parent opinion

"These are the 6 non-negotiable rules I've learnt after bringing my baby to work."

As I stood in the reception area of a high-rise building in the city, workers swarmed out of corridors on their lunch break – and I couldn’t have felt more conspicuous. They were all dressed in smart, business attire and, here I was, with a pram and a baby wearer covering my outfit.

As I checked-in, the receptionist looked puzzled and asked, “Is the baby going to?” I can understand her confusion, in a sense. Their corporate headquarters, which had steep stairs and no elevator, clearly didn’t have a lot of miniature visitors.

I could have explained the reasons behind my plus-one: working mum, exclusively breastfed baby, family on the other side of the world, do you know the hourly-cost of a nanny? Instead, I smiled and answered in the affirmation. At the moment, my son and I are package deal – even in the professional sense.

As a editor and author, I have creative-license to be quirky. However, I’m not the only working mother to mix parenting and professional commitments.

A few weeks ago, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made history by bringing her baby daughter, Neve to the United Nations general assembly alongside her husband, Clarke Gayford.

He posted a photo on Twitter of Neve’s security pass, writing: “I wish I could have captured the startled look on a Japanese delegation inside UN yesterday who walked into a meeting room in the middle of a nappy change.”

As flexible working blurs our roles, I know women across all industries, from media to banking, who have brought their baby into the office or fitted in a ‘quick brainstorming session’ towards the end of maternity leave. So, what’s the etiquette? As a baby-toting professional, here’s what I’ve learnt:

1. Control your surroundings, as much as possible.

If you’re meeting in a café, is there space for a pram? If you’re meeting at an office, is there a private room to contain your chaos? One of my favourite meeting spots is my local library because, surprisingly, it’s quite noisy and they have carpet so I can lay the baby under the table. One of my editors suggested a team meeting – on a boat! I had to politely point out, it wasn’t very practical for #mumlife.

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2. Don’t make assumptions.

One of my clients is in the midst of IVF treatment after having multiple miscarriages. I ‘guessed’ she wouldn’t want to see my newborn so I kept postponing our meetings. In the end, she suggested, “Why don’t you bring your baby along too?” And, it was fantastic! On the flip side, don’t assume every female wants to hold your baby whilst they talk finance. Now, I let them decide: you can meet with both of us, or opt for a video call instead (see point #4).

3. Prepare one-handed.

What will you be required to do during the meeting? Whether you have to present information, make notes or creatively brainstorm, plan your juggling method in advance. On my iPad, I screen grab images of any websites or spreadsheets I need, so I can flick through them without having to switch apps or type URLs. If you need to remember small details, ask if you can record the entire conversation so you can make notes later.

going back to work after baby tips
When business meetings come with a 'plus-one'. Image: Supplied.

4. Be virtually honest.

If you do choose to hold a meeting virtually, still acknowledge your baby’s presence. When my older daughter was a few months old, I interviewed Drew Barrymore over the phone for an article. At the start of our call she said, “If my other phone rings I’ll have to answer it, in case it’s my children’s nanny.” I replied, “Well, if my newborn starts crying, I’ll have to go and get her.” In the end, neither of these things happened but voicing the possibility took away the dread-factor.

5. Win some, lose some.

Recently, a friend who is an entrepreneur posted on Instagram after the school holidays: "Trying to work and be a good mum is heinous… I felt frustrated when emails were piling up and my phone kept ringing. I felt embarrassed when my kids were screaming in the background whilst I negotiated with suppliers and talked to the team about priorities." Sometimes, your baby will sleep through a meeting like an angel – and sometimes they won’t.

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As my friend said, we have to embrace the polarity.

6. Get perspective.

Last month, I arrived home from a meeting sobbing. I’d driven four hours in total and spent the entire brainstorming session trying to rock my unsettled baby to sleep. In my mind, I’d performed under par – as a professional and as a parent. It was my husband who pointed out, “Look at the baby. Does he look disappointed in you?” At that moment, he was laying on his play-mat excitedly giggling. Later, I got an email from the client thanking me for an amazing catch up. Always remember, it’s rarely as bad as it seems to you.

Amy is the author of The World is a Nice Place: How to Overcome Adversity Joyfully. You can follow her on her website or on Instagram @amy_molloy.

Are you a working parent? How do you manage the juggle? Tell us in the comments section below. 

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Madeleine West gives tips for working mums:

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