“I Refuse To Disappear As A Woman Just Because I’m A Mother”

Much of the parenting conversation has centered on the notion of having it all, but anyone who has even some of it knows that it’s less about “having” and more about “doing.” Going to work, caring for your kids, fitting in friends and fitness — it’s a lot to juggle. But it has to be possible, right? We seek that answer in our new series, Mother's Day, by asking some of the most highly functioning parents we know how the hell they do it. For Elana, 32, owner of a dog-walking company in the suburbs of D.C., it’s all about finding time to take care of herself, her home, and her kid, while her husband works incredibly long hours running a popular area restaurant.
Parenting with: My husband, Luke, a chef who works long hours and weekends.
I wait until I hear Laila to wake up, then I go in and get her dressed and ready for school. Usually my husband is making coffee during this time, although sometimes I let him sleep in because he works very late. Either way, coffee immediately is a must. Then we make breakfast for Laila and pack her a lunch. She is either watching TV or hanging out with one of us while the other is in the kitchen getting food ready.
We say our goodbyes and go to school around 9. Drop-off is divided between the two of us, no real rhyme or reason since every day, our schedules are a bit different. On my days, I go in sweats, un-showered; I haven't had time to get ready yet. Laila's in a daycare for seven to eight hours a day, and it costs $1,100 a month. Before we had a kid, we'd still be sleeping at this time (and way later), because we both worked really late hours at different restaurants, and then we'd stay out late drinking with friends and coworkers. We still do that occasionally, we just have to plan the nights selectively — and the hangover mornings are 100 times worse.

It got to the point where I couldn't be home with her all day anymore. It wasn't good for either of us.

When I get home from drop-off, I'll shower and get ready to start the day. I'll also do some housework, since I'll have the place to myself (dishes, laundry, cleaning up). At the same time, I'll be kicking off my work day.
I started my own dog walking company right before I got pregnant, and then quit waiting tables when I was six months pregnant because both jobs were too physically straining for me. I hired dog walkers to work for me so I could take a break from that and just do the management. The day I got back from the hospital, I was back on the computer emailing and scheduling — even though I was healing from an unexpected C-section delivery and mostly by myself with the newborn baby. I was able to stay home with my daughter for 16 months, doing all the admin work for my business, but not any of the physical walking. Meanwhile, my husband was opening a new restaurant and working insane hours — it felt like we never saw each other. Even so, I felt very lucky that I could work from home and only a few hours a day. I used her nap time as my work time and was on my phone a lot. It did get to that point, though, where I felt like I couldn't be home with her all day anymore. It wasn't good for either of us. I decided to get her in daycare so she could have some social interaction with other children and I could get back to focusing on my business and walking more dogs myself (to earn more money, and for the physical activity and time outside). I now have a schedule that allows to me to take breaks during the day; my workday starts at 10 a.m. and ends around 3 or 4 p.m., shortly before I get Laila from school. The breaks between walking dogs and handling paperwork allow me to deal with housework during this time, as well, and since I am out and about driving around, I run errands and do all the grocery shopping. I'm basically always running from one thing to the next. It's exhausting, and as much as I love the flexibility, I sometimes miss my night-owl restaurant life.
I get home around 5 p.m. with Laila. We play for about an hour and/or have a snack, then she has dinner around 6, then I get her ready for bed and tuck her in around 7:30. In between all this and work, I try to do as much for myself as I possibly can. I see my friends, I go out, I exercise, I get massages. I refuse to disappear as a woman or a person just because I am a mother. If someone is offering to help with babysitting, I take them up on it.
At the same time, I am terrible at asking for help and I always have been. In the beginning, when people would offer to babysit, I would always feel strange about it, and I very rarely asked for it. Once I finished breastfeeding (at 14 months) it was a lot easier for me to let my in-laws or close friends take Laila for longer periods of time. I have a close group of girlfriends who aren't parents, who LOVE children and are wonderful with her, and I trust them completely. Aside from that, it's my in-laws and my aunt who live pretty close by. Now, I am a little more comfortable with asking for help because Laila is a bit older and loves to be with other people anyways. We all need a break from each other sometimes!
I usually eat dinner after I put her to sleep, and after cleaning up and doing a little work. I'll cook again for myself or eat leftovers, drink some wine (which I've been waiting for all day sometimes), and watch TV. When Luke is home during the evening (twice a week) we either cook or get carryout. We used to go out for dinner almost every time we were off at night — with friends or just us. We miss going to our favorite restaurants all the time but still manage to get out as much as we can. Once a week (at least we try for that) Laila sleeps at her grandparents’ house, and I'll go out to dinner with friends or Luke if he's off.
I go to bed around 11 or 11:30; Luke gets home around midnight — I do not let him wake me up for sex.

I feel the same way about my body now that I did before...not great.

When did it dawn on you that you really are a mom?
Sometimes it still doesn't feel real.
How do you and your partner decide who handles what?
My husband is a chef/restaurant owner, so he is at work from about 10 a.m. to midnight and also works on the weekends. I used to work in the restaurant business, as well, so we had a similar schedule. He wishes he could be home more and help with day-to-day things, and we are working on getting there, but there are days when he starts work at 8 a.m. and then doesn't see Laila at all — so complaining about the housework feels petty. For now, I do all the errands and shopping, bill-paying, finances, childcare when Laila is home, and almost all the housework and cleaning, though Luke is very helpful when he's home. He is the clean freak in our relationship. Our housework duties aren't really split up or assigned to anyone; it kind of just happens depending on who is home (this is usually me, fine), but if one of us is feeling lazy about something, the other helps out.
Your biggest struggle right now is…
Patience and money. And weekends have been hard for me, actually, because I am all alone with my daughter while Luke works double shifts, and all my friends are busy spending time with their own families.
Are you still dealing with any postpartum symptoms? How have your feelings about your body changed?
I feel the same way about my body now that I did before...not great. Now it's just harder to lose the weight, which probably relates more to my age than anything else.
What has your sex life been like post-childbirth?
Intimacy has changed a lot due to the changes in our schedules and exhaustion. I definitely don't wait up for him at night or let him wake me up (haha). When it happens, it's when we have a night off together.
What were you the least prepared for about life as a working mom?

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