The Mom Balancing Act of an Engineer


It’s not like I’m the first woman to balance motherhood as an engineer. I’m not some rare breed of woman, but sometimes it sure feels like it. I look back at everything that I’ve accomplished in my career and literally have no idea how I did it. It’s a blur and almost as if it was a distant part of my past even though it was just yesterday.

In 2019, I took a promotion as an engineering manager during a time of transformation. We were shifting roles and responsibilities within my department as well as learning new tools. It was an exciting challenge as a new manager taking on direct reports for the first time in my career. I had responsibility of not only myself, but other engineers, too. The pressure was on and it sure was exciting, but terrifying at the same time.

Did I mention that I also had an 18 month old baby girl at home during this time? She was teething and keeping us up at night. She was the center of our world and made sure we knew it. We had just recently stopped nursing, so comforting her at night meant that she ended up sleeping in bed with us, so that we could all get some sort of sleep.

This was pre-pandemic, so we were going into the office everyday. I was an exhausted mama, but also one that was handling quite a bit of responsibility at work. There were many nights where I worked in the dark of my bedroom with my toddler sleeping on top of me. There were countless times where I found myself on phone calls past midnight with a few of my engineers trying to meet deadlines. In between my toddler’s nightly feeding sessions, I would sneak away into the living room to review data analysis, layout designs, pricing summaries or client proposals because I wasn’t able to finish during “normal” working hours. 

In February of 2020, I hit a breaking point. I was working two extremely large and complex multi-million dollar projects while supporting a team of seven engineers. My mental load was maxed out so I notified my manager that I was taking three days off or I was going to quit. I spent the next three glorious days with my family exploring the Kentucky Science Museum, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Garfield Memorial Grove. It was the refresh that I needed for the sake of my relationship with my daughter and my husband. Not to mention, my mental capacity. 

During those three days, I realized that no job was worth that much stress and it sure wasn’t worth the neglect that my family was seeing from me. My mom and wife duties were garbage to say the least and I needed to do better. The thing that had to change was my perspective of work or else I would continue the same burnout cycle. Over the next year, I would ask myself the same questions over and over when I started to feel overwhelmed. 

mom working on laptop holding toddlerWhy am I doing this?

When I interviewed for this manager role, one of my selling points was that I wanted to develop a training plan for the team, which the team desperately needed. Most of the team was hired into this department within 2019 and we were still very much trying to understand all the tasks and responsibilities related to this new transformation role. I sincerely wanted to help my team develop and grow within their current roles. 

Where do I get my energy from?

I started asking myself this question and realized I get my energy from my daughter. She was just so full of energy and she was the one thing that refueled my tank at the end of each day. The time I spent with her was precious and I didn’t want to miss out on any more milestones because something at work needed my attention. My daughter needed my attention and I needed hers. 

Who inspires me to do my best every day?

I’ve learned that there are better ways to working smarter rather than just working harder. Along the way, I’ve picked up tips and tricks from more experienced mothers or engineers whom inspire me to better myself. 

When was the last time I felt extremely motivated?

This is a key question for me when I’m in need of recharging. I tend to consider what my driving passion is and try to use that beacon when I’m feeling lost. My personality tends to lean towards coaching. I enjoy seeing others grow and light switches turn on when someone finally understands something. I just need to remind myself that I get more joy out of seeing that same spark within my daughter than I do my co-workers. She should be my motivator. 

What unnecessary work am I doing that I could get rid of?

Excessive work is just plain exhausting. Before making any commitments, I like to determine if there are smarter ways and potentially shortcuts that I can consider. I’m not afraid to ask others for help and to delegate tasks. I also prioritize efficiency (while also delivering quality), and watch as the time it takes to complete certain tasks reduces. 

How often am I saying yes or no?

Pushing back, establishing boundaries and resetting expectations is the best way I’ve found to not flat out say yes or no. I like to compromise most of the time and educate my peers on why I may say no. Saying yes to everything just isn’t sustainable and will lead to instant burnout. This applies to motherhood as well. I teach my daughter these same principles and believe she will be better off as she gets older. 

I heavily leaned on these questions throughout 2020 (the year of the pandemic) and it has made me a better mother, wife and engineer. Both my husband and I had the luxury of working from home during this time, but we also had our daughter with us throughout the work day like most working parents. We learned quickly that we had to incorporate flexibility within our daily routines or else we were going to revert back into the burnout cycle.

Learning the work-life balancing act of detaching from work, evaluating my priorities and managing my time is still a work in progress, but it’s part of the foundation of the things I need to do for my family. The benefits outweigh the consequences of poor work-life balance. Taking care of myself both mentally and physically is of utmost importance.

Flashforward to 2021, my toddler is almost a preschooler and I have a 6 month old. It’s a few months post-maternity leave in the same engineering manager role and work-life balance is still an every day struggle. I’m managing it better than ever and I still ask myself the same questions over and over again. The answers have changed, but one thing still hold true and that is – my family will always come first no matter what job I have. 


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