Parenting 9-1-1

How Two Moms Balance Work and Being a Mom

Being a mom is one of the hardest jobs on earth. You have a new bundle, one that doesn’t come with a manual. Mix in family life, house priorities, potentially a career, a husband and keeping up with commitments and you have a recipe for mental chaos. Many moms find themselves asking the same troubling questions. When do I return to work? How do I balance a career with being a mom? Can I afford to stay home? What’s the best option for my child? How do I get it all done? All of these questions can circle in moms’ heads creating anxiety that just seems to build over time. Are you in the middle of a parenting 9-1-1? We found two moms who tackled these concerns head on to lead happy, balanced lives.

When Mandi Neely first held Ryder in her arms nearly five years ago, the furthest thing from her mind was transitioning back to her job with hospice and starting her first semester of nursing school at Montana State University Billings. After several years of marriage, she and husband Dustin hoped to have a child. Ryder’s birth was a dream come true. They relished these special moments. A month later, however, Mandi started to face the notorious ‘mom guilt’ that pops up for many moms returning to the workplace.

“Ryder was one month old when I first had to leave him,” says Mandi. Her mom, who lives in Plentywood, stayed with the family to help out but when it came time for her to head home, "I’d sob in the house and call my mom just thinking about having to leave him,” Mandi says.

When it came time to hit the books, Mandi says, "I remember calling the nurses at the college and having them telling me, ‘There’s the internet so, no excuses,’ for getting class work done. It was a handful.” Fortunately, that first semester entailed plenty of online classes, so Mandi could hold Ryder on her lap while doing some of her class work from home.

Months later, after a hectic schedule of work, school and daycare, Mandi decided to leave her job to focus on home and school. “It was just too hard to work and go to school and have a baby,” she notes. Even though Ryder had relatively short days at daycare thanks to family help and Dustin filling in on his days off from work at Stillwater Mine, it was still a juggling act. “We utilized any help we could get from our family and friends to make the transition easier.”

Mandi also acknowledges that not only are family and friends imperative for support, she firmly advises, “You need to be comfortable with where your child goes. Check out the daycare.”

For Mandi and many other moms, it’s balancing your time, child care, social agenda and even finances. “Dustin and I had the conversation before Ryder was born that there would be sacrifices. I wouldn’t see Ryder as much. But, in the end, we’re financially better off.” Now that they have their second child, Mandi works as a registered nurse two days a week at St. Vincent Healthcare. Both Ryder and his little brother Kade enjoy more time at home with their mom. As we chat, Ryder scurries around the living area twisting and turning his newest Transformer toy in the air before swooping by and planting a smooch on Kade’s tiny cheek. Not yet a year old, Kade nestles in his mom’s arms curiously watching the action around him. This is a typical day at home.

This time together has helped both mom and son get out of the house to engage in some fun social activity. As a busy mom, Mandi realizes the need for her son to receive individual attention, while, at the same time, break back into the social arena herself. She says she tries to reconnect by visiting friends and letting the kids enjoy play time while she basks in adult conversation.

Once kids are past the baby and toddler stages it seems life becomes a tad easier. At least, there are no diapers, bottles and such to contend with. But now, it’s potentially an iPad, computers, cell phones and other technological devices. What’s a mom to do about these?

Again, it’s all about “balancing,” comments Laura Prill, mother of Madeleine, 8, and Oliver, 6.

“We have rules,” she says about her and husband Matt’s parenting methods. “No iPad or TV before school in the mornings. They get to play with their electronics after school for 30 to 60 minutes per day. That’s the max. This includes TV. The kids do have learning apps on their iPads and I don’t limit the time on that.”

Laura states they haven’t run into “any issues yet” with the techy stuff. “We talk about it,” she says. “Maddy can go on You Tube for animals and for Minecraft. We have settings, parental controls, on the iPads. They can’t watch certain things or hear ‘potty language.’ It’s not allowed in our house.”

Out of the mouth of babes, Oliver is asked if he likes computers. He quickly responds, “I like the computer,” as Guinness, the family dog, prances around him wanting attention. Madeleine chimes in, “I do! But Mom doesn’t let us.”

Laura prefers to keep everybody busy doing other activities. An elementary major with a degree in English, Laura is a personal trainer for Granite Fitness, plus, she owns her own business, Spark Fitness & Conditioning. She definitely knows how to keep her kids moving. “We have a very hectic schedule but it’s manageable. Madeleine swims for Billings Aquatic Club three or four times a week and Oliver is in kindergarten soccer, Ninja Karate and coach pitch baseball. They’re involved in church class activities all year round." Reflecting on the pace of the schedule, Laura says, "It’s a blessing to do everything. It’s important for them to remain active.”

Being active means riding bikes with the neighbor kids instead of sitting in the house playing video games. “We don’t own video games or a Wii,” notes Laura. “We bike down Shiloh for yogurt or go to the movies as a family. For family time we ski with other families, with our friends. With Matt’s brother and my brother in town, we have a lot of dinners and the cousins play.”

Whether the kids are attending classes at Grace Montessori School, at sports practice or at home, they’re active and following the rules. When questioning Madeleine about how good she is at keeping these rules, she says, “Kind of,” with a twinkle in her blue eyes. Oliver is too busy to answer. He’s searching for information about tanzanite on his learning app.

“I do worry for the future with online predators,” admits Laura. “It’s our job as parents to know what our kids will have access to when they’re online.” Regarding cell phones, Laura is adamant that Madeleine and Oliver won’t have a cell phone until junior high. “And then, we’ll have a lot more guidelines and restrictions on that!” she asserts.

Laura concedes she keeps her two kids super busy and that they need time to just play. She also knows they need time to learn. She feels “very blessed” that they go to a school where they wear uniforms and are learning faith-based values and morals. “I can’t keep them in a bubble forever, but, we hope these guidelines will carry through in all their decisions.”



How to Balance the Basics 


Whether you’re like Laura with older kids on the go or like Mandi with a newborn and energetic five-year-old, plan and prepare dinners ahead of time. Laura says she’ll cook a dozen chicken sausages at one time, warming them up for breakfasts and to put in the kids’ lunches. Hard-boiled eggs are always on-hand. “Nutrition takes planning.” Mandi adds that she prepared about a dozen casserole dishes, freezing them for easy dinners after Kade was born.


Use your resources so you feel more comfortable balancing life, potentially work, and motherhood. Accept all the help you can get from family and friends. Raising a family isn't a solo act.


Set the rules and be sure to use parental controls on all iPads, computers and cell phones. Monitor all content with your kids. Talk with your kids about it and make sure they understand the dangers.


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