Balancing work and mothering is difficult. No that's an understatement. Balancing career and kids is the most rewarding, chaotic, stressful, humbling cat-herding exercise of patience and fortitude.
If you think you'll take off work when they're babies and go back when they go to kindergarten, then read this twice...
Now they actually need you (specifically you).
When they were babies they needed food, milk, a clean diaper, and some love and stimulation. It didn't matter from whom. A caretaker meets their needs and babies are generally happy.
Fast forward to school-aged kids and their needs are completely different. Whether it's the school environment or the kids reach a new maturity level, there's a new social aspect that was never there before. Kids are mean to your child. There are bossy kids and shy kids your child is trying to understand. Your child notices some kids have expensive things and much more freedom or toys. Dealing with the social scene is a whole new class of conversations you've never had before that now are major discussions.
Your child needs you in order figure out the world and your family's philosophy on how to handle it. Only you can do that. Well, someone else can but do you really want them to instead of you? Suddenly you need to be more available to answer their questions and sniff out what they don't ask.
The after-school activities are difficult to juggle.
Sure, you can get before and after care to cover the full day. But what about extracurriculars? Maybe you want your child to take piano and Spanish lessons. He wants to do baseball and soccer. An after-school program won't shuffle them to practice and cheer him on at the game. You have to figure out how to get him there every week and be there to watch him when he plays. That's difficult when you work. Now his life is busy on top of your already busy schedule. It's hard for some moms and impossible for most to get out of work at 4 o'clock three times in a week to make it to practice. You end up running from back-to-back meetings to the train to the school to the piano teacher's house and there's still dinner to be made and cleaned up. Or the alternative is no after-school activities.
There's a strong school mom culture and you're not in it.
Moms at pick up all know each other. They chat about inside jokes and plan their "Bad Moms" movie night. Ask them about the teacher and they know where she lives and her last school district. They remind you to bring a nut-free snack to the field trip tomorrow (which you had no idea was even happening). They send you pictures of your kid in class when they volunteered for the school fair. They know everything that happens in your town.
You feel like you're always two steps behind them, barely keeping up, and generally being out-mommied by the super school moms. The surprising part is that they aren't stuck up like in the movies. They're actually really nice, sweet women, the kind that you would probably be friends with if you had any extra time. They carpool and help each other out. They seem fairly calm because their focus is their kids and they're not overcommitted like you are.
They invite you to the PTA after meeting drinks and you realize they're pretty fun. You could get really along with them if you could remember all their names. Maybe if you met them more than twice you would.
Good luck with the coverage for all the odd days off.
The school calendar has a lot more days closed than daycare. Random holidays, superintendent day, snow days, half days... there's a lot of coverage you need to figure out, sometimes unexpectedly. The kids throw up in the middle of the night and you have a huge presentation in the morning. Then there's the back-to-back sicknesses when as soon as your oldest is well your youngest spikes that fever. There are also week long breaks at Christmas and spring. Juggling after-school activities is easy next to juggling coverage for sick days and when school is closed.
Your kid is enjoying the summer without you.
Summer camp is a small fortune at least the good ones are. The expensive ones are the ones that are full day that cover working hours and that don't have two 14 year olds watching 30 kids in the pool. Camp will eat your whole month's salary (and maybe more) and for what? So that someone else can play with your kids all summer? Sure he loves it and comes home happy but it hurts because you could be having fun with him instead. You could be bringing him to the beach and the aquarium. You could be flying kites, joining the library's reading program, and taking him to swimming lessons. You do what you can on the weekends but you can't help but wonder if it's worth it to pay someone else to have fun with your kids.
Life accelerates to warp speed.
Here's a taste of the pace of school life. It's their first day of kindergarten, you blink, and it's kindergarten graduation. You're so busy juggling and getting to the weekend it feels like time is fast forwarding. You enjoyed every minute of that blur of a year but you're sad you couldn't savor it more slowly. The time your children are small is fleeting and precious. You'll never have that time again. I wish most to slow my life down. It's tough to see a year fly by too quickly and know he will never again be in kindergarten, never again be so innocently scared of buying lunch for the first time. Makes you want to be more present and available to enjoy this time you'll never get back.
Don't fret. Prepare.
Working is difficult when you have kids, that's clear. But I found it is more difficult when the kids go to school. It's completely possible to work and be cheerful. In fact, work teaches the skills to juggle and multitask in the first place! Don't worry and don't be discouraged. You can do it if you want to. Prepare yourself that your child will be a lot busier and need more of your attention and if you work it may feel like your stretched very thin.
Start early building that additional support network of friends and family that you know you can lean on for help. If you think it might be too much, consider work changes that you can begin to move towards between now and when your first child goes to school. It's very possible to find flexible roles that allow work from home and job sharing (two employees work to make up one full position). You may also want to consider taking a role that requires less travel, less hours, or less mental energy. Grow any skills you need for a change and build that business case for any new benefits you want with your current role. Make a list of what you want.
Maybe you want flex hours or extra sick time or a laptop to work from home two days a week. Start making a case for how it would benefit your employer to grant that for you.
It's entirely possible to work and mother school aged kids but it will be better if you plan ahead for the new lifestyle you will likely face.