A Week in the Life of a Working Mom: Higher-Ed Communications Professional in the Midwest
For this installment of our Week in the Life of a Working Mom series, I’m happy to introduce CorporetteMoms reader J, who lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughter and works in communications in higher ed. Our usual caveat applies: Please remember that this is is a real person who has feelings and isn’t gaining anything from this, unlike your usual friendly (soul-deadened, thick-skinned, cold-hearted, money-grubbing) blogger — so please be kind with any comments. Thank you! — Kat
First, Some Basics About This Working Mom…
Location: Midwestern college town
Job: Communications in higher ed
Home Situation: I live in a single-family home about five miles from campus with my husband (professor at the same university I work at), our 2-year-old daughter, P, and our dog.
Childcare Situation: University daycare on campus for $1,400/month. We have care available 50 hours/week (from 7:30–5:30) but usually only use it from 9:00–5:00-ish, a bit less in the summer when my husband’s not teaching. Daycare provides meals and snacks.
How is the work-life balance in your industry in general? What are common ways of juggling responsibilities that you see your colleagues and coworkers doing?
Work-life balance in higher ed is generally very good on the staff side. Most people work 9–5, and having to work more than 40 hours/week is rare. I’m lucky that my particular manager doesn’t really care about face time, so we can work slightly odd hours, work from home, or step out in the middle of the day for personal appointments as needed, as long as we get our work done. This varies by manager though, and mine is more flexible than most. None of my immediate colleagues are working moms to young children, which is a bit of a bummer, but work-life balance is so good overall I never feel like I have to be secretive about my family obligations.
How do you handle household chores, such as laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning, etc.? Who does what, and when — and how often?
I’ve always done more of the emotional labor while my husband does more of the physical labor. It suits our interests, plus as an academic my husband generally gets home earlier than I do, so it’s easier for him to cook dinner if we want to eat as a family before toddler bedtime. In addition to most of the cooking, he does the grocery shopping (also usually during the business day when the grocery store is less crowded) and most of the dog walking. We split laundry pretty equally and we have a monthly cleaning service (~$175/month), so neither of us is scrubbing toilets, but I do more organizing and tidying up.
Because J wrote her Week in the Life before the pandemic, we asked her for an update. Here’s what she told us:
The biggest change is of course that we haven’t had any childcare since mid-March. Daycare is supposed to reopen at the end of August but will look pretty different with shortened hours, rearranged classrooms to keep siblings together, and masks for everyone, including the kids, so I’m a little nervous about how that will go and how long they’ll actually stay open. (I’ll be pleasantly surprised if we get two months of care before they close again…) Weekends look very different since we no longer do things like the library, kids’ museum, or going out to eat. Playgrounds recently reopened in our area at least, which has been a godsend with an energetic toddler.
Another big change is that I’m officially a full-time remote employee with no physical office on campus. Right now — with no ability to work anywhere but my house, and my husband and child also home all the time — I’m not thrilled about it, but long term I hope it will be a positive thing. With a lot of long distance family and friends, the ability to leave town for a month or more every summer without having to burn all my vacation time is really attractive.
Of course all work and personal travel (including the conference mentioned in the diary) is canceled for the foreseeable future, which I know is trivial compared to what many others are experiencing, but still feels like a loss to us. Since I’m working full-time while also attempting to be a preschool teacher, I no longer make any attempt at exercise, and unsurprisingly my insomnia has gotten worse. ;)
Oh, and to top it off, P has started skipping her nap pretty regularly, so I pretty much only get focused work time after she’s in bed for the evening. I know every other working mom is in the same boat, or worse, but this has certainly been a hard and stressful year.
A Week in My Life
8:25 a.m. P wakes up and wakes me up. We’re lucky she’s such a great sleeper, we can’t claim any credit for it.) My husband is already awake and out walking the dog. I get up, give P some toys and books, and go downstairs to make myself some tea, then hang out in her room drinking my tea, “chatting” with her, and waking up slowly.
9:00 a.m. My husband is back from the dog walk and entertains P while I make us all homemade blueberry waffles. Since my husband does almost all the weeknight cooking, I like to make a big weekend breakfast as often as I can.
10:00 a.m. Done with waffles and cleanup. We all play together. P rotates through an assortment of the usual toddler toys — books, blocks, dolls, stuffed animals — and then eventually asks to go play in the basement, which is largely unfurnished and where she can do that classic toddler activity: run around and squeal.
11:45 a.m. My husband feeds P lunch, while I head out to get a pedicure and read my Kindle. I watch P alone on Sunday afternoons while my husband plays a sport, so I try to do something relaxing during her Sunday nap time.
Noon–1:20 p.m. P naps. I get home from my pedicure shortly after 1:00 p.m. and get her when she wakes.
1:30 p.m. Husband leaves. P and I Skype my parents, who live several states away. We try to Skype them every week, especially now that P recognizes them and has her own special names for them, although these days the calls are short because she just doesn’t have the attention span to stand still for more than about 10 minutes, even with a screen involved.
2:00 p.m. P and I go to our local kids’ museum, where we have a membership. It’s not the greatest museum (we bought the membership mostly for the reciprocal membership at other museums because we travel quite a bit), but at least for now it’s a good way to entertain her on weekend afternoons. These days, P won’t really stop playing long enough to eat, but she gets cranky if she gets hungry so I bring fruit & veggie pouches to give her on the go.
4:00 p.m. Get home from the museum and read some books together.
4:30 p.m. Husband is home. We all take the dog on a walk together but it’s so cold these days that none of us except P want to stay out for very long. It’s a battle to get her to come in from the outside and involves some tears, which is not unusual lately.
4:45 p.m. Husband makes a quick dinner (frozen pizza) while P and I play with all her toys, which have taken over the floor of our living room.
5:00 p.m. We all eat dinner together. P eats the pizza, carefully selecting the less spinach-y pieces, but at least she consumes some spinach. P also eats a banana.
5:30 p.m. We try to do baths on Sunday nights so she’s all fresh and clean for the workweek (plus doing a bath is a lot easier on the weekend). My husband handles most of the bath but I lay out her pajamas and a fresh diaper for her.
6:00 p.m. Done with bath. We snuggle up and read books as a family.
7:00 p.m. Brush teeth and put P in her crib. She doesn’t usually fall asleep until more like 7:30–8:00 but she’s happy to lie in her crib and talk to herself for a while, and I think that winding-down time is good for her.
7:45 p.m. P hasn’t said anything in a while (our room is next to hers, so I can hear her pretty well without a monitor) so I assume she’s asleep. My husband and I usually do our own things in the evenings — when he’s busy he will work, when he’s not busy he will play video games or exercise. I usually do a mix of baking, reading, coloring books (don’t judge, they’re fun), and watching TV. I also typically shower and tidy up the house in the evenings after P is in bed. Today I spend more time tidying up than normal, because the house is always a disaster after the weekend, then I watch some TV.
10:15 p.m. I get in bed and try to fall asleep, but I don’t fall asleep until after midnight. I’ve always had some struggles with insomnia, but it’s gotten worse lately and is often especially bad on Sunday nights. Now that I’m no longer nursing (I only fully weaned P five months ago) I keep meaning to try some things like melatonin or CBD, but I haven’t gotten around to it.
8:05 a.m. P wakes up and wakes me and my husband both up. Typically whoever is not doing drop-off handles the morning routine with P so the other person can get themselves ready. Her morning routine is: diaper change, getting dressed for school, sunscreen (she’s pale so we apply it even in the winter), and food (usually a half bagel with cream cheese). We used to skip breakfast since she sleeps so late and gets a snack at daycare at 9:30, but lately she’s been eating more so we do a quick breakfast at home. Today I’m driving her in, so my husband takes the lead on getting her ready while I get myself ready.
8:40 a.m. P and I leave for campus. We get to daycare around 8:55 and drop-off is smooth. We went through a brief clingy phase a couple months ago, but P loves school and we’re lucky that usually the drop-off is very easy.
9:15 a.m. Get to my desk on the other side of campus. No meetings today, so I work alone in my office all day. Many of my coworkers take a more traditional lunch hour, but I typically grab a brief lunch on or very near campus and eat at my desk, so I can leave earlier without guilt.
4:00 p.m. We get our daily report from daycare via email, and it always makes me smile reading about P’s day and some silly things she said and did. We love our daycare and are completely confident P is thriving there, which is the best feeling in the world and not something I take for granted after a brief nanny experience that wasn’t great.
4:40 p.m. Leave work and head to daycare to get P.
5:10 p.m. P and I arrive home. My husband got home around 4:00 and has already walked the dog and made dinner (chicken fajitas for us; beans, tortilla, and a couple fruit/veggie pouches for P). We all eat together and then P “helps” us tidy up the kitchen and load the dishwasher.
6:00 p.m. Done with dinner and cleanup. We all play for a bit and then start P’s bedtime routine — just PJs, teeth-brushing, and a few books, since no bath tonight.
7:00 p.m. P goes in her crib and seems to be asleep around 7:30.
8:00 p.m. I do some online shopping for P (warm weather clothes for an upcoming beach vacation, because she’s already outgrown the clothes she wore this past summer), read for a bit, and then go to sleep. I fall asleep around 10:30 p.m.
