Finding Balance Between Motherhood & Working as a Child Life Specialist

Guest Blogger, Sam Johnson

We work really hard to become child life specialists. We complete our prerequisites, apply to schools, take out loans, go to class, study, write theses, complete practicums and internships, sit for our certification exams, and then apply for jobs. Eventually, we become working child life specialists and the world keeps spinning and our lives carry on.

Finding a work-life balance can be difficult, particularly in a job that can be emotional, heavy, and requires us to give so much of ourselves.

I reflected on my recent return to work following maternity leave and my new identity as a working child life specialist and mother below.

To all the working mothers, soon-to-be working mothers, and future working mothers — I see you and you’re doing great. 

I am a mom AND a child life specialist

Beginning in the second grade, I wanted to be a mom. Most students’ ‘Star of the Week’ posters featured aspirations to be firemen, veterinarians, or ballerinas. When I grew up, though, I wanted to be a mom.

In my 20s, I discovered child life while volunteering at the local hospital and was excited to learn about a field of work that combined my love for kids and desire to work in a hospital.

I worked as a child life specialist for 4 years before becoming pregnant. My pregnant (and overconfident) self figured my expertise in child life development would make it easy to be a mom. And, because I love my job, it would be easy for me to return to work after having the baby.

I took every day of maternity leave the state and the hospital allowed, and then some (albeit, unpaid).

Having a baby is the most difficult job I have had and no amount of wanting, textbook reading, graduate coursework, certification, or hospital work experience could have ever prepared me for being a mom. I was introduced to a level of exhaustion I couldn’t before fathom existed, I was feeding a baby with reflux and obsessing over the ounces of milk I could express, and I was choosing between eating, cleaning, or showering because I knew I did not have time for it all.

Despite my bleeding nipples, sweat, and sandpaper-like eyeballs, I marveled at my son’s every noise, smile, and movement and I feared the end of my maternity leave. I missed my coworkers and I missed being a child life specialist, but I already missed my baby more. I missed moments with him I hadn’t yet had; I feared I would not be home when he first crawled, that he would choke during a meal, that he would be sick with a fever and I would not be able to hold him, or that he would not be able to fall asleep without me rocking him first. I was jealous of the nanny or daycare we would use for being able to take care of him each day.

On my first day back to work, I cried my entire drive to the hospital. I showed up to the office, grateful for masks, and glued to my phone for updates on my son. No one on the unit could believe I was still working full-time. Everyone asked me how I was able to leave my baby, how often I was pumping at work, and who my son was with during the day because he wasn’t with me.

Returning to work was hard. I felt guilty, sad, and alone. I had a difficult time, too, making sense of the fact that I was spending time with everyone else’s child except my own.

Eventually (thank you to therapy, family, and friends) I was able to recognize that by going to work I am giving my son the opportunity to leave the home each day and build social and emotional bonds with other people that love him. I am also fulfilling a separate (but not unrelated) purpose and supporting children and families in the hospital. In time, I regained my identity as a mom AND a child life specialist.

It’s been 9 months since I returned from maternity leave. Today, work feels like a natural part of my day. In the mornings, I exercise, shower, and get dressed while everyone else is sleeping. It’s time I spend taking care of myself before I take care of everyone else. I then get to drive alone in my car to work and think about how much I love my hot coffee.

At the hospital, I get to see the magic of medicine, connect with my coworkers-turned-dear-friends, work alongside brilliant, compassionate people, and go to the bathroom alone. I am proud to still be able to exercise the skills I spent so many years studying (and continue paying) for.

I leave work on time each day (hi, priorities!) and when I pull into the driveway, I cannot wait to watch my son turbo-speed to the door for hugs. My time with him is prized and intentional, and I am proud of our bond. I hope my son grows up seeing that women are extremely capable — we are moms, we hold careers, we are, in effect, superheroes.

Author:

Sam is a mom to Max (14 months) and works as a child life specialist in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Acute Care floor at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. She is also the handler of a facility dog, Margene. On the weekends, you can find Sam on the beach with her family.

