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Ask Elaine: I’m overwhelmed by my new baby and my new job

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; iStock)
5 min

Hi Elaine: I’m a new mom to an adorable baby boy and decided to take a big leap and change jobs after my maternity leave. My new job has all the bells and whistles — new title, better pay and more ownership. It’s everything I’ve always wanted in my career but the timing has been really tough. It’s a tech start-up so the work is intense, the hours are long, the pressure is extremely high and all I want to do nowadays is spend every waking moment with my baby.

I’ve always been career-driven so it was a no-brainer to accept this job offer but now that I’m actually living it I feel so much guilt and pressure to “do it all.” I feel like I can’t give anything 100 percent and I’m struggling with balancing mom life, dog mom life, work life, time with my partner and time for myself. I can’t afford to not work but it’s been so hard to stay motivated when my mind is always on my baby. Do you have any advice on how to balance it all?

— Trying to Balance It All

Trying to Balance It All: Let me just say that every working mother reading this feels you and has faced this dilemma. It’s helpful to remember that you are not the problem. This is a big, structural, societal problem and these issues are much bigger than you. But until the working world bends in favor of new parents, this awareness won’t help you navigate these challenges.

Let’s deconstruct these issues and take on each, one at a time — an approach I hope you’ll try whenever you’re on the brink. The pressure you feel to “do it all” is not only overwhelming, it’s a setup for failing everyone — including yourself. You mentioned that you feel like you can’t give anything 100 percent now — you can’t. Not all at once. But you can give your 100 percent to one thing at a time.

I talked to another working mom, Tracy Daly, a tax professional who identifies as career-oriented and ambitious, but wishes she handled becoming a working mom differently. Her advice: “Be present or absent. Don’t be both.” She says, “You get more out of your time with your kids when you are present with them, and you have less mom guilt when you’re away, versus trying to multitask work in their presence.” The same goes for work. Your output is better when you are focused.

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Elaine Welteroth writes about big life changes. She’s given advice about finding what’s next after burnout, a friendship that ended in ghosting and changing your mind about your dream job.
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How can you create boundaries in your mind, work and home so you can be fully present? Narrowing your focus will help you find solutions and create better systems to support your choices. Can you afford some form of child care to give yourself the ability to focus on work for set times? If not, I’m curious how you and your partner are splitting up parenting duties. Can you work out something so you can structure your day with finite windows for work and nonnegotiable time with your son? Time blocking is a sanity saver because it prevents you from being constantly pulled in 100 different directions.

I know this new job looks great on paper — but now that you’re in it, is it still what you want? If the expectations of the job no longer align with your life, does your company accommodate flexible work schedules? Could temporarily shifting to part-time be a better option for you and your family? If so, but your current role doesn’t have that flexibility, are you open to other opportunities?

Explore your options. Anyone who says you have to either tough it out or leave your job isn’t creative enough. And moms are the most creative problem solvers on the planet! But all this change — internal and external — sometimes comes with crippling anxiety that steals your ability to see the full picture. It’s like looking at a panoramic picture through a keyhole. Support from a therapist or other working mothers can help you regain some perspective.

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It’s important to acknowledge where you are: not only in the midst of a high-stakes juggling act, balancing a big, new job and the demands of a new baby (a big, new job itself!) — but also navigating a new identity. Giving birth often comes with a new set of priorities that sometimes clash with who you were before.

As confusing as this feels, it’s completely normal to want to spend every waking minute with your baby. This precious time flies by, so how you spend your days matters. If you feel like your work life needs a reset to accommodate who you are and what matters most now, don’t suppress it. Only time will tell whether your focus has permanently shifted or if this is a transitional phase. It’s important to honor where you are. Then get clear about what you want out of your work life right now and what you can contribute without giving up what’s most important to you.

If Daly could do it all over again, she says she wouldn’t have suffered in silence so long. “Thinking it’s your problem to fix alone is part of the problem,” she says. “I hid that I was drowning because I didn’t know how to have that conversation with my bosses or my partner.” Most women don’t. And even if you do, there’s no guarantee that your employer will be receptive. But you’ll never know if help is available if you don’t ask.