How I Tried to Do It All as a New Parent, Failed, and What I've Learned
When I was expecting our first child and quit my perfect job (more about that someday), I wasn’t dreaming of becoming a stay-home mom who makes arts and crafts and cute bento boxes with kids in a domestic bliss. My mother worked throughout my childhood and I was practically raised by my grandparents, and I did not want the same for my children. I was planning to be a mom who would be present in the kids’ lives while working from home, nursing the kiddo while taking conference calls of her company, and who’d whip out healthy, gourmet meals three times a day.
After all, I was a girl who loved “doing it all”. In my previous career, I actually enjoyed working 12-hour days with frequent business trips. Back in college, I double majored in structural engineering and dance, and in one given quarter, juggled a course load of 31 units (the norm is 16) and rehearsed for a dance concert and trained for ballroom competitions in the evenings. At one point, I was burnt out from lack of sleep, finally realizing that going home at 11 PM after rehearsals and waking up for the 6 AM physics lab class was just not going to happen for me. You’d think that I’d learned from that experience.
So during late pregnancy, I enthusiastically started researching and setting up an organic silk baby clothing startup (another story for another day), and looked forward to becoming that “wonder mom” who could balance family and business, and doing so in a foreign country with intricate business laws (we were living in France at the time). Everyone around me was supportive, it was up to me to prove that I could be that do-it-all lady-who-lunches with a smiling baby.
And then our baby was born, the business was set up, happily ever after, end of story.
I learned about coccyx ligament injury and postpartum depression. I learned that I functioned horribly with fragmental sleep. I learned that I had to relearn about being a human with a brand new human in my arms. I learned how fragile and useless I could feel regardless of my best intentions.
But I persisted trying to keep all the balls in the air for another year after our baby was born. We did not have much childcare help, so I would often type on my laptop while entertaining my crawling baby with my feet. I was impatient with my baby doing normal baby things while I was trying to concentrate. I was constantly sleep-deprived, anxious, and frustrated. Any joy that I expected to get from both parenting and starting a business evaporated. Then one day, after doing a trade show in Tokyo with our baby in tow and learning that we were expecting another baby, I finally threw in the towel with the business, called it quits, and decided to take it slow for awhile.
It was hard for me to admit that I couldn’t get it all together. After all, we see countless examples in the media of amazing women who are able to exhibit work-family balance while balancing on 3-inch heels. Why not me?
Three years later, I’ve spent some time reflecting on that new parent experience, here are some key things that I’ve learned:
1. Be Gentle with Yourself
Pregnancy and childbirth are amazing feats of the female body. No matter how fit and well you are, nurturing a small human being with your blood takes a toll on your reserves. Your body will be different in many ways, and your hormones will play tricks on your mind. Take time to nourish yourself, and make a conscious effort to embrace and accept the changes. Treat yourself to rest and recovery, especially during those first months of motherhood. And most importantly, cut yourself some slack and don't compare yourself to the portrayals of super moms in the media.
2. Early Childhood Travels at the Speed of Light
No matter how creative, able, and ambitious you are, becoming a new parent is an amazing privilege and challenge. The first few years of your child’s infancy and childhood will pass by quickly before you have a chance to turn your head. We often heard older parents telling us to cherish this moment, and in all honesty, when our baby was screaming non-stop or when our toddler was throwing a temper tantrum, we just couldn’t appreciate that advice. Now our kids are two and four, I watch them in amazement and wonder how they’ve grown to be so big in such a short time.
3. Get Help Before You Need It
In the last few years of parenthood, we've experienced both living close to the grandparents and far away from them, we've had both amazingly affordable childcare (thank you, France) and jaw-droppingly expensive childcare (ahem, Bay Area). We've met a fair share of enterprising young parents who are business owners, and one thing they have in common is that they have childcare help, either from a partner or grandparents or nannies or daycare. I, for some reasons, thought that I was one of those magical unicorns that could start a business while taking care of a baby full-time. It turned out that I was wrong. So if you'd like to launch a business venture, get help before you need the help, because you'll only get busier.
4. You Are Not Missing the Boat
An entrepreneur at heart, I was set on starting a business the same year my first child was born and raising the two “babies” at the same time. I also know many working moms who chose to stay in their careers fearing that a motherhood exit would forever prevent them from getting back to the same level in the game. I’ve since truly embraced the philosophy that there’s a time for everything. We live in an amazing period in human history that we have so many resources to help us achieve our goals if we set our minds to them and get to work. I personally know some amazing women who’ve raised multiple kids and successfully returned to the job force or who have started successful businesses, all at different ages. I’ve also learned that, with time, our definition of success will most definitely evolve. Don’t worry about missing the boat. There are plenty of yachts and cruise ships in the sea, they're coming later.
With some basic self-knowledge, I know that I am a “multi-passionate” person (coined by Marie Forleo) with many ideas and projects dancing in my head at all times. I also know that I am still trying to tackle balancing a happy family, my multiple hobbies, and a fulfilling business venture. Not that I’ve decoded the secret to “doing it all”, but now I’ll continue my attempts with a broader mind, more patience, and a little more kindness for myself.