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What's Your Ideal Work/Life Balance (with Baby)?

I went out for “ladies night” with a group of friends last week. In the absence of their husbands and presence of my pregnant belly, my friends displayed an effusive baby-craziness on a level I haven't witnessed before. It was hilarious. It also brought to light, though, the conflicted emotions and logistical considerations that influence when and how women go about having kids.

One friend, in particular, surprised me in confessing how much she wants to have a baby, but then noted that “things haven’t really changed that much for women in the workplace.” She’s a national policy journalist at a major weekly news magazine. At 30, after years of focused dedication, she’s scored herself an office with a window and a couch, and is writing the stories she wants. On the flip side, she’s underpaid (arguably a form of job security as the industry shifts dramatically), and she works long hours. She said that the people who leave work at 7:30 p.m. (“early”) to “relieve their nannies” do so amidst raised eyebrows from the rest of the staff. Each year “when layoffs roll around,” these people are inevitably most vulnerable.

Most of my friends aren’t among those women prefer to stop working altogether to raise their kids (nothing wrong with this option, of course). This friend loves her work, but also wants to actively participate in raising her kids, and doesn’t feel that there is any flexibility in terms of her schedule or company culture to allow for this.

My own workplace is different. A number of people have had children in the last year or two, and there is evident flexibility around parents’ needs. Striking the career/new parent balance is a huge concern for me; I’m not sure what form that balance will take. I don’t want (and can’t afford) for a nanny to raise my kid. My schedule feels intense now, and I don’t know that I want to try to maintain it as-is when I have the baby. But I also want and need to continue working; I like what I do, and I’m just getting revved up. Because I work hard and have a good sense of the flexible options that already exist where I work, I’m back-burnering the ‘striking a balance’ breakdown for after maternity leave.

My friend, above, explained her observation about women in the workplace by saying “You do have to sacrifice something.” Having a baby certainly changes the game. Our lives—every aspect of them-- change around it. For those of us who have existing work lives, we have to figure out ways to accommodate both work and the new demands on us as parents.

What’s your ideal balance? Do any of you work from home at all, or job share? Did your thoughts on this topic differ before and after you had kids? If you're currently pregnant, what's your plan?

(PS. Got the test results back: I do not have ICP! Yay!)