Kara Vanskike

The Working Mom Conundrum: Full-Time, Part-Time, or Stay-At-Home?

By: Kara Vanskike | March 21, 2019 | 
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working momAfter a two-year stint as a stay at home mom (#SAHM), I’m dipping my toes back into the sea of professional communications as a working mom.

No longer is my tool belt restricted to nursery rhymes, War Robots, Minecraft, and mealtime entreaties.

Let’s jump in the time machine and revisit the last couple of years…

A Little Bit of Backstory

In 2015, I was part of this incredibly insightful Spin Sucks team.

When I started, I was on bedrest.

My water broke at 16 weeks.

My pregnancy was precarious. And my employer of eight-and-a-half years felt my services were no longer needed.

So, I reached out to Gini Dietrich and Laura Petrolino, who recognized the fact that my brain and fingers still worked fine, so they threw some projects my way.

As things evolved and my tiny, internal dictator became a little more cooperative, I began working part-time.

Then C decided he’d make his grand appearance four weeks early.

After three months, I was back at Spin Sucks part-time.

However, the original plan was to come back full-time.

After all, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I also had a four-year-old at home.

With him, I went back to work after an 11-week maternity leave.

Was a return after 11 weeks easy?

No.

But once I got back into the swing of things, and found our groove; I couldn’t envision not working.

But this time around was different.

A Change in Plans

You see, this little guy who just entered the world after a very rocky 36-weeks had Down syndrome.

When I received the prenatal diagnosis, I had no idea what the road ahead looked like.

Unlike many parents who have kiddos rockin’ an extra chromosome, our experience was a bit different.

C didn’t spend any time in the NICU.

Nor did he have any heart issues, which are very common.

And he didn’t have any other major health issues.

What we did face, however, was hearing loss, and with that, came a variety of therapies I knew nothing about, and for which I was unprepared.

After several failed auditory brainstem response tests (ABRs), C was fitted with a Bone Anchored Hearing Aide (BAHA) at five months old.

This began our adventure into the world of speech therapy, aural rehab, developmental hearing therapy, occupational therapy, and eventually physical therapy.

We had people in and out of our home three to five days a week, plus doctor appointments.

My plan to go back to work full-time, just as I had done four years earlier, became laughable.

Part-Time, Part Two

So, I chose part-time.

I juggled work and all our appointments, exclusively pumping, and mothering two kiddos—one in pre-school, one an infant.

The next deadline for returning to work full-time was May.

When it arrived, my schedule hadn’t let up, and I just wasn’t able to fit more into my days.

Graciously, Gini and Laura allowed me to stay on part-time.

But then September came, and it was make-or-break time.

I continued to be maxed out, and knew the moment had arrived for teary farewells.

So, in October 2016, I became a stay-at-home-mom.

Return to Present Day

A couple of weeks ago, when I told Laura I once again became a working mom, she asked if I’d write something about reentry to the communications realm.

She also wondered if I kept up with the industry and what had changed.

First, let me say I didn’t set out to go back to work, and I am back only, you guessed it, part-time.

A friend, with whom I had worked for nearly a decade before my stint at Spin Sucks, had an opening at the interior design firm where he’s been for the past three years.

We started talking about their difficulty filling this position, and he put me in contact with the owner.

One thing led to another and bada-bing, I’m back in the working world.

The schedule is perfect—I only work while my boys are in school.

And it is not solely a communications role.

For this phase of my life, I could not have designed a better job, better schedule, or a better group of people.

It is no doubt divine intervention.

But let’s get to Laura’s questions.

Did I Stay Informed and Connected While I Was Away?

The short answer is no.

I had every intention to, and even thought I might take on a consulting project or two, but I found myself enjoying my time away, and taking a break from the professional life.

I did read through Spin Sucks enough to not feel entirely out of the loop though, and I fielded PESO-related questions from time to time, so I didn’t allow myself to become too rusty.

Have Things Changed In the Field?

Well, this is a field that is continually evolving, so yes, things have changed.

But I don’t believe the foundation has.

The things that have changed are the tools, but not drastically so.

Hootsuite’s free services aren’t as numerous as they once were, MOZ is even better, Google AdWords isn’t as user-friendly, and Google Analytics is more robust.

Are there new tools out there with which I’m unfamiliar? Certainly.

Is my writing rusty? Heck yeah.

Is one of my pet peeves still business owners who choose shared media over owned media?

OMG yes—that has not changed. Really, the most significant change is Laura’s relationship status!

As a stay-at-home-mom, I did worry that by the time I came back the industry would have changed so much, I would be left in the dust.

