Someone recently asked me if I could name a few of the top concerns working moms face as they get ready to go back to work after maternity leave. “A few?!” I exclaimed, and told her there were about 10,000. I then asked if she would like me to start at the top of the list!
While there may be a million things to worry about when you head back to work after baby, letting them all swirl around in your head is a recipe for a panic attack. My mission in supporting new parents through this major life transition into working parenthood is to break it down into four categories of tips and tricks. Had I focused on these areas when I returned to work after each of my boys’ was born, I would have spent more time being calm and confident. And less time crying on the kitchen floor.
Theme #1: Adopt a mindful mindset for return.
As you prepare to go back to work after leave (whether that return is to the desk in your bedroom or to an actual office), you’ll want to adopt some habits that will put your head in a better, calmer place for the return. First, name all the feelings you’re having about going back to work. If you’re like nearly every other new mama I’ve met, you’ve got a jumble of potentially conflicting emotions happening all at once. (I’ve listed out 24 of these common new-working-mama-feelings here.) Trust me: it’s helpful to name what you’re feeling, so you can move through it, instead of pushing away unwelcome feelings like guilt.
It also helps to build in tiny practices throughout your day that can help you to pause and breathe between transitions. What type of pause can you take as you transition from your mom hat to your work hat? When I commuted to an office, I’d stop off at a park bench or hotel lobby and turn on Insight Timer for 5 minutes to re-orient myself to my working brain. Now, working from home, I have a transition ritual of opening the blinds, making my bed, and taking a deep, centering breath before I open my laptop. These types of self-care require very little time, but they can make a world a difference in how you view the world while juggling a million things and are sleep-deprived.
Theme #2: Master the logistics.
Being a working parent can feel like a giant chess game that doesn’t come with any rules or instructions. The pieces are constantly moving, and quickly! Guess who knows how to play, though? Other working parents. Tackle the logistics by learning their tried and true tips and tricks.
Dreading that first week back at work? Make it shorter by starting back on a Wednesday or Thursday. Having trouble getting out the door in the morning? Pour your own cereal into a bowl the night before. Not sure when you’ll pump? If you have control over your calendar, block pumping times for a year out while you’re still on leave. Not sure how much milk or what snacks to pack for daycare? Check out milk and food survival tips from other working mamas for ideas.
Theme #3: Remember that leave can lead to leadership.
Huh? Leadership, you ask? Yes, leadership. I am very much in the camp that parenthood makes us better at all of those skills that matter in in all of the world’s leadership roles. No matter your title or the type of work you do, I promise you that parenthood is on-the-job training for a million skills that take others much, much longer to learn. Meeting the needs of demanding clients who can’t articulate those needs clearly? Check. Prioritizing like nobody’s business? Check. Problem-solving with massive amounts of creativity? Check.
Ditch the narrative that tells you you’re somehow “less than” in the workplace because you are a parent. And replace it with the knowing that you’re gaining some amazing working mama ninja skills.
Theme #4: Don’t go through this transition alone.
I’m a self-admitted Type A, “I’ll just figure this all out myself” independent soul by nature. But I learned the hard way that this isn’t the healthiest way to approach new parenthood or the return to work after leave. Take whatever help you can get, and find your people as soon as you can.
Your first day back at work, set up a lunch or coffee (in person or virtual) with another working mom – perhaps someone from your office who has been through a maternity leave and return before. She will know exactly what you’re going through and be able to offer you some important perspectives on this time of transition. If your workplace has a working parent group, connect with its members. (If it doesn’t consider starting one after you get your working mama sea legs!) Join a session of the Mindful Return program to meet other mamas who are all returning to work the same time you are and who will have your back through the transition. Reach out to friends to let them know you’d like their support during this time.
Finally, remember, mama that the return to work is a process and not an event. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect to feel completely “normal” after day one or week one or even month one. And remind yourself that you’ve done hard things before, and you’ll succeed at this challenge, too.
Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, believes in empowering working parents. She is the founder and CEO of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return to Work from Maternity Leave, and co-host of the Parents at Work Podcast. She is mama to two wonderful red-headed boys (ages 8 and 10) and is a partner in the health care practice at Dentons US LLP. Her thought leadership has been featured in publications including Forbes, The Washington Post, New York Times Parenting, Thrive Global, and The Huffington Post. Download your free guide, 99 Questions to Ask Yourself Before, During, and After Parental Leave at https://www.mindfulreturn.com!