We asked J about her family’s experiences with their former nanny, and she had this to say:
There were a few things that weren’t great about our particular nanny (e.g., she assured us during the interview that she was completely comfortable with my husband working at home while she was there, but she clearly wasn’t; it was like pulling teeth to get any updates about P’s day, even the basics like the number of dirty diapers), but mostly it was just a case of a nanny not being a great setup for our family in general.
Having now experienced both nanny and daycare, I can confidently say we’re a daycare family — I felt really awkward and uncomfortable managing a household employee the way you have to manage a nanny, and we just really like the structure and professionalism of a daycare center. And drop-offs have always been much easier at daycare. When we had the nanny, P would cling to my leg sobbing every morning when I tried to walk out the door (which was an awful feeling). At daycare she cried the first two days and after that was completely fine — I think all the new toys and the other kids distract her from the fact that her parents are leaving. ;)
Similar morning routine as Monday. My husband gets home from work a bit later, around the time (5:15 p.m.) that P and I do. It’s warm enough to all walk the dog as a family , and then I play with P while my husband cooks dinner (just eggs and toast because we want something quick). After dinner we pretty much go straight into P’s bedtime routine. At 8:00 p.m., after P is asleep, I go to the gym. I’ve never been great about regular exercise but am trying to do better both for my health (I want to live long enough to play with P’s kids, if she has them) and my vanity (my metabolism has slowed a lot in my mid-30s and I can really see my body shape changing all of a sudden). I despise running, but I do an hour of fast walking at a steep incline, which gets me sweaty and a little sore, so I figure it’s doing something. When I get home from the gym I shower, watch some TV, and then read for a while before eventually falling asleep around midnight. The bad thing about evening exercise is that it wakes me up and makes it harder for me to sleep at a reasonable time, but there’s zero percent chance I could ever become a morning exerciser.
Similar morning routine as Monday and Tuesday. My husband and I meet up for lunch on campus at noon, one of the perks of working in the same place. (I said I don’t take a real lunch hour, but the exception to that is that I try to have lunch with him once a week or so.) My husband picks up P around 4:00 p.m. and takes her grocery shopping with him, and I stay a little later at work and meet them at home around 5:30. My husband has managed to cook dinner (pasta with cream sauce and mushrooms) while watching P, so we all eat together (P eats plain noodles and strawberries) and then do P’s bedtime routine, which includes a bath tonight. I’m tired and fall asleep at 8:00 p.m., but then wake up at 11:00 p.m. and can’t fall back asleep for a while.
I usually work from home on Thursdays because I volunteer in a local first grade classroom for an hour, and the school (P’s future elementary) is two blocks from our house. I do P’s morning routine, since my husband is dropping P off. They leave around 8:30 and I get dressed and eat breakfast (leisurely, with a cup of tea) before settling into work. Since I’m taking an hour out of the workday for volunteering, I just eat a frozen (Amy’s) lunch at home. Volunteering is so rewarding, and a nice break from parenting and work, my main activities these days. Plus I love the glimpse of what P will be like in a few years; I think first grade might be my very favorite kid age!
My husband gets home with P around 4:30 and puts dinner (salmon and butternut squash, we buy the fish pre-seasoned and the vegetables pre-chopped) in the oven before taking P and the dog on a quick walk. I take dinner out of the oven and set the table so we can eat as soon as they’re home. P actually eats both the salmon and the squash — a major win! After she’s in bed I put in a load of my laundry and go to the gym again.
J told us a little more about her volunteer work:
It’s through a local program that sends community volunteers into schools to read with kids. I just signed up online and got matched with a teacher. I went once a week and worked with the first graders on reading. Mostly they read aloud to me and I would help them when they stumbled over a word. I won’t be able to go back for at least a year due to Covid (no visitors in our public schools this coming academic year, understandably) and am disappointed about it. It was a lot of fun.
Usually P is my alarm but today my actual alarm wakes me up at 8:30 because she’s still sleeping! (She’s cutting two-year molars and has been a bit restless at night, and when it’s cloudy like it is today she tends to sleep in to make up for the fitful sleep.) I get ready in about 15 minutes and go into work. My husband will wake P at 9:00 a.m. (if we don’t wake her up by then she may not nap) and take her into school. Fortunately our daycare is used to professors’ kids and is very flexible about drop-off/pickup times.
People tend to leave work early on Friday, and since I have no meetings or pressing work and the weather is really nice for December in the Midwest (50s!), I head to P’s daycare around 4:00 p.m. I play with her and her class outside for a little bit. I used to be afraid to do this, because I didn’t want her to get the idea that her parents are going to be hanging out at school with her, but I saw some other moms doing it, so I started doing it here and there and it doesn’t seem to have caused any problems. I only do it at pickup though; I want drop-off to remain very quick and easy and for her to understand that we don’t linger in the mornings.