But I don’t think that’s the case at all.

(I am back earlier than I thought I would be, however.)

One of the first things I did when I accepted the new position was to buy The Communicator’s Playbook.

While I haven’t worked through all of it yet, I have done a quick scan, and felt a sense of relief knowing that I know this stuff.

Yes, I did need a refresher, but as I said, the foundation hasn’t shifted.

A communications plan should still be built upon the PESO model.

As we build a new website and blog for Spectrum Design Group and create our media playbook, it’s a great feeling to know I’m not the dinosaur I feared I might become during my time at home.

Motherhood Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Being a working mom outside the home is hard.

A working mom who works from home doesn’t have it easy.

Being a stay-at-home-mom is challenging.

I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to experience all the possible working/mom/working-mom combinations.

For me, each phase has been fulfilling and an opportunity to grow.

Most of my path has not been planned, and for that, I am grateful because I couldn’t have planned it better.

In retrospect, however, if I had to make a hardcopy of how I would have planned each phase, it might have looked something like this:

Full-Time Working Mom

  • Figure out how much time to take for maternity leave. (I had a general idea, but wasn’t sure until about halfway through.)
  • Stay connected with the office—visit the website and social media accounts occasionally, take the baby to the office one morning, have lunch with an office friend, etc. This was easier to do with my first than my second. Staying connected makes the transition back to work a little easier.
  • Research childcare options. What’s the budget? Is a nanny realistic? No. What about in-home care? OK, I really didn’t have a plan with my first child. My mom moved in with me five days per week for several months, then she connected me with the person who became our first sitter and one of my best friends.
  • If travel is required, what about childcare then? (My parents, thank God.)
  • Is there a place to pump in the office? No? Discuss the need with the boss or HR. My co-worker had an area set up for me when I went back to work the first time. The second time, I worked from home.
  • How does the division of household tasks work now that there’s a new baby? (This could be a tough one.)
  • When is “me time?” Self-care is a must. Make it a priority. Get it on the calendar. Making this a priority is a continuous struggle, but it can be the difference between a mother who stays present and one who intermittently checks out mentally and physically.

Part-Time Working Mom

  • Figure out childcare even if working from home. (It will eliminate excess stress.) I tried to work during naps and quiet times, but just knowing my flow could be interrupted at any moment was distracting. Now I work when the boys are in school, in the evenings, or during their naps.
  • In any scenario, search for family-friendly employers. One can tell a lot about a company by pouring over their mission, vision, and the culture they project with their online presence. These family-friendly companies are inherently more flexible and understanding when it comes to arriving 20 minutes late due to exploding diapers. Their flexibility often extends to mid-morning absences for children’s school programs and the like.

Stay-At-Home-Mom Who Plans to Return to Communications

  • Read Spin Sucks every week or every other week.
  • Try to stay somewhat up to date on current events.
  • Re-read Spin Sucks, the book.
  • Be open to helping friends with their marketing and communications problems.

No Right or Wrong Answers

There is never a “perfect” time to start a family.

Rarely does anyone feel like they have enough time, wisdom, experience, money, or space.

It always works out—just ask any child that lived through the seventies.

You will do just fine; you’ll figure it out, and once it happens, you’ll likely look back and wonder why you were so stressed out.

In a nutshell, my advice is to set goals with built-in flexibility.

Be open to unexpected opportunities and the twists and turns of life.

Careers will always be here.

Maybe not as you had them planned, but they’ll be here.

Your little ones, however, will not be little for long.

Our time with them is oh so short, so embrace it and trust that everything else will fall into place just as it should.

If you or someone you know has gotten a Down syndrome diagnosis, congratulations!

You are about to embark on the most incredible journey.

The Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network is a fantastic resource and community that supports parents of kiddos rockin’ an extra chromosome.

DSDN’s vision is to “ensure families have unbiased and factually accurate diagnosis experiences, every time, through which families quickly know they’re not alone.”

Welcome to the club!

Are you a working mom? A stay-at-home-mom? What’s been your biggest challenges—and wins? Share your stories in the comments.

Editor’s note: March 21, 2019 is World Down Syndrome Day.

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

About Kara Vanskike


Kara Vanskike began her career at a communications firm in Hilton Head, SC. Next, she worked in the museum exhibit design industry as a marketing manager. Then, after meeting Gini in 2009, she went from client to employee before she transitioned to SAHM with two boys. Recently she rejoined the working world as a project management assistant and communications manager at a boutique home design studio. She spends her free time adventuring with her boys and is active in the Down syndrome community as her youngest is rockin’ an extra chromosome.