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To work or not to work after baby? Some moms have no choice because of finances. Lucky moms can make life work either way and so they have that difficult decision to make. Here’s what this three-time back-to-work mother has figured out.

Naked truth #1: No one can tell you what’s right for you.
It’s trite because it’s true. Don’t let your husband, your mother-in-law, or your friends make you do something that doesn’t feel right to you. Everybody will have an opinion. Seriously. Don’t let them in your head. You are the one that actually has to be with the kids every day, all day. Or missing them terribly. You are the one commuting everyday and balancing a busy life. You have to live with the decision and be a cheerful member of your own family. Only you know what you can handle and will enjoy. Give your family and friends room to help and encourage you, but don’t give them the power to make the decision for you.

Naked truth #2: You must find a childcare solution in which you have complete confidence.
Before I went back to work, I met two nannies, toured twenty daycares, and called six references. I explored every option and did my homework. When it was time to pick, I absolutely knew that daycare was the right choice for my family. I dropped off my son on the first day and never worried about him. I was completely at ease with the owner, the teachers, and the social and cognitive skills he was learning in their program. I went to work with a clear mind, ready to do a good job. That made all the difference. If you’ve got an unreliable situation or a nagging feeling then you won’t be able to work and it will dampen your enjoyment and your energy. Keep looking until you’ve found that full confidence or you won’t last long.

Naked truth #3: Get used to juggling.
Oh no! The kids have a fever. The nanny is sick. You have an early meeting downtown. Your son needs a change of underwear at the school. There’s an infinite number of wrenches that can be thrown in to wreck your normally balanced routine.

When you work, your daughter will most certainly throw up the morning of your big presentation. You need a backup and a backup for the backup. You must summon the patience to figure out the day quickly. Some days I’m dropping off while taking conferences calls as my husband picks up early and goes to tee ball. It can be comical how all the kids are ultimately accounted for and home at the end of the day.

It can be done, I promise. You just have to be up to the challenge of figuring it out.

Naked truth #4: It gets harder, not easier, when the kids go to school.
My sons all started daycare at three months. I took maternity leave and worked when I felt both of us were ready. It was easy back then and I didn’t know it. Sure, I missed the first time they said “chicken” but I heard it at pick-up later. No big deal.

It gets brutally hard when they start school. School holidays, snow days, summer days all have to be covered. There are parent-teacher conferences, volunteers needed at the field trip, school ceremonies, and fundraising. Sure, you don’t have to go, but you want to. You didn’t know many moms back in daycare but now there’s a huge, super involved schoolmom society. They know the teacher well. They send pictures from the class party. They know everything about next week’s field day. You start to feel the distance. There’s a twinge in your heart.

You want to sign up your son for afterschool activities and sports but someone has to take him and be there at 5 o’clock for the game. The guilt starts. The juggling increases.

Now your baby is a real kid with problems he’s working out. You want to be more available for that and to help with the homework. Before your baby needed food, love, and a diaper change and it didn’t matter who did it. Now your daughter is telling you about the bossy girls at the lunch table and she needs your guidance and emotional support more than anything. Who can do that better than you?

Don’t count on putting off work for certain when they go to school. If you’re going to work, do it when they are little. The older they get, the more stuff they have going on.

Naked truth #5: Pit bull enforcement of boundaries is key.
Work will take as much as you allow, mentally, emotionally, and physically. If you’re not careful you’ll use all your energy during the day and have nothing left to give for your amazing family. It’s not enough to physically be home. You need enough energy for patience, kindness, and emotional support for your kids (and husband). Don’t give all you have to work.

There will always be meetings and drinks and business trips that will carve into your family time. Sometimes those will propel your career. Practice strict boundaries even when it really hurts. You’ll forgive your career regrets but your family regrets will haunt you forever.

Figure out what you’re willing to give to work and don’t allow any more. For me, it’s 40 hours and two days a week in the office. When I’m working I give my full attention and best effort, but I don’t accept meetings or agree to projects I know overstep my boundaries. This is a lesson I learned the hard way when I finally realized I was worn out and an impatient crankypants.

Yes, it’s completely possible to work and be a mom. I do it and I’m happy! There will certainly be difficult days where you’re barely balancing the schedule or you’re missing something you wish you weren’t. The important thing is that you’re prepared and you know what you’re getting into. Cheers to you, whatever you do!

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Christi Terjesen

Christi Terjesen is the mother of three lively boys in New York. She keeps her sanity through daily walks, expensive wine, and good books. Check out her blog, Mental Stimulation for Moms at christiterjesen.com, and her playground blog, longislandplaygrounds.com.

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