Dear Kiki: The battle of balancing work and motherhood. How do I do this as a mother-to-be?

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Dear Kiki,

All my life, I’ve hustled hard to excel academically and professionally. Over the past year, I landed my dream job, got a promotion and completed my Masters. I am happy with what I’ve accomplished so far, and I feel like I am on track to advance my career. However, I am currently pregnant with my first child. While I am elated to be a mom, I am grappling with an identity crisis. How can I balance being my successful career as a woman and motherhood?

— Can I Have It All?

Taking on a new role as a parent and professional

Dear Can I have It All,

Congratulations mama-to-be! Balancing career and motherhood is challenging. Taking on a new role of a parent is hard, let alone navigating between two sets of responsibilities that seem to compete with one another. It can feel like you are always struggling to find a balance between working and taking care of your child.

The first pregnancy can feel overwhelming as you wrap your head around what it means to become a mom. You might also experience a wide range of emotions, some of which, as you mentioned, conflict with one another, like feeling joyful yet anxious.

Changing identities and relationships

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Shifting from being a full-time working professional to being a parent requires you to renegotiate your identity with your career and motherhood to adjust expectations.

It is often said that “the moment a child is born, the mother is also born.” A woman goes through physical and psychological changes as she transitions into motherhood. Acknowledge that you are going through a major transformation. That it may take months or even a year to settle into your new role.

In some ways, you are also toggling between your career aspirations and your child’s needs. After being career-driven for the majority of your life, it can feel like your progress is coming to a halt as you devote your energy to welcoming a child into the world. Part of the shift is to let go of who you were and accept a new identity as you grow.

It might feel different to lean into your motherhood instincts instead of your executive skills. (Although, I’d argue that lots of those skills are transferable.) As you discover this new territory and recognize both the losses and gains of this new lifestyle, you will notice that your priorities will shift as well. 

Adjusting expectations to balancing career and motherhood

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Other than giving yourself time and grace, it is also worthwhile to consider your expectations. What does the role of mothers look like? Some of your views may be informed by family, culture, or the media.

Some of our elders in the previous generation take on traditional parental roles. My mother, for example, quit her full-time job to become a stay-at-home mom as a way of balancing career and motherhood. She did not return to the workforce until I was a teenager. Similarly, many women in the previous generations tend to take on traditional parental roles, where they prioritize their children and embrace motherhood as their entire identity.

However, it is now more common to be a working mom. But this may look different in every family. Some may be 9-5 office workers, while others are momtrepreneurs that work flexible hours. Some might be the breadwinners. Combining the identity of a mother and working professional is complex. There’s no one-size-fits-all.

Hence, we need to reconcile with the “hustle” culture in society, where we are brought up to be high-achieving and to do it all. Instead of finding the right balance and letting go of expectations, we tend to pile on the responsibilities. That’s why the “having it all” career woman is a dangerous myth and can be harmful to our health and relationships.

It’s why I appreciate famous moms, like Ali Wong and Kristen Bell, who are candid about the realities of parenthood. While they are successful in their own right, they don’t always have it together.

Practicing self-care and finding support

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With all the changes taking place, it is really important for you to take time for self-care. This will get especially difficult after the baby arrives. Other than resting and finding moments to be alone, find activities that are rejuvenating for your body and mind. 

The author of a Motherly article declared that errands and performing personal hygiene are not self-care. Personally, I found journaling, listening to podcasts, and visiting new coffee shops to be especially restorative. I get to exercise my mind and gain new experiences.

Don’t forget that the transition to motherhood can feel lonely at times. So make an effort to find your support network.

Talk to other working moms — or moms in general — who you can have open conversations with without feeling judged. Their experiences may help alleviate your fears about “missing out” at work, or provide insight to some strategies for managing your dual roles.

More often than not, the media becomes the common reference point. And, it can feel like we are not doing enough when compared to other women CEOs, celebrities, or influencers who seem like they really do have it all. But the truth is, everyone needs help. 

Being raised in a “hustle” culture creates a mindset of constant competition and striving. One of the biggest lessons of motherhood is that you don’t have to go at it alone. It really takes a village to make things happen.

Motherhood is a journey of embracing the various iterations of yourself along the way and continuing to embrace the many identities that make up who you are – a mom, a career woman and much more.

Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. Or, subscribe to our newsletter to get Kiki’s advice straight to your inbox on the last Sunday of every month.

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