When it’s time to head back to work after parental leave, you might be feeling more than ready like one Ovia parent who said, “With my first I was dying for adult interaction after 6 weeks.” Or you might be feeling more like another who told us before having her baby, “I will be home for 12 weeks and am dreading dropping her off at daycare to return to work.” No matter which camp you fall into (and it’s likely a bit of both), heading back to work after having a baby can bring on lots of complicated feelings.
The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. And who better to offer some words of advice for the road ahead than those who’ve been through this before?
One of the most pressing concerns related to going back to work is just who will be taking care of your little one 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 you know 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 hard. One parent, 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 parent said, “I can’t even articulate how scary it is to leave baby with someone who is not blood related.”
Missing your baby
Being away from your baby for a significant amount of time for the first time since they first entered your life 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 different ways.
Here are some messages from Ovia parents.
- “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 parent 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.
- One parent says that it was “very tough at first.” They cried a few times and Facetimed with their daughter often, which they said was “one of the biggest things that helped.” They also kept pictures of their daughter everywhere in the office, checked in when their daughter was at school, and followed an app that the preschool used to help parents stay updated.
- Another new parent 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 parent counsels new parents.
Focusing back in on work
It’s good to be realistic about going back to work after welcoming 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 parent 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.
Some parents who have been on leave often find they even have to re-acclimate to being back in the company of adults. One 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: If you’re breastfeeding, 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. Another 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 legally 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 member 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 things up.
Another new mom talked about the importance of sharing responsibilities with her husband. They decided things like who would get up for overnight wake ups 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, a new parent wanted to remind other new parents that if work-life balance were like a scale, it would never really be completely equal. Some days you’ll win at parenting, and other days you’ll be succeeding more as an employee. Be easy on yourself, you’re doing great.