The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How do you deal with the pressures of work and being a new parent?” is written by Heather Zynczak, chief marketing officer at Pluralsight.
After having three kids in less than four years, I completely understand the excitement and worry that comes with juggling your career and family life. I’m the definition of a working mom, serving as a C-level executive at a tech startup while simultaneously raising my three rambunctious sons: ages six, seven, and nine.
During my early motherhood years, I never let up on my career’s gas pedal. I managed a large global team, was accountable for marketing over $3 billion in revenue, launched both the brand and product at a rising tech startup, and played a critical role in helping raise hundreds of millions of dollars in venture funding. To say I was busy was an understatement.
Here are some of the more surprising, unexpected insights I learned along the way:
It’s okay to change your mind
After becoming a parent, you can’t predict how you’ll feel until you’re in the moment. For me, this was a shocking revelation, because I am a planner by nature.
I approached becoming a working mom the same way. I planned every little detail about going back to work, only to find several aspects of my plan did not realistically work for me once I was confronted with the timeline. As an example, I initially scheduled my first day back to work, only to end up prolonging it by a month with my first son. On the flip side, after my third son’s arrival, I shortened my time off by four weeks. Along the way, I spent an absurd amount of time researching the perfect day care center, only to discover that day care did not work for us. Instead, we hired a nanny.
Drop the guilt
Becoming a mother will force you to reprioritize many things in your life. There will be times when you make decisions that feel like you are short-changing one aspect of your life. As long as you eventually strike a balance, don’t feel guilty about those decisions. Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In that when she is not traveling for work, she leaves the office at 5 p.m. to be home for dinner. As a rule, when I am in town, I do not schedule meetings before 9 a.m. so I can spend time getting my three sons off to school with a big nutritious breakfast, a final check of their homework folder, and a healthy packed lunch.
So when you decline a 6 p.m. meeting invite from a colleague because you have decided to be home for family dinner, don’t feel guilty about it. And when you miss a school recital because you decided to attend a board meeting, don’t feel guilty about it either. Trade-offs are okay.
Ignore advice that doesn’t work
I used to joke that a visible baby bump was like wearing a sign that said, “free advice wanted.” For some reason, practically every woman (and man) feels the need to give expecting and new moms advice. And this is not limited to motherhood-related topics.
Take it or leave it: My advice is to ignore advice. Instead, do what works for you and your family. Motherhood is a different experience for everyone, and there are no hard and fast rules that universally apply. For example, one of the best working moms I know swore by a strict sleep-training schedule. She promised me it was the way to get a full night’s sleep for everyone in the household. I took this seriously, as I wanted to do whatever I could to avoid going back to work too sleep deprived. But as with many things about parenting, that method did not work for us. Instead, my son and I had to find our own path to a full night’s sleep.
Motherhood will sometimes feel like you’re dropping the ball, whether it be professionally or personally. But know that it is possible to have a fulfilling career and be a great mom.