When I first started taking my daughter to work my boss gave me some great advice: don’t have too many expectations.
In one sense this goes against everything I believe in – what’s a life without goals! But at the same time, I get it. Life with a newborn can be chaotic and unpredictable. What he was really saying was ‘don’t worry if things don’t go to plan.’
Now I’m a bit further along the journey I am conscious of making sure I set realistic expectations. I’m at work, after all, so I do need to get things done!
I’m often asked how I cope with working and looking after my daughter at the same time. A lot of it comes down to having realistic expectations. This post is about how I manage expectations of myself, my clients, colleagues and my family as a working mum. Although I take my daughter with me to work, I think most of this will be relatable to any working parent.
I have always been relaxed as a mother, so this one has been relatively easy for me. (Ok, maybe not always. I didn’t speak to anyone for the first few days of my daughter’s life. As usual I blame hormones!)
I don’t set targets for how many hours I should work a day or week, but I do keep track of my daily, weekly and monthly goals and to-do lists.
My Bullet Journal is also useful for helping me to switch off at the end of the day. I finish each day by writing a to-do list for the following working day. If I think of anything else on my day off I just jot it down and forget about it.
Part of the magic of the Bullet Journal is that it has provision for scheduling or moving tasks that don’t get completed. This usually involves drawing an arrow over the bullet that has been scheduled/moved. It’s all psychological, but even though I might reschedule a task, I somehow still feel accomplished. Who doesn’t feel accomplished when they cross something off their to-do list!
Many of my clients are unaware that I work part time (or ‘flexibly’, that seems to be the new buzz word) or that my daughter comes to the office with me.
If a client is coming to the office to meet me I make sure I tell them in advance that my daughter will be with me. I haven’t yet had a client who has a problem with this, but I prefer to be upfront.
I also make sure that I give clients a timeframe for the completion of their work. I allow more time than I think I will need for each task and much more time than I would have taken pre-baby. There are two advantages to this. One, I often finish work sooner than expected, which is always a good look. Two, I don’t have clients chasing me for work as they know when to expect it. This is the real bonus for me, because I need to manage my time carefully and want to avoid any unnecessary phone calls!
Taking my baby to work requires a lot of support from my colleagues. Not only do they watch her for a few minutes while I see clients, have meetings, make phone calls or go to the loo, but they also inevitably take on some of the work that I’m not able to do. I’m not always available to do certain things. If the phone rings just as I’ve got my daughter to sleep, you can guarantee that I won’t answer it! If I’m breastfeeding and a client shows up to sign a document, someone else will take care of that for me.
The majority of our work involves teamwork, so in some ways this is no exception. But I’m grateful for their support and I’m careful not to take advantage. I know my colleagues love having my daughter around and it’s no trouble to them, but they also have a job to do. I don’t just assume someone will watch her, I always ask first. I also try to do some of the more mundane work for them or offer to help when I can.
I’m also realistic about my expectations of our family time. Given that we spend three days in the office, I make sure to focus on my daughter on our days off and on family activities on the weekends.
My daughter does not get my full attention all day every day. That’s not to say I sit her in my office and ignore her (quite the opposite actually, I don’t stop talking to her!) but I’m usually multi-tasking. There are days where I feel like I’ve just roped her along for the ride and haven’t spent enough one-on-one time with her, but I try to make up for that on our days off.
Tuesday’s and Thursday’s are ‘mummy and Lilly’ days during which I focus on Lilly and avoid working. If I need or want to, I will work during nap times or after she is asleep for the night, but I never let myself work while she is awake.
Although she is too young to have this expectation herself, I think it’s important to spend time together and to establish good habits for the future.