This month, PVMoM Colleen Clemency Cordes describes what it was like to go back to work after her sons were born. She is a newly appointed Assistant Dean and longtime Clinical Professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. She also works as a psychologist and behavioral health consultant in the community. She is mom to three-year-old twins Avery and Ethan and a daughter, Hannah, who was just born at the end of April. Congratulations, Colleen!
1. How old were your babies when you went back to work, and what factors were part of that decision?
When the twins were born, I took 10 weeks of full time maternity leave, followed by 4 weeks of part time leave, where I went into the office every Tu/Thurs, and worked remotely an additional 4 hours. At the end of those 14 weeks, I went back to work full time.
A variety of factors played into my decision. The first, and probably largest, was that when I was about 9 weeks pregnant with the boys, I was offered an incredible opportunity to become a department chair at ASU. While it was hard at the time to determine if I should take it when so many things were in flux, once Chris (husband) and I decided to go for it, it was clear that I would take advantage of my 12 weeks of FMLA, and then be back at work. I thought that it would be best for both me and the boys to taper back to work too, which was why I did the part time transition. During my most recent pregnancy (singleton), I was again offered a great job opportunity when I was about 4 months in – now to transition to an Assistant Dean position – and so it was easy to determine a similar approach (full time leave followed by part time taper back).
I’m also really lucky in that ASU has 6 weeks of paid parental leave available to me, plus a VERY generous sick/vacation leave accrual policy for faculty, and so taking 12 weeks of FMLA means no change in salary for me during that time.
2. What was the best part of the transition back to work, and what was the most challenging part? What were your emotions?
There has never been a question in my mind that I would go back to work after having kids. My career (as a psychologist and now faculty member) has always been a very important part of my identity, and my mother modeled balancing a high-powered position (she was the CEO of a nationally known nonprofit) and family life. Chris used to joke that considering I was getting my PhD when we met, he never had any expectation that I would stay at home, and I think I’m a better mom because I have outlets to engage in other passions.
That said, the transition back was definitely harder in some ways (and easier in others) than I had expected. Before the boys were born, I was on bed rest for three weeks. So if NOTHING else, it was amazing to get out of my house and interface with adults on topics other than feeds, sleeping schedules, and diapers. And yet I was still exhausted, and found myself checking my phone every few minutes to make sure everything was okay at home, or to see if I had new pictures of them. During the transition period, the boys were being watched by my in-laws, so I knew they were in good hands, but we had gotten into such a good routine that I was worried about losing, and then I found myself wondering if they wouldn’t be attached/bonded to me in the way I hoped if they were being cared for by someone else. I found these worries lessened with time, but especially when I went back to work full time and the boys were being watched by a nanny instead of family.
3. Many working moms describe feeling pulled in two directions. Have you experienced that, and how have you handled it?
Absolutely I feel that way! I am really lucky in that despite working A LOT, I have quite a bit of flexibility in my job as a faculty member. I can work from home a few days a week (which was great when the boys were at home with a nanny, because I could take play breaks throughout the day), and I can be present for the important things without too much difficulty. I’ve also found a good balance– I’ll often leave my office in downtown Phoenix before rush hour so I can be home when the boys get home from school, and when they are home and awake, I’m in no-electronics mode. The boys’ schedule has been pretty consistent, and so after they go to bed at 7/7:30, I can finish off any work-related activities that need to be addressed before the next morning. The biggest challenge I’ve had has actually been feeling like I’m occasionally neglecting self-care in the mix (the constant mommy problem!). Exercise, for example, is hard to fit into the day, because I don’t WANT to spend a Saturday morning in a barre class (my pre-boy go to) when weekends are the times I get to spend the most quality time with them.
5. What advice would you give to a mom of multiples thinking about going back to work?
The best advice I got came from my mom. Mom mentioned that the first weeks back at work after my older brother was born, she cried the entire train ride from Long Island to Manhattan, thinking about quitting her job because she couldn’t believe she was spending so much time away from her baby. After about a week she set a deadline – 6 months out – to make a decision. The deadline wasn’t a “I need to decide by” deadline, as much as an “I won’t make a decision UNTIL” deadline – recognizing that this is an adjustment, and the first weeks are going to be hard, and while that hardness won’t go away per se, it’ll change as you and your family adjust. Waiting 6 months to make any major decisions allowed her to adapt to new mommy-hood and working mom status, rather than acting on the strong emotions that came out in the first few weeks during the transition.
The other thing is that there is no “right” way to be a mom. There is what is best for you and what’s best for your family – and that will vary widely from family to family. It’s so easy to hold the “grass is always greener” mentality when looking at MoMs who are on the other side of the work spectrum. My mom always told us growing up we should “find what makes your heart sing, and you’ll figure out the rest.” Being a mom makes my heart sing, but so does my career. And so finding a way to balance both has been the key to my family’s overall well-being.
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