This interview is part of my series Leaning In. My aim is to shine a spotlight on successful women who are ‘leaning in’ to their careers. By sharing the stories of other women, I hope to help change the focus from what we can’t do to what we can do and to show other women that it is possible to have it all.
If you would like to share your story, please contact me.
Meagan is a mum of one who juggles motherhood along with her career as a digital marketing manager and running her successful blog, The Mum Project. She has recently launched Happy New Mum, an online hub through which she aims to create a space to bring new mums together to share their experiences on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and work-life balance, to name a few. If that isn’t already enough, Meagan is also training for the Brighton Marathon!
Originally from San Francisco, Meagan moved to the UK through work and, in true fairytale fashion, fell in love and never looked back. Meagan is well-placed to share her views on working motherhood, leaning in and ‘having it all’.
What is your job? What does your work schedule look like?
I have three jobs, being a digital marketing manager, taking care of my son, and blogging. I try to find a balance between all of them but usually one will blend into the other. I work full-time but my company has been very flexible with my working hours. Last year I had one working from home day and the other days I changed my hours 7:30 to 4pm so I had time to be with my son after work as he goes to bed at 6pm. The last couple of weeks I have been testing doing one really long day a week so that I can have a half day on a Friday (again to be with my son), plus my one working from home day. So far this has been good because I have a longer period of time to really be with Bear.
Have your career goals changed since you had children?
No, not really. I am still extremely motivated to do well in my career. The only change I would say is that I would like a job that is my own. I work in a very large company and it can sometimes feel as if the work I am doing can easily be replaced by someone else, but I guess that’s the corporate world for you. I would really like to one day own my own company (this is in the works, by the way!) so that I can have the freedom to decide my working hours and have more working from home days (or all working from home days), and really own something that has meaning to me and that hopefully helps people too (BIG DREAMS here).
What were the biggest challenges you faced when returning to work after having children?
SLEEP. I really struggled because I went back at six months (thinking I needed to do this in order to be successful in my career, which I know now is total BS) and Bear was not sleeping through the night. My partner and I would switch off nights but that still doesn’t really make it better.
The other thing is the illnesses. I was completely naive to the fact that babies get sick ALL. THE. TIME. Especially because he was in nursery. I eventually took him out of nursery and hired a nanny and a sleep trainer, who literally saved my life. Next time around, I am taking the full year of maternity leave.
Why did you think you needed to return after six months’ maternity leave?
I returned back to work after six months because I was nervous that I would fall behind. I am really motivated to be successful so this was still very important to me (even after having my son! I know some people think woman go all goo-goo ga-ga after a baby, but I haven’t). However, looking back, I realise that a year is nothing when you look at the bigger picture. Literally this week I was offered a more senior position with a much higher pay rise, only seven months after I returned back from maternity leave, so it IS possible! Never doubt yourself! I think people are more understanding and helpful, it depends on your workplace and industry, but I think most are supportive when it comes to maternity leave.
The most difficult part for me during this time was that my son was still waking up every three hours and I was still breastfeeding, which meant I was the one getting up every three hours and going to work at 7am. The other part I didn’t expect (or know about) was how often my son would be sick from nursery. So I returned back to work and it felt like a big slap in the face. I slowly stopped breastfeeding until around 7 months when I completely stopped, and finally I could take a break from waking up in the night.
I’m finally happy now, my son is 15 months old, sleeps through the night, and in general is much more fun to be around (…what I mean is that he is becoming a person now and it’s so amazing to watch!). So my advice to new working moms would be to (1) take as much time as you need for maternity leave, you will only have this once and it’s not worth it going back early because you will still have the same opportunities as everyone else whenever you decide to return; (2) believe in yourself, if you need support ask for help! (This is one thing I definitely regret!).
Have you faced discrimination in the workplace as a result of being a parent?
No not at all, everyone has been really accepting of my hours and people will move meetings earlier if they are later than 4pm.
Do you agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s idea that women need to ‘sit at the table’ and ‘lean in’?
Yes! I love this book, although I haven’t been able to finish it (I have zero free time). I found the research really interesting, that women tend to put themselves down or believe that their successes are because of luck more than men. I also started using a few of the tactics she has written when negotiating a promotion or pay raise. As a woman if you come off aggressive people will write you off, so instead act as a community member and praise the team. I think the researcher said something like ‘be a Mama Bear.’ The other one was ask for advice, because this will make you look good but also show you are engaged and clued up on a particular subject.
Do you believe we can ‘have it all’?
I have no idea. What does ‘having it all’ really mean? Being able to juggle multiple things in one day, yes I can do that. Being happy with work and with your family, yes I am sometimes happy with this. In a way, I don’t think it’s about ‘having it all,’ I think it’s more about being more happy than sad/stressed/angry.
How do you achieve balance between parenting and your career?
When I am with my son, I am with my son. I try and let go of all the worries about work: that email I need to send or the meeting I have the next day. I don’t want to look back and think I didn’t give him my all. The same goes for work. But I do have to admit, sometimes they do blend into each other.
What do you enjoy the most about being a working parent?
I do like the fact I get to have my own time, and be my own person, and drink three cups of coffee before 10am. My coffee habit has massively increased since coming back from maternity leave and I love it! I also like coming home and seeing Bear and giving him a big fat kiss (he has starting kissing now, so cute, albeit with his mouth open but he’ll get it one day!). This gives me butterflies every day. I don’t think I would have that if I saw him every day, all day long.
What aspect of being a working parent do you find the most difficult?
The guilt. The tiredness. The misunderstanding of colleagues without kids. I work in a team of people who do not have children and also manage people who do not have kids. One day somebody had said that I was lucky I get to leave early. I was offended because they don’t realise I am getting into work at 7:30am, so I am still working the same amount of hours, and I’m not going home to watch TV! I’m going home to take care of my child!
What is one piece of advice you would give to mothers wanting to lean in?
Be patient because after having a baby the transformation back into yourself may not be as easy as you want it to be. I would also say give yourself a break! I think we tend to take too much on and give ourselves a hard time, but sometimes you need to take a step back and realise how amazing you are!
What book or blog would you recommend to working parents?
I would recommend Leaning In obviously [thank you!], and The Four Hour Week.
Reese McMillan is a mum of two living in a small close-knit town outside…11 March, 2017