By Chaunie Brusie
In honor of Mother’s Day, let’s take time to acknowledge what is perhaps the hardest job on the planet: motherhood.
In no other way, does someone sacrifice so much for another person. From the physical demands of growing another human to the arduous emotional process of laboring through adoption (see also: hand cramps from all the paperwork), motherhood forces you to grow in tremendous ways. And when you combine motherhood with the other most demanding job on the planet of being a nurse, well, you might just be looking at a type of superhuman that would rival the best of the Avengers. But to make it all work, here are a few tips from some nurse moms who embrace the challenge of combining a life in healthcare with kids — and how you can make it all work too.
I became a mother during my senior year of nursing school, so when I started my first official nursing job, I was six weeks postpartum to the day and desperate to know how anyone could survive this. So, I asked. I asked anyone and everyone who would listen to me for their best tips on making it all work. To this day, I still recall the advice I got back then and it’s served me well. Moms who have been through it know what’s up, so don’t be afraid to ask the nurses in your field for advice too!
One of the best tips I ever got during my days of advice-begging was from a nurse whose kids had already grown; at the time, with two toddlers and a third baby on the way, I was trying to determine if I should drop my hours down, with the thought that I could go full-time again when they were in school.
While she encouraged me to do whatever worked for our family, she also gently reminded me that big kids wouldn’t need me any “less,” and in fact, shared that she had actually stopped working for a time when her kids were in middle school and high school. Turns out, the big kid stage can be just as demanding as toddlers and babies, so embrace the flexibility that nursing can provide and decide now that you will go with the flow when it comes to what you and your family need.
Listen, if you’re having babies, working night shift, trying to sleep sometimes, keeping up on laundry, scrubbing toilets, cuddling kids, making meals, and trying for the love of all that is good to keep the house stocked with toilet paper and your kid who constantly outgrows everything clothed in shirts that don’t resemble crop tops, something’s got to give. And if that something just happens to be regular exercise, don’t sweat it.
I’m not saying you need to give up on staying healthy, of course, but if you don’t have time to dedicate to getting a competition-ready body, it’s fine. A wise nurse who had five boys and was in amazing shape once told me that she waited until her kids were grown before dedicating herself to fitness. As she put it, you’ll have all the time in the world once they grow up to work out — so cuddle them now and worry about your abs later! Also, get a smartwatch or fitness tracker so you can see how many calories you’re actually burning in a shift; it might make you feel a whole lot better.
If you’re a nurse, it’s inevitable that you will be working some holidays. The best way to handle it? Don’t sweat it. If your kids grow up celebrating the occasional holidays on a different day like it’s no big deal, it won’t be a big deal. After all, kids don’t care what the date on the calendar says — especially if there are presents and candy involved, right?
Is there anything more magical than basically going to work in your pajamas? I think not. Scrubs hide a multitude of body changes, from that pregnancy you’re not quite ready to reveal to last night’s pizza-and-ice cream binge. On the days when you’re doubting why you ever thought this career was a good idea, just think of the scrubs.
If you’re wondering how I know this, I’ll probably tell you not to ask. But let’s just say it’s a miracle that I passed and thank our lucky stars I’ve gotten smarter with age, OK? Also, props to my husband who is the one who actually took care of her while I sweated my way through every question with growing anxiety about the next approaching feeding time.
Pro tip: Plan for extra time off in May with end-of-the-year plays and parties!
RN/BSN Janine Walsh Kelbach suggests getting in the habit of staying organized to help you stay on top of last-minute shift changes, kids’ activities, and all of those school events (pro tip: plan for extra time off in May with end-of-the-year plays and parties!). “Use Google Calendar to organize your life for your family, meal plan, [and] prep your kids well in advance for the times they won’t see you for 12 hours,” she advises.
Leigha Campbell, who practically lived in hospitals while caring for her infant son before his passing, relates that keeping a spare set of clothes, along with perfume and hand sanitizer in her car, saved her in all the times she had to go straight from the hospital to the world outside. “I always went straight to get my daughter from school when I left the hospital,” she explains. “So, showering before I hugged her was not available.”
This advice comes courtesy of an 8-year ER veteran, who has to remind herself to be “impressed” by her husband’s or children’s injuries from time to time. After seeing true trauma for so long, she admits it takes a lot to rattle her; but still, sometimes kids (and spouses) just want a little comfort. “I try to remember that although I may have seen worse whatever may be going on with my kids or husband may be a big deal to them!” explains Alicia Rosebush.
One popular tip I’ve heard from many a nurse is how convenient a night shift schedule can be when you have school-aged kids because it allows you to sleep when they are in school and still feel like you’re not missing out on their activities. For instance, Julie Widzinksi, an ICU nurse manager, says: “Working night shift works out so well with small kids. I usually get home in time to get them ready for school and then am up before they get home from school and I can attend their after-school activities. The sleep schedule sucks but, we give up everything for our kids anyway…why not sleep?”
Mom of two Rachel Hunt offers the advice that if you find yourself struggling in a season with your nursing schedule, to remember that nursing can have a lot of flexibility — which can be a great thing for working moms.
If your current schedule isn’t fulfilling and you feel it isn’t working, don’t be afraid to look at other options that work better for you and your kids.
“There are so many options with nursing,” she notes, adding that she created a work-from-home admissions processing job for herself after her second baby was born. “If your current schedule isn’t fulfilling and you feel like it isn’t working, don’t be afraid to look at other options that work better for you and your kids.”
“Remember that your baby/kids will be just fine and being away will be a blessing to whomever is caring for them in your absence,” advises Kristin Breslin Heider, a mom of three. “I have always struggled to leave my kids, but I can say objectively that it is GOOD for them, their daddy/grandma, and for me.”
Maybe that’s not the advice you expected to hear, but for one 25-year nurse veteran, that’s exactly what you need. “Remember to keep a balance between your work and family. Nursing can be the best and the worst profession,” says Holly Wallington. “It’s easy to feel compelled to stay late or go in on extra days to help your work family out while your kids miss out on your precious time. We have to support each other in this profession, but not at the sacrifice of our families.”
In the end, there’s no one right way to be a nurse or a mom, and you will find the right path that works for you and your family. But no matter how you make it all work, know that you are doing two of the hardest jobs ever — and you’re rocking both of them.
Chaunie Brusie is a Registered Nurse, journalist, and busy mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Real Simple, and more.
She’s also a published author and the founder of the Stay Strong Mom Project, which donates money to mothers struggling to pay their medical bills following a loss or miscarriage. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.