By Megan Staub (Brian Communications employee from 2013-2018)
Originally appeared in Mama: Year One
Then she learned that real life might not be so straightforward.
“My mom stayed home with us and I had always pictured myself following in her footsteps,” she said. “Fast forward a decade later and I had developed a successful career in public relations, which made the question of returning to work after having a baby more complicated. My career has become a core part of my identity — and something that I’m very proud of. I wasn’t ready to give that up.”
“The other thing I hadn’t accounted for in my younger years was the financial balance sheet that needs to line up for only one parent to work outside the home. Multiple factors for us, including two pricey rounds of IVF, made staying at home virtually a non-starter if we wanted to retain the quality of life that we had become accustomed to.”
McKenna is now a vice president at Brian Communications, a strategic communications agency in Philadelphia — a high-profile, fast-paced job that requires creativity, travel, and being available to clients and colleagues at a moment’s notice.
We asked her about how she’s navigated work and motherhood — and what has surprised her along the way.
How did your relationship to work change after having a baby?
I’m incredibly grateful to work at an organization with very supportive leadership and understanding colleagues, many of whom are parents themselves. The first few weeks were a roller coaster of emotions, ping ponging between gratitude for time outside the house with adult conversation and intense guilt over missing important milestones.
I learned early on to listen to my intuition and be vocal with work about my needs as a new mom. When Ella was just five months old I had to travel to D.C. for a major week-long work event. So, we got creative and my mom traveled with us to care for Ella. Our solution enabled me to pump/breastfeed her in between meetings and spend evenings with her.
After getting through the initial adjustment period of returning to work and putting Ella in daycare full-time, my role as a working mom has become something I’m very proud of. That’s not to say it’s easy, but I know that I’m helping to build the life we want for our family. Work is a defining part of who I am. It’s a place where I connect with other adults, cultivate new skills and challenge myself in different ways.
What are you learning about yourself as you balance both roles?
My biggest challenge, which I’m constantly battling, is the pressure to do everything perfectly. I have very high expectations for myself, and I’m often harder on myself than I should be. Through this motherhood journey, I’m learning that it’s okay to set the bar a little lower. Learning to embrace the mess and choose play time or “me time” over the unending to-do list. Learning that “good enough” is absolutely fine.
I’m lucky to have a husband who constantly reminds me that I’m doing a great job, even on days when it feels like I’m doing all my jobs mediocrely. I’m still learning how to navigate this new role as “mom,” and like all the moms out there, we need to give ourselves grace on a daily basis. I try to remember that my unconditional love and my best efforts are all my daughter needs from me.
What has been one of the best parts of your decision?
I now make a concerted effort to cherish the time that I do have with Ella outside of work hours. I’ve gotten much better about setting boundaries so that I can focus 100 percent of my attention on family time. I find that the time spent away from my daughter at the office makes it that much sweeter when we’re together.
How have you navigated working and parenting these past few months amid the pandemic?
The past few months have taken the term ‘full-time working parent’ to an entirely new level. Our now 20-month old Ella was at home with us for four months straight. The first month or so felt nearly impossible – grappling with the devastating news of the pandemic and its implications, functioning as two full-time working parents now doing business from home, all while keeping a toddler safe and entertained during the work day. Thankfully our jobs can be done remotely and our companies have been understanding and flexible with employees who have children, but it’s been a huge adjustment for everyone.
Once we got into a groove and layered in help a few days a week from grandparents, it became slightly more manageable, but still not optimal. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you’re failing at everything when the days blend together in a seemingly unending cycle of diapers, dishes, meal prep, Zoom calls and deadlines.
But, on the flip side — we are healthy and safe. We are able to do our jobs remotely. We have a roof over our heads and food on our table. Yes, we have been inconvenienced, but we also have so much to be thankful for.
When I’m feeling particularly anxious or stressed about the current state we’re in, I try to have gratitude for the positives. This ‘pause’ has allowed my husband and I to spend four months straight with Ella in a way that would otherwise never have been possible. It’s been absolutely amazing to watch her learn and develop day-to-day, something we wouldn’t have seen as closely pre-pandemic. We dropped her off at daycare this past Monday for the first time since mid-March, and while that came with yet another wave of emotions, it’s the right choice for the time being… and I’ll be honest, it feels pretty amazing work in a quiet house and solely focus on one of my two full-time jobs for a few hours a day.