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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Pencil Skirts and Eye Contact: My Secrets for Balancing Work and Life

In one week, summer “break” will begin, and I will jump into my yearly foray of being a stay-at-home mom for three months. But until then, and since January when my maternity leave ended, I’ve been in balance mode, trying to be a teacher at work and a mom at home.

Some days, balancing these jobs is manageable and joyful, but many days, I run around with spit-up on my sweater and a pacifier in my pocket, struggling with the demands of work and home. However, since this is my second time going back to work (my son is three, and my daughter is eight months), I’ve come up with a couple strategies that help me improve my success in both places: pencil skirts and eye contact.

While they might sound a bit odd, they’re also amazingly simple—and effective.

1. Find Your Power Outfit

Before I had kids, I wore all kinds of outfits to work—flowing skirts, long pants, capris, you name it. But if you came to see me at work this semester, you would almost certainly find me wearing a pencil skirt.

I’ve made this wardrobe choice for many reasons. For one thing, my pencil skirt mostly conceals my post-baby belly, which is a nice perk. For another, having a go-to outfit—like the uniforms my students wear—saves me tons of time and makes picking out clothes an easier part of my hectic mornings.

Primarily, though, I wear pencil skirts because they make me feel in control. I’m not really sure why, but for some reason, even when the morning includes a tantrum and a diaper blowout, when I come to work looking sharp, I feel like I have things a bit more together. Honestly, it’s tempting to dress more casually this year—after all, I did have a baby in September—but I decided to go the opposite route. I dress like I’m in control, and then I feel more in control, no matter what the day might bring.

You may find a different outfit that makes you feel powerful, but for me, it’s a black sweater and a pencil skirt. (If you’re wondering, I have two black skirts, a gray one, a striped one, and even a pink one—I’m wearing that one today.)

2. Up Your Eye Contact

After my son was born, I really struggled with feelings of guilt when I returned to work. I didn’t feel like a good teacher, and I didn’t feel like a good mom. And although I sometimes still struggle with this, I’ve found a technique that helps me feel better at both of my roles: eye contact.

Let me explain. I personally feel like the greatest challenge working moms face is being present wherever we are. We long for home when we’re at the office, and we obsess about our work to-do lists when we should be enjoying our kids. Recently, a parenting book I read suggested increasing eye contact, and it helps! When I’m at school, I try to look my students and co-workers in the eyes, which helps me engage and be more present in those conversations (as a bonus, I think they appreciate it, too).

But this strategy helps even more at home. When I’m with my kids, I try to look them in the eyes as much as possible. It doesn’t sound like much, but it helps me feel like we’re really connecting. It also helps me keep my eyes off of my work email, which is nice. Most importantly, though, it helps me feel like I’m really home when I’m at home, and that’s a big deal.

I’m getting pretty excited for summer, but I’m also feeling proud of myself for making it through my first semester as a mom of two. I’ve had some really hard days, but I’ve also had many good days, feeling powerful and connected. I’m thankful for that. In fact, I may just go buy myself another pencil skirt to celebrate.

Photo of mother and child courtesy of Shutterstock.

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