Working Mama Files is an interview series designed to support and encourage working moms along the path to having a fulfilling life.
Today I am so happy to have Nora from the blog Walking With Nora here. Without question, Nora is one of my favorite people on the internet. There aren’t many people in this world who are as encouraging, loyal, and thoughtful as she is. This interview is especially interesting because Nora is a bonus mom! Keep reading to find out more about that; I think you’ll love her perspective. Welcome Nora!
Who lives in your house?
On a full-time basis it’s myself, my husband (who I’ve nicknamed Knight) and our furdog, Jack. In the summer months we have my husband’s two daughters, from his previous marriage, with us for anywhere from two to three months.
Will you tell us a little about your current job and how you ended up there?
I’ve been with the same company for the last nine years and I have held numerous different job roles: assistant, logistics, instructor (for a brief period of time) and my current which is sales/marketing and some internal logistics/future planning. When I graduated college in 2004 with my B.A. in International Political Studies with a goal of working as a lobbyist or for a non-profit, I applied all over the place. I received the same answer each time: “you need experience.” Frustrated, I turned to the business world and began working for the family business. It was never my intent to work for the family business but so far it’s worked out well. I’ve climbed my way up the ranks, making a name other than “the boss’ daughter” for myself. It’s not easy but most days I really enjoy what I do!
I love that you call yourself a “bonus mom.” Can you explain that to us?
One of my earliest blog-turned-real-life-friends, Mandy, introduced me to the term Bonus Mom saying that she was never a fan of the phrase “step mom” because of the connotations, and I had to agree. I think any positive spin that you can add to a complicated divorce situation is helpful. What I mean by this: divorce is hard. If I can come up with a way for people to look at my role in the girls’ life as a positive influence rather than a sad thing because their parents got divorced, darn right I will do it. I’ve seen the toll the divorce situation takes on the kids and while I can’t fix it, I can influence it as best I can. I am a bonus; an extra person in a parenting role who cares and will do the best I can to shape their lives within the parenting morals, values, etc. that Knight and I have established together.
What were your thoughts when you met your husband and found out that he already had kids? Did it take awhile for you to come around to the idea or was it an immediate acceptance?
When I first met Knight I was OK with the fact that he had kids. Having been a babysitter and nanny over the years, I wasn’t worried about getting along with them or helping out. What I wasn’t prepared for? How complicated being a parent is when the kids split their time between two parents. Two different sets of rules, houses, expectations, guidelines, etc. I also wasn’t prepared for the emotional drain that the situation would take on Knight and myself, which does and can directly impact our relationship (if we let it!). At the very beginning it was almost like I was a nanny or babysitter: I made food, did laundry, helped with homework and bedtime, but there was no real joy out of it. I had my guard up and so did the girls. Over the last several years that guard has softened and we get along splendidly, they respect me as an adult in a parenting role and it’s gotten (mostly) easier.
How do the girls split their time between their mom and you two?
Currently we are summertime parents. It’s not what we wanted but it’s the best that we were able to arrange for. If we are lucky we get some time at the holidays and maybe in between, but that varies so we don’t bank on it or get ourselves too hopeful about it.
Will you tell us the kind of things you do to prepare for your time with them?
Of course! One of the things that I do all the time is keep an eye on the kids’ clearance sections. If there’s a basic piece that I know they will be able to use for at least one or two summers, I’ll buy it. Same thing with books; I go to used book sales and get them more books to add to their library in their room. About three months before their arrival, I print out a traditional paper calendar for the month(s) that they will be with us and begin the camp/day care/sitter planning. We do have a strict budget when the girls are with us so I have to be careful to find camps that will fulfill their need for activities and education but also not break our budget. Additionally I check our library’s website for the free events that are going on and make note of them as the girls adore our library. Bonus: it’s a break for the sitter if we have one on that day. I like to have as much planned out as possible for the daytime when we are at work, but still leave flexibility for random days at the zoo, park, movie days, etc. I also make a run to Sam’s to get some basics in terms of food: cereal, fruit, waffles, all-natural juice boxes, yogurt, etc. The girls eat like teenage boys and I can never have enough food. Meal planning is a weekly occurrence in our house to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store.
