Here’s what a day as a working mom in a tech start up looks like, for real

I’ve grown tired of the articles, interviews, conferences, TED talks that just give platitudes about work/life balance or talk about the fact that it doesn’t exist. I think that argument doesn’t really provide any insight into what a day really looks like and how we get through it. So here are a couple typical days for me — one with both parents home, one with one parent traveling — to bring some reality to the melange of articles out there on this topic.

Context: I’m 34 years old, am married and have two kids — 11 months and 2.5 years old, both boys. I’m the head of marketing and communications for a tech startup in downtown Chicago. My husband and I both work full time outside the home, although we have some flexibility to work from home once a week.

Our Typical Day (both parents in town):

Wake up: 6:00am (note: this is a relatively recent wake up time as I’ve been getting up at least once around 3–4am to breastfeed for the past several months. Very grateful for the shift to sleep, although it changes daily)

Bathroom/shower for mom, Dad gets dressed: 6:15–6:30

Youngest son up: 6:30

Diaper change, breastfeed, mom gets him dressed: 6:45

Eldest son up: 6:45

Diaper change, Mom or Dad gets him dressed, Dad takes both boys downstairs for light breakfast, finish bottles for day care: 6:45–7:15

Mom gets dressed and is downstairs by 7:15

Shoes on boys, bottles in the lunch sack, got keys? Yes…out the door by 7:20

Get the boys in the wagon, walk to day care (yes, we’re lucky on this front), get them situated, get to the train by 7:45

“Date” time on the train — what are we making for dinner this week? What errands do we need to do this weekend? What do I need to order on Amazon prime? Did you remember to put out the dry cleaning? Did we call the pediatrician? Do I need to sign anything on that 529 form?

Until we arrive at our offices around 8:15–8:30.

Coffee/email/news/Slack until meetings start at 9am

Why is it, by the way, that we have SO many meetings????? Need to work on that.

In meetings generally from 9–3:30 or 4:30 depending on the day. I usually eat lunch at my desk. Except for the occasional date lunch with my husband (also grateful we can pull that off).

Oh, but I did forget to mention the 2 20 min breaks to pump breastmilk. I get that in somewhere between meetings so my boobs don’t explode — read: very embarrassing.

Walking to catch the train: 4:30, 4:38 train back home

Meet my husband on the train where I transfer around 5. Off the train in our neighborhood around 5:25.

Pick up babies at 5:30ish

Dad cooks dinner (my husband is a stellar chef and takes most of this responsibility. I’m forever grateful because I really like to eat) — 5:30–6:15

Mom plays with the boys, gets the mail, figures out what bills we have to pay, wipes runny noses or changes diapers -5:30–6:15. Somewhere in there we’re also singing songs, pretending we’re Ratatouille and finding great cheese in our living room.

Dinner: 6:15–7, no technology, great conversation and laughter — my favorite time of day

Clean up: 7–7:15, we split washing the dishes, vacuuming, wiping down the high chair and loading the dishwasher for expediency-sake. Our eldest son really likes the vacuum so yes, we encourage him to help (not encouraging child labor, but instilling accountability for cleanliness here)

Bath time: 7:15–7:30, both boys in the tub together = economies of scale and more fun

Mom takes youngest son to get a new diaper, dressed and breastfed.

Dad takes eldest son to get a new diaper, dressed, teeth brushed and settled. Eldest son picks out two books to read on the story couch.

Story time: 7:30–7:45ish, more breastfeeding for the youngest while dad reads 2 books

Bed time for kids: 8ish

Mom and Dad either fall asleep on the floor while waiting for eldest to go to sleep, go downstairs to prep bottles for the next day, throw in some wash or just settle in for some John Oliver, Jimmy Fallon on demand or live Olympic swimming these days. Or a few days a week, we’re both back on our phones or laptops answering emails, Slack messages or doing PPTX slides for the next day.

Everyone asleep by 10. Usually.

Rinse, repeat every day. Except the weekends are a different story of fun, trying to be as creative as possible to keep the kids in good spirits, fed and healthy, plus maybe getting in a run or a trip to the gym. And all the errands we laid out on the train commute earlier in the week.

And when one parent is gone, just multiply whatever the difficulty factor you applied to the above by a power of two. But honestly, you get used to it once you’ve done it about 5 times.

Thats my life in a few minute diatribe. I don’t purport to have it all figured out, or to have it all, or to not have it all, or to be leaning in or leaning out. But sometimes it helps just to be real about what life is like trying to be a mom, a dad, a participant in our society, working hard to build a business and grow our economy, a sister, daughter, friend and live a good life.

I’d love to hear more about your life. Be specific. You never know when it can incite a better conversation.