Returning to work: tips from moms who have been there

Whether you’re more than ready to get back to work after parental leave, like one Ovia parent who said, “With my first I was dying for adult interaction after 6 weeks,” or your perspective is more like the Ovia parent who said, “I will be home for 12 weeks and am dreading dropping her off at daycare to return to work,” heading back in to work after having a baby is challenging, and it can cause a lot of complicated feelings. And while it’s good to remember that none of these feelings are necessarily right or wrong, that doesn’t make them any easier to process. For most parents, this is simply a tough period of transition. But, thankfully, parents who have been there before do have some great anecdotes and advice to offer that can at least help you navigate this complicated new territory – and help you know you’re not alone.

Childcare

One of the most pressing concerns related to going back to work is just who will be taking care of Baby when you’re not. When it comes to childcare, experienced parents have a wealth of advice to offer, but most of it boils down to the importance of doing your research:

  • “Do your research about who will be watching them. If you use a daycare, drop by unannounced to make sure what the place is like when they aren’t expecting to see you. Prepare yourself emotionally. It can be really hard to leave baby.”
  • “Visit different nurseries/child minders before choosing.”

On the other hand, sometimes all the preparation in the world just won’t keep that first real goodbye from being really hard. One mom, who didn’t feel ready to drop her daughter off in daycare, talked about how even knowing that it was a great place where her daughter made a lot of friends still didn’t make it easy. Another new mom described the feeling by saying, “I can’t even articulate how scary it is to leave baby with someone who is not blood or someone you trust – I’m gonna start to get emotional just thinking about it.”

Missing your baby

Being away from your baby for a significant amount of time for the first time since he was born is one of the defining moments that comes along with going back to work. And all parents deal with the feeling of missing their child in rather different ways.

  • “I would take my daughter’s lotion to work with me and rub it on my hands and smell it. Might sound a little weird, but it was comforting,” one new mom said.
  • Another talked about “feeling like an alien.” Most of her colleagues didn’t have kids, and she was returning to teach a new class that didn’t even know she just had a child. She remembers her first day back, riding the train and thinking about leaving her baby at home. “No one knows I just left my baby at home,” she thought, and wondered if the people around her might be parents too.
  • A third new mom described it as “very tough at first.” She said she cried a few times and Facetimed with her daughter often, which she said was “one of the biggest things that helped.” She also kept pictures of her daughter everywhere in the office, checked in when her daughter was at school, and followed an app that her preschool used to stay updated.
  • Another new mom took the opposite approach – in order to maintain a sense of work-life balance in a way that worked for her, she had to be either 100% focused on work or 100% focused on being a parent. This meant no checking in with the daycare during her workday and no work emails when she got home at night.

In the end, confidence is one of the key ingredients for figuring out what will work best for you. “Take it one day at a time and try your best not to get overwhelmed, and when you do, because you will, take a step back and breathe. Stay positive. Remind yourself of what a great job you’re doing juggling all the hard work,” one Ovia mom counsels new parents.

Focusing back in on work

It’s good to be realistic about going back to work after having a baby and keeping in mind that it may be hard, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect that the transition will be nothing but terrible. One Ovia mom said, “I knew it would be hard (everyone tells you it’s going to be hard) but it was easier than I expected.”

More often than not, it’s normal for your return to have both upsides and downsides. Even when new parents find returning to work to be exciting and refreshing, it can also be a little rocky. For one thing, returning to work after having a baby generally means having to stick more closely to a set schedule, instead of going in early or staying late when needed to get things done – one new mom described it as switching to working a 9-5 schedule, instead of an 8-6 – and that’s just where challenges can start.

Some parents who have been on leave often find they even have to reacclimate to being back in the company of adults. One new mom talked about trying to do a “slow ramp-up” as a way of getting used to talking to adults again. When she started bringing her son in with her to visit her husband’s work, she realized she was having trouble forming sentences and making eye contact. So she began making a point to go to lunch with other women to help ease herself back into interacting with adults.

Some further advice that can help once you’re back on the job:

  • Breastfeeding at work: One new mom recommended blocking out time to pump on your calendar so that people don’t schedule over it and being firm about the fact that you can’t make that meeting. “The first time around I was very sheepish about it, but in retrospect I would have done this.” Another new mom stressed the importance of being consistent about pumping and how helpful she found it to be efficient with that time. It can also be helpful to familiarize yourself with your rights to an area for breastfeeding or pumping – many companies may just not be aware of what they’re required to provide for their employees.
  • Comments from coworkers: One new mom expressed the importance of standing up for yourself when it comes to problems with coworkers surrounding pregnancy, parenting, or parental leave. She urged new parents to speak up and tell HR or your CEO about inappropriate behavior, and to frame this as something that is counter to company values and mission.

Support at home 

It’s also worth keeping in mind that an easy transition back into the workplace can start at home – one Ovia mom stresses the importance of having “the unsexy conversations” that can help to set you up for success.

And while there are plenty of unsexy conversations that go along with parenting, she meant the ones where you work out clear lines of responsibility with your partner and figure out just who will be doing exactly what household tasks. She also stressed the importance of knowing when to ask for help and when to delegate, whether that means taking up family and friends on their offers to help, hiring someone else to assist with certain tasks if you’re able, or just talking to your partner about switching up certain tasks so you can get a few things that you just can’t stand out of your daily routine.

Another new mom talked about the importance of sharing responsibilities with her husband – they decided things like who would get up for overnight wakeups ahead of time, which takes some of the stress out of deciding whose turn it is. “You start to realize the arguments you have about who’s doing what is not about kids – just about you two,” she said.

Finally, one new mom wanted to remind new parents that if work-life balance were like a scale, it would never really be completely equal – and some days you’ll win at parenting, but other days you’ll be succeeding more as an employee. 

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