and times when your family needs you the most. In other words, you can have it all just not all at once.
For example, as an entrepreneur, I knew my maternity leave would not look like a traditional 90-day leave at a 9 to 5 job. That part-time period really ended up being full-time, which was unexpected and frustrating. However, when it was time for her to go to daycare, I eased into it part-time for a month and that helped me get used to the new routine. In the future once things get to be more complex (PTA meetings, recitals and such), I plan to do the same thing my mom did during her career, which was to be present and make it to every event. If you can’t make it to every event, make sure someone close within your family circle can. I think I will also need to have conversations with Charlotte as she gets older about the things that really matter and the things that really don’t so that I don’t over exert myself trying to be super mom. I remember having those conversations with my mom and it set a good example for me because I still felt like a priority and knew she had a strong desire to really be there for the right things that mattered most to me.
Knowing what you know now, what’s one thing you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself as you were preparing to return to work or getting ramped up in your role?
If I could go back and tell myself otherwise I would say that your life enhances. Yes, there are changes, but who you are as an individual – your passions, interests, hobbies, your love for what you do – are almost always right where you left them. Just give yourself time and grace to get back to the place during the first few months.
When I was pregnant people would always say, ‘Whitney, just wait. Your whole life is going to change when this baby comes.’ That advice used to really freak me out. Charlotte was a surprise and we weren’t planning on having kids until our mid-thirties, so I liked my life just fine and was worried it would change too much. If I could go back and tell myself otherwise I would say that your life enhances. Yes, there are changes, but who you are as an individual – your passions, interests, hobbies, your love for what you do – are almost always right where you left them. Just give yourself time and grace to get back to the place during the first few months.
What did you choose for childcare, and how has it been for your family?
Primarily daycare and grandparents. All of her grandparents helped watch her throughout my maternity leave.
PROS It gives me better practice of learning how to give up some control and be open to Charlotte learning new things from others. The first week Charlotte went to daycare she came home with her first finger painting. I think a lot of women would feel guilty about her having that experience with someone else, but I can guarantee that Charlotte would have never painted her first painting as a 10-week old if I stayed at home. I honestly didn’t know 10-week-olds could paint. :) Her having that experience actually affirmed my decision even more because I knew she would experience things that I couldn’t just create from scratch. Charlotte also has an outgoing personality and loves watching the older babies crawl and roll over. I’ve definitely noticed her trying to do those things at home more since she started at Primrose.
CONS You don’t get to be with the one person you want to be with the most whenever you want. I love that little nugget and cherish every moment I’m with her. I get a little sad when I see that she’s gotten a little bigger each week, but I allow it to serve as a reminder to make the most out of every moment. Also, it’s only practical that your child WILL get sick in daycare. In Charlotte’s case, she was sick the first week at two-and-a-half months! Talk about guilt. I felt like I had exposed her to The Plague. And, of course, my husband and I got sick, too. I fully expect Charlotte to show up to kindergarten with immunity of steel after these next few years. Lastly, the cost. It will feel like paying two mortgages each month for someone to watch your child. However, that has the potential of changing if you’re able to get consistent raises or promotions over time from staying in the workplace. That in itself will reap its own rewards for any woman in five years or so (the gender pay gap is real, ladies!).
If you haven’t read ‘Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity, and Success After Baby’ you need to do so immediately! It SAVED me when I was putting together my maternity leave plan for my business. I’ve read it twice so far and continue to re-read it as I go along. It really helped me put together a plan that would make my clients and team feel confident as well as helped me regain my sense of self and identity. Order it now (like right now) if you haven’t already!!