How does the rhythm of your day change when the kids are with you? Is your work affected?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Depending on what camp the girls are attending that week or what sitter we have, Knight and I will flex our work schedules accordingly. I will go in early to come home early, he will go in later or vice versa. My work is affected because when I’m at work I feel like I should be at home, and when I’m at home I feel like I should be at work. I think I work harder and smarter when the kids are around, though, so that I can maximize time with them. A rhythm of my day change: when I walk in the door the girls are clamoring for dinner; it takes several deep breaths before I can switch from work mode to mom-mode making dinner, not to mention I’m rarely hungry for dinner at 5:30pm! I also have to adjust my workout timing when the girls are around so I get uses to having two shadows who work out with me or I do it after they go to bed. (I’m the worst morning person in the world.)
What has been your biggest struggle, doubt, or resistance so far being a working mom?
I feel horrible leaving the girls to go to work each day.
I feel like there is never enough of me to go around: at work, to the girls, to my husband, my family, and my friends, much less myself. By the end of their summer with us I’m drained as I’m horrible at preserving my energy which leaves me grumpy and frustrated and not the best version of myself. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I should try to do part-time when they are with us because I feel like I’m half-assing (pardon my language) everything in my life.
I also struggle with the finances aspect; it’s amazing how expensive child care is. A necessary evil but it’s tough to wrap my head around.
Do you have any tips or tricks to pass along that help you lead a more joyful, fulfilling life?
This one is tough for me, but be sure to take time for you. Meaning: say no to too many plans, or tell the hubs you need a break for a half hour. Go for a drive, run to the grocery store alone, or take a long walk with the dog. It’s very hard for me to say no to the girls when they ask to go with me to Target or the library but I know myself well enough to know: I have to be the best version of myself for them as much as possible and that means taking some time out. Along those lines I instituted a no phone policy on my way home from work. Unless it was urgent, I didn’t call anyone on the drive home. Just me, my thoughts and some really loud music. It gave me some time to process, rev up for the evening and to just be.
Knight and I realized after our first two summers with the kidlets that we had to back off the number of kid activities and do more life activities. Don’t get me wrong, we love exposing them to new adventures but it can be a lot. This past summer we took it down a notch and took the girls to things that we like to do but would also be of interest to them. Miracle of miracles, it worked! It gave us more joy and we were able to show the girls a different side of their parents. A win for everyone, I think.
Specific to being a Bonus Mom, I’ve told the girls three simple things: 1. I always love you. 2. You can always talk to me. And 3. I will always tell you the truth (appropriate for their age level of course). There are a lot of nuances and weird things the girls are unfortunately figuring out so I want them to know that no matter what I’m always there for them. I think this is likely how all moms/parents feel, but in my particular situation with seeing the girls so rarely, I really try to hit this point home with them.
Now a few questions for fun…
How do you like your coffee? Or are you a tea drinker?
In the morning I’m all about the water! I’m loving tea more as I get “older,” and am a huge fan of peppermint, chamomile and lavender teas.
What was the last good book you read?
That Part was True by Deborah McKinely. It’s a lovely tale about an American Author and a British divorcée. They don’t know each other apart from exchanging letters, recipes and spend absolutely no time together in the book. It reminds me a bit of You’ve Got Mail meets Serendipity meets Sleepless in Seattle, just with less rom/com aspects.
What’s on your nightstand?
A stack of books, hair ties, a cup of water, a book light, my Nook and usually my cell phone.
Favorite social media site?
Instagram. I love the snapshots of people’s days and into their lives, not to mention how well a photo can tell a story.
Can you recommend one blog you read?
I read yours religiously (not just going for brownie points here, I swear!) because you have such a great mix of the everyday, parenting, lifestyle and crafts. You’re always an inspiration. I also love reading Becky (Love Everyday Life) and Terra (Terra Bear); they don’t blog as often as they once did but when they do their posts pack some serious punch.
See all the posts in this series here.