Integrating your new mom-life with work-life after maternity leave can seem incredibly insurmountable. Managing a new schedule, embracing new responsibilities and processing emotions are but three of the most common tasks we all encounter when returning to work after having a baby. It is overwhelming to think about, but it can be done successfully. It is important to recognize that the path to a successful integration of work and life looks different for everyone. It is not a one size fits all plan. Through trial and error, you will come up with a plan that works best for you and your family.
Be prepared that the first day back at work will be emotionally and possibly physically difficult for you. More than likely, you will find yourself crying no matter how prepared you feel about returning to work. Know that you are not alone. Grant yourself the grace to feel the emotions that wash over you that first day back, and then allow yourself time to process each emotion before you press on. It is ok to feel sad, angry, anxious, worried, disappointed, frustrated, mad, excited, relieved, overwhelmed. You name the emotion and a mom out there has felt it upon returning to work after maternity leave.
So, what can you do to make the transition back to work as seamless as possible? Ideally, you want to start doing your research and planning several weeks prior to returning to work to reduce the stress of the first day back. Here are a few ways to make the transition back to work less formidable.
- Take inventory of your new identity
Be realistic with your own expectations of yourself. Acknowledge that work life will be different. You have two jobs now instead of just one. You have a responsibility to your family and to your work that at times will conflict. Your priorities may sit differently than they did before and different from your coworkers. You will have to define for yourself what is most important, what you are willing to fight for and what you are willing to sacrifice.
- Identify your individual needs
Identify your individual needs as a working mother. It will look different for every mom. Are you going to need breaks to pump or breast feed? Will you be responsible for childcare? Will you need a flexible schedule? Will you need to reduce your travel days initially? Will you need to work remotely? Have a deliberate discussion with your life partner about their needs and the needs of the family. Keep a running list of your needs as you process the idea of returning to work.
- Consider the needs of your employer or business partner
After you have come up with a list of your needs, consider the needs of your employer or business partners. How can the needs of each co-exist? Be willing to consider creative options and solutions. Document your ideas so that they become cohesive and presentable.
- Voice your needs to your employer or business partners:
After you have a list of your needs, present these clearly to your employer or business partners. Ideally, presenting these needs will be done prior to returning to work so that the expectations are well known when you return for your first day. Communicate your creative solutions clearly with your employer or business partners. Be sure that they are in agreement that these solutions will work for both you and them.
- Find reliable child-care
Reliable child-care is paramount. I don’t have to tell you how hard it is to trust a stranger with your new baby. Consider all of your options: facility day-care, in-home daycare, nanny, au pair, family or friends are all great options. Do your research and make a decision based on what works best for your individual needs. In addition, identify a back-up plan. If you chose a day-care facility or in-home daycare you will need a back-up when baby is sick. If you chose nanny, friends, or family you will need a back-up plan in case the chosen caregiver no shows or calls in sick. Mentally prepare for a day like that so you have a step-by-step plan in place if the need ever arises.
Dear momma, don’t despair. I know that as that day looms closer, it seems scary and overwhelming. Have faith that you will find a new normal that will work best for you and your family. I promise as the days pass by, the emotions won’t be so raw. Talk to other moms who have gone before you. Ask for help when you need it. Believe it or not, this experience will make you a stronger momma and working professional. You’ve got this momma!