Balancing Doula Work & Motherhood: 5 Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Today is the first day back at school for my two boys. I’ve never been very good at the working & motherhood balance thing. I’m not sure it is even possible to be good at it. At least if “good” is defined as somehow magically giving what we need to give to both our children and our work and somehow staying sane in the process. Oh, and not yelling.
I began my first independent childbirth education and doula business when my first son was five months old. I have worked and mothered in a constant flow for eleven years now. Here I am in a 2004 photo attempting to talk with a doula client while my one year old was going in for a nurse, and my three year old was busy drawing on my lap. Look familiar?
Over the years I have told myself that I am lucky to have a flexible schedule. That I am blessed to be able to take them to school, and come to special field trips, and pick them up at 3 with ease. These things are true, and my gratitude for this flexibility and commitment is very very real. At the same time, however, I have been continually stretched between parenting and my birth practice, never quite feeling like I’m giving as much as I would like – or should be giving – to either.
It has gotten easier over the years, and with the boys now in grades four and six I now have Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. to enjoy pure focus on my work, starting Today! Still, I so clearly remember the early years as I attempted to check emails while they played, having conversations with clients in crisis with a toddler on my knee, and the resentment I felt at not having the time I needed to just get the work done so I could be fully present with the boys. Now I get to have business coaching phone calls with clients with young children who are struggling with the same.
Here are five of my lessons learned the hard way, shared with the hope that perhaps something will ring true for you and allow for a shift in how you experience the juggling act between birth work and motherhood.
1. Get Childcare!
This may seem obvious, but it really does make a difference having even just one morning a week to enjoy a full focus on managing & building your practice. I had a really hard time accepting this help and believing that I deserved to pay for childcare when my practice was just starting out.
Or, take a good look around your circle of friends. You are likely not the only one trying to balance part-time work and motherhood. Consider taking turns caring for each other’s children to allow for one or two days a week of focus. When my second son was a baby, a friend and I took turns with her caring for my children in the morning down in the living room, then eating lunch together, and trading places for the afternoon.
2. Set your Work Hours
This is a practical version of the sage advice you’ve heard countless times to treasure these early years because they “pass too quickly”. While we all know this to be true, when we’re in the midst of those years it certainly doesn’t Feel like anything is going to pass very quickly at all. So my version is this: Create as many moments as you can when you can be fully present with your children. Establish other times when you can be fully present with your work (and accept that this might mean waking up an hour early, working at night, or in shorter segments of time).
Ideally, create a firm schedule of times when you know you will be able to commit to your work, allowing you to let go and enjoy your family-time instead of feeling pulled in two directions. It is the trying to do both at once thing that gets us in trouble. When I look back, I think that perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I was a working mother, making it much harder to commit to work hours. My experience of this shifted when I began to embrace myself as a business owner and understand that my 3rd baby – my business – deserved my attention as well.
3. Create a Work Space
Even if you’re just taking on a few doula clients or prenatal classes each year, you still need – and deserve – a special work space devoted to your practice. This may come in the form of a spare room in your home that is lovingly recreated as your office, or more likely a desk in the corner or even a closet! Make it yours with favorite photos or birth art. Enjoy these creative office ideas I have gathered on Pinterest.
4. Say No
While I’m still not very good with this one, I am getting better. One of the best ways to navigate work and motherhood is to know when to set your boundaries and simply say No when something isn’t the right fit for your current lifestyle or workload. This may mean saying no to a potential client, turning down a new prenatal class teaching space that is a half hour drive away, or joining the board of a local nonprofit. Remember that as your children grow older there will be more opportunities to say Yes!
5. Redefine Balance
The word balance tends to evoke the image of a woman perched on a rock in tree pose, or a perfectly balanced scale. The actual definition of balance is actually the harmonious distribution of elements within the whole. This understanding changed everything for me, allowing a new acceptance and understanding of the times when family simply had to come first. Our goal then becomes harmony, rather than balance, and that will look and feel different every day.
I could probably keep going with a list of 10 or 20 tips to how to balance motherhood and your birth practice. I’ve got a lot of regrets from those early years, but also am aware that I did the best I was able at the time. Would I do it differently if I had the chance? Absolutely. But here I am, eleven years into motherhood and perhaps the greatest lesson learned of all has been that of holding compassion for myself. We’re all doing the best we can, and no matter how many positive steps we take to try and make it easier, there will inevitably be days when we just feel torn apart, and thankfully days when feel marvelously capable.
I’d love to hear from you. What helps you find creative balance between motherhood and building and growing your birth practice? I think I’ll have to write an entire separate blog post on the joys of motherhood and life on call as a doula, but welcome your thoughts on this as well!