 

Top Parenting Books Other Than “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”

Top Parenting Books Other Than  "What to Expect When You’re Expecting" .jpg

Guest Blogger, Charlotte Dunlop

New parents looking to prepare themselves prior to the arrival of their firstborn child generally seek advice from a variety of sources. They ask thousands of questions to their own parents along with family and friends who already took the plunge. They buy baby book after baby book hoping to learn as much information as possible both before and after the birth. With so many options out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Most begin with What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but there are hundreds of new and classic titles out there with great parenting tips. Check out a few of them below.

The Best Parenting Books of All Time

Parents looking for time-honored parenting books still popular today should consider picking up one of the following:

The Baby Book

Author(s): William Sears, M.D., Martha Sears, R.N., Robert W. Sears, M.D., James Sears, M.D.

A true family classic, The Baby Book is written the knowledgeable Sears family of physicians. One of the most trusted authorities on infants, Dr. Sears and his family offer proven advice on sleeping, eating, comfort, and the overall health of your baby. They address common behavioral issues, medical interventions, necessary vaccinations, and give great tips on how to care for your child’s emotional and physical needs.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk

Author(s): Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Existing parents already know what many new parents will soon come to learn, pleading or yelling at your child like an adult generally does not work. Faber and Mazlish teach you how to speak to your child in a respectful manner that will teach them out to express themselves better and save you a lot of headaches and hassles as they grow up. The advice they provide not only applies to children, but transfers into improving your communication skills within your other relationships as well.

Positive Discipline

Author(s): Jane Nelsen, Ed.D.

An educator, doctor of education, psychologist, and mother to seven children, Dr. Jane Nelsen’s book Positive Discipline first appeared on the market 25+ years ago. She focuses on parenting skills like maintaining mutual respect with your children while teaching them how to communicate and cooperate in a firm, but kind manner that actually works.

Top Parenting Books Other Than What to Expect When You’re Expecting

New Books for New Parents

While some new parents prefer to read the classics, others want to get the newest, most up-to-date advice for raising children. Even well-seasoned parents can learn a thing or two from these brilliant minds.

Ignore It!

Author: Catherine Pearlman

Pearlman is a family therapist and, therefore, has witnessed and discussed many different kinds of behavioral issues play out in a variety of settings. Since most children believe any attention is better than no attention, even if it means being shouted at by their parent. Pearlman suggests stepping back sometimes and “selectively looking the other way” can work better than addressing the bad behavior directly. That does not mean completely ignoring unsafe behavior that could lead to someone getting hurt, but stepping back and allowing children to work out their emotional issues themselves.

Gentle Discipline

Author: Sarah Ockwell-Smith

The subtitle of Gentle Discipline explains the main focus of the book, “Using Emotional Connection, Not Punishment, to Raise Confident, Capable Kids.” Ockwell-Smith addresses the many reasons children act out and how to control these bad behaviors using mutual respect and working with the child, rather than against them. She does not condone distractions as a means to calm down a misbehaving child and encourages parents to be more specific in everyday interactions.

Top Parenting Books Other Than What to Expect When You’re Expecting

The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans

Author: Josh Shipp

The author, Josh Shipp, is a former foster child who survived the system despite severe behavioral issues. He managed to find a true home at the age of fourteen with a middle school history teacher and football coach named Rodney who instilled in him a sense of purpose and turned around all his behavioral issues. Shipp recounts the events of his childhood and describes how to create mutual respect and trust between you and your child along with the ways a parent’s role changes at the child ages.

Simplicity Parenting

Authors: Kim J. Payne and Lisa M. Ross

In today’s world of constant overstimulation by noise, advertisements, and general information, many people seek simplicity in their daily lives. They attempt to eliminate all the added stresses and anxieties, but how do you do that while raising small humans who also feel the consequences of overstimulation? Simplicity Parenting focuses exclusively on this struggle faced by modern parents. The authors give tips on scaling back the onslaught of modern media, how to schedule breaks and establish a more efficient rhythm to decrease tension, encouraging free play with non-screen toys, and other advice on simplifying home life for you and your child(ren).