My husband is already home when we get home, and we all do a long dog walk, with a stop at the neighborhood playground. When we get home, my husband runs out to a Thai restaurant near our house for dinner. P tries a bit of pad thai (we encourage her to try one bite of everything we eat) but immediately turns up her nose at it so we end up heating her up a frozen mac ‘n’ cheese bowl.
P is asleep by 7:30 and then my husband and I hang out together and try to watch a TV show, but neither of us likes it so we end up just talking for a while, and then I read while he does some work. While we’re hanging out, we find out that he just got a conference proposal accepted in a really awesome place. I’m proud of his professional success and also selfishly excited that P and I will get to take a partially subsidized vacation here. (I like to vacation more than my husband does, so as P gets older we plan to turn more of his international conferences into family vacations, or at least vacations for me and P while he works.)
I head to bed around 10:00 p.m. and fall asleep around 11:00.
P gets up around 7:45 a.m. My husband is already awake and I’m not, so he gets her out of bed and ready and lets me wake up gradually. I walk the dog while he is getting P ready.
9:00 a.m. My husband takes P to Walmart to let her run around while he gets a few things we need. (I’m so impressed by people who are organized enough to only do one grocery shopping trip per week; we always discover things we need mid-week.) While they’re gone, I do a load of P’s laundry (the clothes she wore last week plus the new ones for our trip, as well as bedding that came home from daycare yesterday). Then I spend some time sorting through a big batch of art that recently came home from daycare. I toss most of it but take photos of a lot of the pieces before I throw them away.
10:30 a.m. My husband and P are home. We play for a bit and then feed P lunch — leftover salmon and blackberries today. She eats well.
Noon–2:45 p.m. P naps. She always seems to take long naps on Saturdays. Our theory is that the excitement of daycare kind of wears her out, plus she doesn’t nap much during the week (rarely over an hour). I spend a good chunk of her nap sorting through the recent professional photos we had taken, choosing some for holiday cards, and designing and ordering the cards. It’s already almost mid-December but fortunately we send New Year’s cards. ;) Then I spend another frustrating half hour trying to obtain access to P’s medical records (our physician network just switched over to a new online portal and it’s incredibly annoying). I fail and end up having to call them the following week. Also make a vet appointment for our dog and order more flea and tick medicine. My husband will probably take the dog to the vet, but I’m the one that keeps track of when she needs to go in and makes the appointments.
3:00 p.m. We get P up from her nap and dressed and all go to the library. Our local public library
has a nice kids’ area with a little playhouse, lots of toys and puzzles, and of course lots of books. Of course P just wants to sit and color, but at least we got out of the house. We check out some books to read at home this week.
4:30 p.m. We head to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner. There aren’t a lot of great restaurants in our town, but the upside is that there’s nowhere that’s too fancy to take P. P eschews the cheese quesadilla we ordered her in favor of the free chips, so my husband and I end up splitting it. It’s surprisingly tasty for something so basic.
6:00 p.m. We’re home from dinner. We start the bedtime routine but stretch it out by reading more than usual, since it’s a weekend and she can sleep in the next day.
7:25 p.m. P goes in her crib and is asleep a little before 8:00 p.m. I bake some cookies and do some organizational stuff, including using Rover to get a dogsitter for our upcoming vacation. I cut this way too close (we leave in a little over a week) considering it’s the holiday season and a lot of the college students who normally watch her are out of town, but fortunately I find someone. I send emails to a couple good friends who live in different states, and write holiday cards to daycare teachers “from” P (my husband bought the cards at Walmart this morning). I also log into our retirement accounts to check the balances and tweak our withholdings (wild Saturday night, I know).
11:30 p.m. Go to bed and read for a bit before falling asleep.
When we asked J if she had any tips on taking a beach vacation with a 2-year-old, we found out that her trip didn’t exactly go as planned:
That trip was actually our least successful one yet because P had RSV (although we thought it was just a bad cold at the time) and was understandably cranky and miserable all week, and also I think two is just a challenging age for travel. Due to a combination of illness and age she was completely unable to sit still in restaurants, so we ended up eating most of our meals as takeout in our room (a preview of 2020, ha!). But I would say in general some of my tips for a beach trip with a little kid are: plan lots of downtime, stay right on the beach to avoid having to load kids and gear into a car every time you want to go out, splurge on an ocean-view balcony if you can afford it (so you can get that ocean breeze while the little one naps), and alternate childcare duties a bit so each parent gets some time off — I got an amazing massage at that resort while my husband hung out with P and then he went surfing one day while I stayed with her. Traveling with kids that age is exhausting and not a “vacation,” but now that we can’t do it, I really miss it!
Thanks so much to J for sharing a bit of her life as a working mom! Readers, what’s your biggest takeaway from her week of work in higher-ed communications as well as her general work/life balance?
Stock photo via Stencil.
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