Maintain Work-Life Balance as a New Parent

It is no easy task to meet deadlines and stay focused at work while battling the exhaustion of caring for a newborn. For chemical engineers who have demanding careers, it may never seem like the right time to start a family. Take comfort in knowing that many AIChE members have done it before and they are willing to share their experiences. Here are some tips for staying organized and effective at work as a new mom or dad.

Make organization a priority

Preeti Sharma, a process safety engineer for Colonial Pipeline Co. and a mother of two, learned a few strategies for staying organized while working full time as a new mom. “Find an organizing system that works for you and use it for everything. You don’t want to forget a critical task because you thought you’d remember it,” says Sharma. “The sleep deprivation is real.”

For those women going on maternity leave, Sharma recommends writing everything down for reference later. “I personally chose electronic note-taking because it’s easier for me to search and cross-reference, but do what works for you. When you return to your projects after leave, it will be immensely helpful to have detailed notes,” she says. And, she advises, “before you forget them and return to work unable to log in to your phone or computer, write down your passwords and keep them someplace safe.”

Establish a plan for your leave of absence

 “Plan ahead,” advises Jing Chen, engineering specialist at CCPS. “Have a detailed plan for when to go on maternity leave and when to return to work. Most importantly, arrange childcare well in advance, especially for after returning to work. Know your own limits and ask for help from family members.”

Your workplace may or may not have an official maternity leave policy. Some companies offer partially paid leave, or a program that may technically be a sick leave or shortterm disability policy that pays you during your leave of absence. If you are going on maternity leave, make sure you understand your leave options.

“Consider taking ‘intermittent bonding’ for part of your leave,” recommends Sharma. “Instead of coming back 40 hours a week after 12 weeks away, you may be able to come back 4-days-on/1-day-off or 3-on/2-off until your leave runs out. Doing this eases you into a new schedule with your new family and gets you back to work faster — a good selling point for your supervisor,” she says.

Keep your health in mind

When you are focused on being the best possible mom or dad you can be and are overloaded with work, it can be tempting to grab a bag of chips and a soda from the vending machine for lunch. Try not to give in to this impulse. Plan ahead by batch-cooking healthier weekday lunches on Sunday evenings. There are hundreds of sources online that will help you get started with batch-cooking. For dinners, take advantage of ready-to-make meal delivery services such as Blue Apron or HelloFresh to avoid the headache of grocery shopping or researching healthy recipes. These meal services provide measured ingredients and printed recipe cards that are easy to follow.

Meagan Lewis, a senior product line manager at Honeywell UOP, is proud to be a working mom of two children. Despite her hectic schedule, she follows the 80/20 approach to healthy eating. “It is okay for you to eat healthy 80% of the time, and indulge or be not as healthy the other 20%,” she says. “It is okay if your kids are not getting a home-cooked meal every night. It’s all about moderation.”

Schedule for success

Getting into a daily routine and working out a schedule with your coworkers and supervisor can help ease some of the stress you may experience when returning to work, says Chen.

“Your career has 30 years ahead rather than 30 days, so make sure to finish the projects that are mission-critical. But remember that maintaining time for family will always be more important in the long run than taking on even more opportunities and projects at work,” says Jeremy Immer, senior process R&D engineer at Evonik Industries AG.

“I make sure to block out my calendar during daycare drop-off and pickup times,” says Lewis. “There are exceptions when work emergencies occur or when customers are in town, but I ask my coworkers to honor my few hours per day with my family.” Lewis also takes a few hours in the evening after her kids go to sleep to work uninterrupted from home.

Give yourself a (short) break

Once every hour, take a three- to five-minute walk around your office to clear your head and de-stress. Instead of surfing the web at your desk, taking a small walking break outside or around your workplace can make you feel more alert.

“Be kind to yourself,” says Sharma. “Your life just changed radically. If you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re not exercising as much as you’d like, if your house isn’t clean, or your meals aren’t fancy, cut yourself some slack and know that this, too, shall pass.”

Stay flexible

Despite the best-laid plans, coming back after parental leave can be stressful and chaotic. “When I returned from leave, my desk was on a different floor. I had a new supervisor. All the stuff that was going to get done while I was on leave was exactly where I’d left it,” says Sharma. “Just know that nothing is truly in your control.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff and try to enjoy this time with your new addition to the family!

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of CEP Magazine. AIChE members have access to an extensive archive of back issues at