Working Mom Life is an interview series featuring real working mothers who are figuring out how to get the job done. Because there are more ways to be a working mom than there are ways to fold a cloth diaper, we can all learn from each other. I hope you'll join the conversation #WorkingMomLife.
Michelle Unabia might be the busiest person I know. And not in that crazy to-do list, make up things to do busy, but in that way that women are when they refuse to let go of any of their ambitions in the face of unending motherhood. Unabia is a mother of 12-year-old twins and a 7-year-old son. She works full time in human resources, goes to school full time, runs half marathons, and is currently planning her 30th class reunion. How does she allocate her time? Very intentionally. As a woman who has also been known to fit a ridiculous number of things into a 24-hour day, I admire Unabia's energy and her structure. If you're too time-pressed to read the whole interview, here are three takeaways to consider right now:
- Working mom life is not and all-or-nothing game. It's fluid.
- Don't judge yourself by others' unrealistic units of measure.
- Staying home doesn't mean losing your mind or even your professional skill set.
LD: What did "going back to work" look like for you after becoming a mother?
MU: Currently, I am a Sr. Human Resource Consultant and have been with PEMCO Insurance for nine years. Prior to this role, I was a stay-at-home mom for three years raising my twins. Having the twins 12 years ago was a dream of my husband's and mine, and we decided that it would be best for me to stay at home while they were young and then eventually we would trade spots and I would return to work and he would stay home. I loved every minute of staying home. I was always on the go with my children doing all sorts of things, and what kept me sane during those times was the structure that I had in place. I got my chores and meal prepping done in the morning while the children played or watched cartoons. Then, after lunch we would be off exploring the parks or doing whatever. This system worked well because the kids knew that mommy had to get her stuff done in order to do their stuff so we switched between mommy tasks and kids tasks which met everyone's needs.
By the time the kids turned 3, I felt that they needed to be put in daycare for more socialization and because I needed someone to help me potty-train them. (Editorial Note: I. Hear. That.) So we decided that it was time for me to reenter the workforce before my skills went too stale. The first week I sat outside their class all day thinking that they would need me. They didn't.
LD: I find that most working moms live by one or more systems. What are some routines your family could not live without?
MU: Time is of the essence for me, so I have to make sure that I have everything pre-planned on weekends so that I know I will accomplish what I need to and have time to relax before heading back into a full week's work. I have a rotating schedule of household chores that everyone contributes to. The twins help in the morning with getting breakfast for their brother. The kids do their homework on the way home in the car so that they have dedicated time to play when they get home. Sundays are family time where we attend church and chill at home. We all eat dinner every night at the table and we have Saturday movie nights where we all gather for a movie and eat popcorn.
LD: What does the split look like between and your husband when it comes to domestic tasks?
Until all the kids got into school, it was a real sacrifice for me and my husband managing the drop-offs and pick up time with the kids. The twins were in school and the youngest was across town in a daycare, so I would drop the youngest off at 7 a.m. and go to work while my husband would drop off the twins at school. Then I got off early enough to rally them all and race home to cook dinner. Life is much easier now because my husband retired and is now a full-time dad. He does the housework and cooking during the week so that I can fully engage in my career to support the family. I do deep cleaning on the weekend like bathrooms, beds, washing floors and yard work.
LD: What is the best advice you have received about thriving in the #WorkingMomLife?
MU: Don't sweat the small stuff. Nothing is more important than hugging and caring for your children. I had family members that measured my capability of being a mother by how clean my house was, how my children were dressed and whether or not I had meals on the table by 5 p.m.. These are all unrealistic units of measure when you have twins or more children. There are times where I was stressing myself out because I didn't get the house cleaned or the bed made because my child was having a melt down and I needed to stop and hold them. There were times when dinner didn't get made because we were having too much fun at the park. At these times I had to ask myself which was most important? Playing tennis with my child which they will remember and you will cherish for your life or washing the floor? Is anyone coming over that will need to lick that floor? Of course not!
LD: What advice could you have done without?
MU: The constant judgments that stay-at-home moms have it easy and don't have much to talk about other than their children. That is far from the truth. Our lives might revolve around our children and Sesame Street but we are smart and educated people that are doing the most important job in the world.
LD: Do you have any words of wisdom for new moms who plan to work, or for seasoned moms headed back to work?
MU: For working moms it is to keep engaged with your profession and to remember that you have valued skills from being at home that can translate to the workforce. When I returned back to Human Resources, I felt that people were farther along in their careers than I was and I envied them because I used to be that person who offered to take on big projects, who was able to attend networking sessions and could work those extra hours. When you have kids you give up that flexibility and have to take a backseat to those initiatives until your kids get older. Your primary focus is your children and not your job and that is hard to get used to at first. But I say cut yourself some slack because there will be a payback time.
For new moms, my advice is to enjoy your children and try not to get caught up on being better than others. Be yourself and don't forget to play music loud and dance as much as you can with your children. Take naps with them so that you have the energy to sustain yourself throughout the day. But most importantly make sure you don't lose yourself in your children and that it is equally important to schedule in time for yourself to continue to do the things that make you who you are.
I love my life and how it played out, but I couldn't have done it alone. I needed my husband and his understanding. And there were times when he came home and I had a drink poured that was stronger than wine and he knew when that happened I needed a break and took action and I love him for that!
LD: Do you have a secret super-power?
MU: I love my job!
And it shows! Thanks so much to Michelle for letting us peek into her very full life.
For more portraits of working moms' lives, check out these posts: