The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide

I wish more than anything that The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide existed. It would undoubtedly start with a chapter on how and when to break the news to your supervisor that you’re expecting a child during “the busy season”, followed by a brief discussion on sharing that same news with your co-workers in a way that won’t instigate a panic attack as they visualize your many projects being nicely cut up and sprinkled upon their already full plates. The guide would offer advice on how to prepare for maternity leave—how to move up and cram three months worth of projects into your current, already busy schedule to most responsibly prepare you, your colleagues, your supervisor, and your students for your absence. It of course would include tips & advice on actually being out maternity leave, perhaps a whole section dedicated to e-mail alone… Am I obligated to check and respond to my e-mail?, How do I avoid an inbox that’s filled to capacity? I can’t access my archived folders from home… how do I survive? Another section would answer questions such as I’m going back to work in 4 weeks—are these huge knots in my stomach normal and if so, how can I untangle them?, Will I need to explain why my office door is shut for 15 minutes every three hours? The last third of the guide would focus on how to make it through your first day, first week, first semester, and first year back to work— Did I really work this many weekend events and late nights last year??, My days are always packed with meetings—how will I ever be able to stick to my pumping schedule?, I know my eyes are open, but am I expected to be awake and productive after the night I just had!?, Is it okay to leave at 5:00?. The closing chapter would bring it all together, talking about how to make sense of this new definition of normal, your new identity as a student affairs working mom.

What a rollercoaster of a year this has been for me.  From the day I shared the news with my supervisor that I would be out on maternity leave for most of the fall semester to bond with my September baby, I worked to find a way to squeeze my “Fall To Do List” into every other “To Do List” on my desk. The “used-to-be-stress-free” June suddenly was a madhouse. I aimed to conquer my September projects in June; in July, I’d tackle October, etc. etc. There was a method to my madness and things were getting done! On Thursday, July 21st, I spent most of the day at our Transfer Student Orientation program and balanced the later part of the afternoon with a mixture of sending out minutes from our most recent Homecoming meeting, updating our website, looking forward to the relaxing three-day weekend ahead, and maybe even sneaking a peak at my baby registry. In essence, it was a perfectly normal day with only a small hint of third trimester discomfort. I had my on-going To Do List sitting to the left of my desk, with a handful of items highlighted in green—those were the things that absolutely needed to get done first thing on Monday morning. Little did I know that when I went home that night, I was in for the scariest moment and biggest surprise of my life; little did I know that my Monday morning To Do list would stay there till November, that my strategically planned summer would be thrown out the window and that my summer would be spent in NICU: My September baby arrived 10 weeks prematurely. Suddenly, those “Monday Must Do’s” highlighted in green faded away and were replaced with purchasing preemie clothes, assembling a nursery, spending 8+ hours a day in the hospital, and playing phone tag with HR to translate the Family Leave paperwork into a language I understood. In an instant, I quickly learned control was just an illusion, a thing of the past. At that moment, my priorities changed, and I knew nothing else in the world could possibly be more important.

Seven long weeks later, my little man was healthy & strong enough to come home. I could go on and on about the unique challenges and experiences of being a NICU mama. I was so relieved to be able to spend the last half of my maternity leave with my little guy at home, yet, still felt cheated out of a “normal” maternity leave. Fast forward to the end of maternity leave and my desire to find The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide grew stronger and stronger. I forced myself to practice my morning routine more than two weeks before returning to work to make sure it was actually possible to feed baby, feed myself, shower, and get caffeinated, all while getting to work on time. How did all the working moms I knew make it look so easy? Where did they get their red cape, and more importantly, how do I get one? I barely noticed any of them scrambling in late for work, complaining about being exhausted, discussing the struggles of being a breastfeeding working mom, talking about the guilt of staying late at work and only being able to spend an hour with their child before bedtime—or even worse, coming home when they’re already fast asleep. Was it taboo to talk about these things at work? Was I just not paying attention before? Or was I just never really part of the conversation because it’s one of those things you don’t fully understand until you’re there?

I wish I was able to offer more answers than questions, but the truth is, I’m still very new to this and very much in the process of coming to terms with my new identity as a working mom in our field. As a student affairs practitioner, we regularly talk with students and colleagues about the need to find balance, but talking about it doesn’t exactly mean it’s easy for us to do. I am thankful to have some amazing student affairs mamas in my life who have been able to respond to every panic-induced conversation, phone call, text message, e-mail, etc. and am forever appreciative of their ability to help me through every hurdle. I’m proud that in my six weeks being back to work, I’ve been to work on time every day and have only shown up to work once with my sweater on backwards. I’m not sure how long it takes to earn that red cape, but it’s something I’ll continue to strive for as I patiently learn to juggle my worlds.

ImageTo other new student affairs moms—What struggles are you facing and where do you turn for support? If you had the opportunity to read The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide, what chapter would you turn to first?

To the veteran working mamas out there—if you had the opportunity to contribute to The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide, what would be the title of your chapter?

Lauren Wilson
Assistant Director of Student Development, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
South Jersey Regional Coordinator, The Jersey Alliance



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9 responses to “The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide

  1. I LOVE this article–great job, Lauren! And I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has suffered a baby-induced wardrobe malfunction–for me it was an inside out shirt.

    I’ve struggled to reconciling that my professional identity has changed now that I cannot sink countless and endless hours in the office, but the benefit has been understanding that there were a lot of things on my to do list previously that weren’t necessary–they were “extras”–and other things could be easily delegated to other staff who were willing to help or ready for a different staff role or challenge. I’ve also learned to change the types of projects I bring home. I’m more likely to use my work at home time in the early morning or later at night to respond/reply to e-mails, review documents/protocol/policies that need editing and other simpler projects (as opposed to scheduling conduct meetings, developing training schedules, etc.). It allows me to sit in a comfy chair in the living room with my laptop and mug of tea, so it doesn’t FEEL like work and it’s the type of work my brain can handle at those times of the day.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Tina! Sadly, I bet this is only the first of our baby-induced wardrobe malfunctions! It stinks that ANY work has to be brought home and cut into your time with the little one, but I of course recognize that it sometimes is a reality of our work. I’m glad you’re finding a strategy that works for you.

      I remember having a conversation with one of my former colleagues about balancing work & personal life. (Disclaimer…I’m trying to find the right words to share our conversation in a way that won’t be interpreted the wrong way!) We were basically talking about how so many of us in student professionals view ourselves as important– SO important that our campus/department would fall apart without us, without us there to get X project done ASAP, when the reality is… it’s okay to take a break, it’s okay to leave at (or close to) 5:00, and a lot of projects probably CAN wait till tomorrow without our campus/department crumbing to pieces.

      Similar to you, my previous To Do list had so many extras and unnecessary items. I’ve learned to change the way I prioritize my projects during the day and the way I evaluate projects that NEED to be done before I leave for the day versus the ones that can wait till tomorrow. Working efficiently sure has taken on a whole new meaning these days! I feel foolish for ever uttering the words “I’m so busy” before this journey.

      Best of luck to you, Tina! Hope you can enjoy several cups of tea & warm baby smiles over the winter break! Happy to share this journey with you!

  2. Hannah

    Wait, you have an office to pump in??? What about making sure no one needs anything in the storage closet so you can pump in it? Or going to a conference and trying to time the sessions correctly so you can pump in the bathroom and hope that no one really needs the wheelchair accessible stall?

    I could definitely benefit from A Beginners Guide and would probably read all chapters in depth. I would also like to add one about maintaining a sense of humor and being nice to your coworkers when you feel like seriously injuring your husband at home (how is it that they feel like they can complain when they don’t have to do any night feedings???). Would you like to author this book with me???

    I have to say that I enjoy working but definitely miss my baby at home every day. Sorry folks at FRCC but there just isn’t anyone quite as cute as he is!

    • Emily

      Lauren…AMAZING and WELL WRITTEN…thank you for sharing this “real” perspective and being willing to humanize something that should be talked about openly, especially amongst women who need to be more supportive of one another!

      Hannah…let’s chat about your pumping experience! Please tell me that they are supportive of you pumping at work?! It is your right…as definined in the COLORADO and FEDERAL law (Colorado law requires that all employers, including state government, must provide for the needs of employees who are nursing mothers, as set forth in C.R.S. §8-13.5-103 – 104. In addition, federal law requires employers to provide break time and private lactation facilities for nursing mothers, and allows states to enact more stringent requirements. (29 U.S.C. § 207(r)(1)).)…that you are able to pump…have a designated spot (even if it’s a conference room…but you can reserve it and it should be yours during those reserved times!) and that spot should NOT be a bathroom stall!!! You should not feel guilty or have to hid the fact that you are feeding your child! I have had to share my thoughts on this scenero in my place of work and have fought for a place to pump and now openly talk about it because it is natural and a big part of my life. I truly hope you are supported in your place of work! And if not, please check out the laws!

      • First of all, I love that The Jersey Alliance blog has a Colorado following now!! Probably reiterates your point, Emily, that these issues are not being talked about as often and openly as they should. You both bring up some great points about breastfeeding moms in the workplace and making sure your support systems are in place– sounds like I can delegate that chapter of the book to you two 🙂

        Thanks so much to both of you for sharing your experience– I’m sure you’re not the only two out there who have struggled to find an appropriate location to feed your child!

  3. Judy Martinez

    Oh Lauren… This article is so fabulous! Though I can not relate to the motherhood part, I have to admit that I’ve always wondered how I could ever fit a family into our already hectic student affairs lives without giving some party involved the short end of the stick. Thank you for putting your thoughts into words! I see that it is not easy, but also not impossible.

    And for the record… In my eyes you’ve always had that red cape, maybe these days you don’t recognize it because you have it inside out or backwards 😉 teehehehe.

    In any case, I’m sure you’ll get your bearings soon enough. Rock Stars always do 🙂

    And it looks like you have the intro to that book… Let me know if you need some sideline cheering to get you writing the rest of it 🙂

    Big HUGS!!!!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Judy! “I’ve always wondered how I could ever fit a family into our already hectic student affairs lives without giving some party involved the short end of the stick.”… ME TOO!! Hoping that once I get my cape on the right way, I can offer some more advice on that 🙂

  4. Anonymous

    This is fantastic, Lauren!! You are an excellent writer and a wonderful mother. Your little guy is so blessed to have you! 🙂

  5. Don’t forget about the Student Affairs Daddy. We might not have to worry about pumping, but I connected with every word everyone has said about the impact that pregnancy, birth, and early childhood has on our professional life.

    I remember going to an ACUHO-i session during the summer when we were pregnant and 4 months away from our due date. It was comforting to see that 1/3 of the room was filled with amazing men who wanted to talk about the intersection or their work and daddy lives. Little did I know that this was only the tip of the iceberg of questions and conversations that I would have with my partner and supervisor for the next 2 years.

    The guilt of hearing that your supervisor is happily working 2 jobs while you are out for months. The blessing of having students that want to see your child at every opportunity they can get. The tension of actually needing to get your work done within a work day because the day care center won’t just leave your 1 year old on the curb for you to pick up after they close.

    I was blessed with a supportive department that enabled me to be out for 3 months to enjoy my child and to let my wife get some sleep. I actually planned my time away to start 2 weeks prior to our due date. I was going to finish preparing the baby’s room, throw out all of the clutter in our apartment, baby proof everything. I was going to take some time to relax. Maybe some golf and video games would help in the mental transition from work to daddyhood. Little did I know that my last Friday of work would be the night that my wife’s water would break! Since that day, October 15, 2010, my son has found some way to impact every day that I had planned to take off from work.

    There aren’t enough daddy/mommy roundtables at conferences to share all of our amazing stories, trials, and successes. Thanks for starting this fun conversation.

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