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Waiting for Working Moms

Yes, it’s about your new family. But don’t forget to focus on your work life, too.By Lee McClain



When my group of waiting-to-adopt friends met to talk, work was the last thing on our minds. We focused on travel advisories, referral pictures, and how to buy clothes for kids we hadn't yet met.

One year later, we're settled in with our children...and our talk is all about balance: of budgets, of work, of relationships and family life. Cathy took a second job. Sandy got laid off and decided to stay that way. Karen spent a crazy year working more than full time and has now arranged a half-time contract. I'm three-quarters time and loving it.

Finding the right balance between work and family is enormously important for both parents and children. But the waiting-to-adopt period is so emotional that it’s easy to focus entirely on your anxieties...or on decorating the nursery. Here are some practical ways to prepare for your new life.

Look Beyond the Leave

If you’ve arranged an adoption leave, those initial weeks or months are probably your focus now, as you fantasize about cuddling your infant or introducing your older child to family traditions. But leaves are short, and once you go back to work, your life will take on more of its long-term shape. Focus on what you want that shape to be, then figure out how to get there. “You have to do the vision first,” says Jacqueline Foley, author of Flex Time: A Working Mother’s Guide to Balancing Career and Family. “What kind of a parent do you want to be? What kind of week do you want?” Once you’ve envisioned your ideal life as parent and worker, you can develop strategies to make it happen.

Child Care and Backup

If the child for whom you’re waiting is your first, think through work demands and plan child care accordingly. It’s easy to forget that occasional late night work sessions will require backup child care, or that you routinely agree to 8 a.m. meetings that would require you to drop off your child at 7 a.m. You may be amazed to learn how many holidays day care centers take, or that schools sometimes close for snow days or maintenance problems.

Ask other parents how they manage; talk to neighbors and coworkers about the possibilities. But keep your options open. When I was waiting, I learned about a backup child care center that seemed like it would solve all my problems. If my regular day care center was closed, I’d simply drop my daughter at the other center. I didn’t realize that, for an insecure, newly adopted toddler, spending six to eight hours with complete strangers was not a good idea. Nor were teen babysitters, a mainstay of my own childhood, right for my daughter. What worked for me was enlisting several of my daughter’s regular caregivers—whom she saw every day at the day care center—as babysitters for the occasions I needed to work late.

Build Up Credits Now

You’re likely to ask for more work-related favors once you have your new child, and to focus less on work than you did before. So find ways to build up credits now that can let you float a little after you return from leave. Even though it’s tricky, especially if the length of your wait is uncertain, can you take on an extra project? Can you make extra sales now that will accrue to your credit at next year’s annual review? Could you volunteer to fill in for a coworker or to work extra overtime as needed, thus building goodwill you may need to draw on later?

One friend of mine took on more and more of her department’s responsibilities during a surge of retirements. Later, when she approached her boss to request more flexible hours, the boss acquiesced—not out of generosity, but because losing this worker’s expertise was now unthinkable.

Ask for a Raise

Money. You spend so much during the pre-adoption and adoption process that it seems like it’ll be a relief when that’s over…but of course, raising a child takes extra money, too. And once you’re a parent, time is at a premium. The best solution is to get more money for your time, which involves either seeking a better-paying job or asking for a raise.

While a new job might be the solution for some, for most of us, it’s better to stay in a position where we’ve been building up some credits and paving the path for new work options. So, asking for a raise it is.

“They’ll think I’m greedy” and “If they thought I deserved a raise, they’d give it to me” top the list of protests I’ve heard when I make this suggestion.

The truth is, most employers pay as little as they can get away with. It’s likely, too, that many of your coworkers routinely ask for raises and get them. Your boss is unlikely to be surprised by your request. If she acts surprised, it may be just a ploy. Don’t go in saying you need more money because of your child. Argue solely on your merits and accomplishments: your superb customer service record, for example, or the money you’ve made or saved your company.

Explore Part-Time and Flexible Schedules

Your child’s needs, and your feelings as a parent, can’t be predicted. Even if you’re now certain you’ll continue to work full-time—or that you’ll stay at home with the child—everything may change once the adoption happens. You may find that your child has more needs than you anticipated, or that you burst into tears every day when you drop him off at the day care center. Or you may find that you and your child need a daily break from one another. It’s a good idea to explore part-time opportunities while you’re taking steps to ensure the viability of your full-time career.

Have other parents arranged flexible or shorter hours? Observe, read your company’s personnel manual, and talk to parents you trust about what they’ve arranged. A lawyer I know started working at home one morning per week during the wait, to pave the way for the three afternoons she now spends at home. Another parent, an engineer, arranged to work longer days so he could take every other Friday off. Once you start exploring, you’ll be surprised at the many ways parents bend the work week to accommodate family needs.

Build Side Streams of Income

Another route to consider is that of freelance work at home. If you want to avoid or limit child care expenses and yet need some extra money—or if you like the idea of part-time work but know that your wallet will feel the strain—explore ways to earn money in your home. Some parents do child care, but you can also consider in-home marketing, freelance writing, or consulting work in your full-time field. Now is the time to find out about such opportunities and even to stick a toe in the water.

The key to organizing your work life is to imagine the possibilities ahead and prepare for each one. There are at least two benefits in the short term: Keeping busy with work-related tasks can distract you from the frustrations of the wait. And creativity and flexibility are excellent parenting skills to practice.

Lee McClain, Ph.D., directs the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University and is the adoptive mother of a daughter, Grace Fei.

©2003 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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