At 5:30 a.m., a small cry peeps out from the corner of my bedroom. The baby’s up. Ever since quarantine began, she wakes up 30 minutes before our “normal” wake-up time. I had expected that juggling parenthood and a career was going to be a challenge, but a pandemic was most definitely not part of the plan. Already exhausted by our new reality, there’s only one thing to do: Make a cup of coffee and start the day.
Before my baby’s arrival, I’d been working toward leveling up from Senior to Lead Product Designer. The position was within reach; I just needed to demonstrate leadership on one more project. When I came back to work after five months of parental leave, I was eager to reach the goal, even as I navigated new-mom challenges like pumping at work and fitting in daycare pickups and drop-offs.
The best laid plans…
By March 2020, I was hitting my stride. I was working on a big, complex project for Mailchimp, in which we were tasked with reimagining the developer experience from the ground up. We had just wrapped up the research phase and were busy crafting the strategy. It was exactly the type of project I enjoyed: new subject matter, incredibly smart and tactical clients, a clear mandate, and lots of room for creativity and problem-solving. Plus, this was the leadership opportunity I needed to earn the promotion.
Then the pandemic happened.
The scaffolding that allowed my child and my family to thrive had collapsed overnight. Daycare was no longer an option, and our offices shifted to working remotely. Not only were my partner and I overwhelmed by the pandemic, we were also now working from our Brooklyn apartment, with a 10-month-old. Child care is a full-time job; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I was still breastfeeding and pumping, and my project was just starting to kick into high gear. And during the rare quiet moment, there was a pandemic to consider, along with its surrounding unknowns.
Working and parenting
Having enough time to focus on work was one of my biggest challenges. Luckily, my partner and I both have jobs that are flexible and accommodating with our child-care schedule. We split our days into half-day shifts where one parent works and the other takes care of the baby. I generally got the afternoon baby shift.
I worked when the baby napped and after she went to bed at night. And I broke one of my long-held rules: I started working on weekends when it was absolutely necessary. If a meeting was scheduled during my shift, the baby attended with me, much to my team’s delight.
Me, a few months ago: juggling parenthood and working is hard— Liz Tan 🐼 (@liztan) March 19, 2020
Me, now – wfh while taking care of 9 month old: hold this milk bottle
Another challenge was working remotely — the first few weeks were extremely hard. While Postlight has many engineers who work remotely, the design team has traditionally been an on-site team. On this new project, I’d be collaborating with a designer who was new to the company. I knew we needed a new way of working and to adapt to these new circumstances — so we made technology work for us.
We moved from working in Sketch to Figma, which allowed us to collaborate seamlessly, work cursor by cursor, and get a view into one another’s workflow. With Figma, Slack, and Meet, it was almost like we were still sitting next to one another. We checked in often: a stand-up in the morning (with the video turned off to keep burnout at bay) and asynchronously via Slack the rest of the day. When in doubt, we overcommunicated.
Presenting work via Zoom was the final frontier for me. Presenting work in-person is anxiety-inducing enough — but at least I can read the energy in the room. A 20-plus-person Zoom meeting with every mic muted is a tough room to read. One presentation in particular really helped push me past the nerves. During one child-care afternoon while my baby napped, I presented work to our team. Halfway through, the baby woke up from her nap. Instinctively, I picked her up and continued with the presentation while trying to soothe her in my arms. After the meeting, my teammates expressed how impressed they were that I wasn’t rattled by the incident.
Work life is home life
In June, my baby became a toddler and transitioned away from breast milk, we delivered final designs to the client for approval, and I became a Lead Product Designer. I’m indescribably grateful to have been there for my daughter’s first steps and to watch her blossom from a blob to a little person all while driving the design track of my project.
I credit my success to the extraordinary circumstances that limited my coping choices to just one: placing one foot in front of the other. What else is there to do but embrace the vulnerability, allow it into my work, make a cup of coffee, and start the day.
Even pre-pandemic, home life and work life have never been separate — we just pretended they were. Now we’re in a state of transparency we never could have imagined. Our home lives cross paths with our work lives many times a day and it is a vulnerable feeling. But there is something about giving into that vulnerability that can change the way we work.
Although there were times when I didn’t feel like I was parenting well nor doing my work well, I showed up and did my best. I’d dwell on the trade-offs I made, but I’m too tired. Have I mentioned I wake up at 5:30 in the morning?