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Life of the Working Mom: Erika Cox

December 4, 2013


“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?” Although meant as a joke by comedian Milton Berle, Erika Cox most likely agrees with that statement. Erika is the Associate Director for Student Enrollment Services at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the mother of two daughters, Evelyn (Evie) and Eliana (Elie). Her other “two hands” come from husband Brandon, “who is an extremely supportive husband and hands-on dad.” They also have “a worthless (but cute) mini-schnauzer Darcy” that rounds out the family of 4 ½.

A 2012 Pew Research Center survey noted 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance work and family life responsibilities. Erika and Brandon have found ways to make sure that family remains their top priority.

“As much as possible I try to leave work at work,” says Erika. She admits that this task may be hard in busy months like August, but feels that’s when it’s the most necessary. She recalls her dad reading to her at night as a child, and that has always stuck with her. “It’s a tradition that I’ve carried on with my daughters. No matter how hard of a day I’ve had (or how many times I’ve had to explain a “simple” financial aid concept), reading The Berenstain Bears to Evie makes me forget about it.” She relishes the shared giggles, secrets, and prayers that remind her that family is the most important aspect of their lives.  She added, “I do travel for work at times, but make ‘dates’ with my children individually the weekend after. That gives Brandon a break and also shows my kids they are still my world.” She loves Facetime and notes it is a great invention for fellow travelers! “I can’t overstate how much the support my husband gives me allows me to be the worker that I am. He’s an incredible partner and friend.”

Erika remembers arriving home from the hospital with Evie some 4 ½ years ago. “I remember panicking and saying,  who let me take care of a baby human?!” She notes it was an incredible responsibility and joy all rolled into one. “Ah, there were sleepless nights, double-checking Evie for breathing, trying to figure out how to feed her, and scrutinizing the color of every B.M., looking for signs of trouble. She admits that things with Elie came much easier. “I had the confidence of having done everything before, and that brought great peace of mind.” She was fortunate to take 12 weeks off with Evie, and 11 weeks with Elie. “After my time off, I went back to work full time and right in the middle of summer disbursements (each time). Talk about stressful!” She admits it was very difficult to go back to work. “Emotionally it’s a tough decision for any parent to leave your baby with anyone other than you; it’s especially tough if you’re a nursing mother.”

What influenced your decision to go back to work?

“There were multiple reasons why I returned to work. The obvious is financial but I also feel called to what I do. The work we do as financial aid professionals is immensely important and gratifying, and I love the team I’m a part of. As long as I can contribute, I will. My girls know that I love them and that they come first. But they also understand that mommy has other responsibilities as well. Also, socialization is great for children. Most days my daughter can’t wait to go to preschool and be with other kids. Guess I’m just not that cool to be around.”

Most working parents will tell you that there are multiple challenges returning to work, and Erika is no exception. Their greatest challenge initially was time management. “Once you get in a routine, it just becomes life, and it does get easier. Now that we’re in a routine, it’s the sick days that are the hardest.” Erika and Brandon try to split sick days for the kids 50/50, but with two children, it seems like “sicknesses last that much longer.”

The best advice she can give new moms preparing to return to work is to schedule and plan! She learned to prepare and freeze several meals for her first week back, which made her transition of coming home much easier. Little things like keeping pictures of her kiddos at her desk and calling the daycare at lunch (“only when I really needed a fix”) helped her feel connected to the children and reminded her of why she works. She offers, “ALLOW YOURSELF TO CRY THE FIRST DAY IN THE PARKING LOT! I did. You’ll feel a lot better if you let it out. If you wear makeup, make sure to bring some with you, because you’ll most likely have it running down your face. Also, remember to cut yourself some slack.” She doesn’t always feel like a super-mom and realizes she is not perfect, “but no one else is perfect either.” Added advice: “I promise your child’s brain will not suffer from allowing her to watch an extra Caillou or Blue’s Clues, because that’s the only way you can either cook dinner or get ready in the morning. Limit the guilt. I know it’s tough but you know you love your kids and I promise they know too.”

She offers these time saving tips to other working parents:

“To save time in the morning (and sleep in as long as possible) I prepare everything the night before: lunch, bottles, baby food; I even lay out my clothes. Also, we have our kids on a schedule. Their bedtimes are early (the baby is asleep by 7 and Evelyn is in her room by 7:30). This allows time for Brandon and I to spend time as a couple, spend alone time, or work on anything still outstanding without feeling like we’re neglecting our kids. It works for us. Find out what works best for you.”

Brag to us about your children.

“I can do that rather well,” says Erika.

“Evie is a great mix of tom-boy and princess. She’s silly, kind, and enjoys attention in the form of singing and dancing. She’s never met a stranger and is constantly trying to make Darcy (the worthless dog) take part in her imaginative play. Darcy, bless her, is an extremely patient and compliant dog. I should give her treats more often.  Evelyn is her dad’s twin in appearance BUT she has all of my flair for the dramatic and love of people. Eliana may look like me, but she has her dad’s temperance. Smiles come easily with her and she’s a very patient baby and definitely has a “go with the flow” attitude. She also has the biggest blue eyes I’ve ever seen.

Successful parenting is about making wise choices in order to prepare young men and women to be released into the world as responsible adults. It appears that Evie and Ellie are on their way to productive and successful lives. And maybe someday, they’ll be reading The Berenstain Bears to their children.

Don Buehrer, Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

Don Buehrer, Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

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