I sat on the porch last weekend with a good friend. We've been friends for 20 years and met in the sandbox of our neighborhood playground. I sat on one side and she sat on the other. Our one-year-olds played with cups and shovels while we held our newborns and tried to keep the sand out of their mouths. At one point, we looked up, noticed each other and recognized the excited, exhausted expressions on our faces as if we were looking in the mirror. It's a look that's unique to mothers of back-to-back babies—something like fatigue, amusement, confusion and triumph.
I know an athletic event that would have swim star Michael Phelps and track/bobsled athlete Lolo Jones flat on their faces and begging for mercy. It’s what I call the Grandparent Games; they require competitiveness, stamina and feats of superhuman endurance. I should know: Ever since my first daughter was born a few years ago, I have had a front-row seat to some awe-inspiring displays of athleticism.
I just placed my belly, aka “Baby Phillips,” on a waiting list for the day-care center near my work. I can’t imagine having my baby in the outside world yet, let alone in day care, but for me—like the 59 percent of working mothers with children younger than 1 year—finding the right child care is crucial. Indeed, with about 6 million U.S. infants and toddlers being looked after by people other than their parents, quality care is in high demand. As a result, parents are wise to start the selection process early, even before the baby is born.
Being a mom is largely a self-confidence game. I know this firsthand; my new baby tested my wits constantly, just when I needed them most. But the more confident I became, the less stressed I felt, the calmer my daughter was, the better the nursing flowed … and the smoother things went at home, the park, the store.
Picturing yourself without your pregnant belly and with your baby in someone else’s care may be difficult right now. Nevertheless, whether your child will need an occasional baby sitter or will be among the 44 percent of infants younger than 1 year who receive regular non-parental care, the last few months of pregnancy is the time to start your search for caregivers.
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While the thought of formulating a coherent sentence, much less assuming your previous job responsibilities, may seem overwhelming at first, it is possible to be a happy (if a bit harried!) working mom. You can accomplish this by overcoming potential hurdles such as finding reliable child care and creating a feasible schedule early on and learning to ask for help, says Laraine Zappert, Ph.D., author of Getting It Right: How Working Mothers Successfully Take Up the Challenge of Life, Family and Career (Atria, 2002). Giving yourself the occasional reality check is essential, too.
When my friend Ingrid gave birth to her daughter in Sweden, she and her partner were given 15 months of paid leave to share or take individually. That gave Ingrid time to recover from the delivery, bond with her baby, and see her daughter through to the toddling stages before she even needed to think about going back to work.