The return to work after maternity is a tumultuous time. The eternal conflict between job vs. baby is real. Just when you start getting a hang of the “mommy gig“, you realize it is time to return to the “job gig”. It is a tough balancing act. What complicates matters is that while you might still be a rookie at raising a child, you are expected to bring your “A” game to work everyday. This is especially true of women who plan a baby in their mid to late thirties which coincides with the most productive period of their careers. They are experienced and well versed in their roles at work but the experience of new parenthood is intense and over whelming and at complete odds with their work routine.
The truth is that while we crave for adult conversations and me-time and might want to get back to the action at work, we are mostly tired, drained and anxious of how our babies will manage without us. Or correction, how we will manage without our babies! Furthermore, the sleepless nights, round the cloth diaper duty, post-partum blues and our out of shape bodies can be a rude reminder of how our lives have been altered since maternity. Add to that, the dread of catching up on all you missed at work and the apprehension of not being able to handle things as adeptly and skillfully as before and you find yourself in a perfect tangle. All of a sudden the return to work after maternity does not sound like a cake walk and seems rather dreadful. There is obviously a lot to consider while planning your return to work after maternity and here are is a list of my top tips to make your return to work after maternity smooth.
Aim for a mid-week start
The first week back at work will be grueling no matter if you were away for 4 weeks or 20 weeks. I would strongly recommend joining work mid week rather than at the beginning of the week. The prospect of a shorter work week makes it easier to cope physically and emotionally. FACT – IT DOES GET BETTER AND MORE MANAGEABLE AS THE WEEKS WHIZ PAST.
Plan childcare/day care in advance
Return to work after maternity requires meticulous planning. It is important that you zero in on a full time care giver for your child whether a family member, baby sitter or day care facility atleast a week in advance to your joining date. Put your new routine to practice so that everyone is able to adjust to the “new normal”. Some folks like to rip off the band aid quickly and attempt day care and joining work together. I would not recommend that. You need to spend time with your care giver, share your babies special needs and also have a back-up plan in place for day’s when your baby or care-giver is un-well.
Dress the part
The first day back at work after maternity is a BIG step. Ideally you would want to fit RIGHT into your old role as effortlessly as possible. I for one could not FIT into anything ! I was 22 pounds heavier and 200% anxious about how I would juggle job and baby. It is ok to be anxious. A lot would have changed since you had a baby, both emotionally and physically. However, it is important to look and feel good. So, take some time out to treat yourself to a new work wardrobe. Dressing the part helps build your self-confidence. It prepares you to transition to a workplace setting. Go splurge on new shoes, make-up or a new look that will boost your confidence. Also embrace your new body type.
The return to work after maternity requires you to shift gears from focusing on home and baby to work, home and baby. DO NOT BE A SUPERWOMAN. You cannot possibly do everything. Split chores with your partner at home. Set expectations at work of the pace you would like to resume and the opportunities you would like to pursue for the next 6 months. Re-network to discover what has changed while you were on leave. Most importantly, resign yourself to the fact that you will be taking leave more frequently because someone or the other at home will be sick. You will also be mostly tired and exhausted after a full day at work followed by sleepless nights with your little one. Accept this. Do not push yourself too hard. Slow down. I repeat – DO NOT BE A SUPER WOMAN.
There is no better lesson in time management than being a mother and juggling multiple things at the same time. For you to get your shit together and “do it all” you need to be organized and focused on the important things. Be crystal clear of your priorities. Make a 100 lists if that is what it takes to differentiate between what you must-do and what you cannot do. Learn to say no and learn to let go! You might not be able to attend every networking event after work or be there for all your children’s activities/events but you MUST know which event requires your presence and attention and which you will have to skip. I confess that I had FOMO (aka “fear of missing out”) but ever since I have become a mother I have made peace with the fact that I will be missing a LOT. Infact, I am thankful that I will be missing out on some stuff. Heck, I am just discovering the JOMO (aka “joy of missing out”) in my life 🙂 Remember that prioritization also comes with practice. I have become better at saying “no” now than I did when I joined back work after having a baby about two years ago. I have also become better at identifying personal hobbies and pursuits I would like to indulge in such as blogging. Practice prioritization relentlessly. It helps a LOT in relieving stress and making you happy.
Seek out mentors
Having been away from work for months coupled with the responsibility of raising a child can make you nervous about how you will adjust to the daily work routine. Having a confidante or a mentor at work who you can trust and can freely discuss your apprehensions and concerns with will help you in the transition back to work after maternity leave. Support groups are immensely helpful. It is important to have a support group at work. This could be another colleague who has been in the same situation before and will hear out your concerns and help you think through some of the decisions that you will need to make, having been through it all previously themselves.
Home time is baby time
Work hours are for work and after work time is baby time. This is easier said than done! I like to give 100% at work but am also conscious that I need to give 100% as a parent. It doesn’t need to be an either/or. It is all about defining your priorities. You need to relentlessly compartmentalize your time in a manner that you are able to maximize quality time with your little one especially when you are back from work. The early years are the toughest but the most rewarding. Soon your little one wont be “little” any longer and will have a zillion hobbies and friends that he/she will be immersed in. So treasure these early baby, toddler and tween years. Clearly define the hours you would like to spend on work especially during the weekends. For me, weekend time is family time. This is a choice that I have made and a choice I am happy about.
I firmly believe that you can “have it all”, it is just about figuring out how to get there and how you would like to pace yourself. Pick your support group carefully in this journey. Count on your family and friends to guide you from time to time. They know you the best and you will be surprised at the confidence they would have in your abilities. Do not be afraid to ask for help either at work or home. Plan hard and chart your path back to full time work.