Going back to work as a new mama can be a challenging, scary time for any woman. I’m happy to offer this space today to Lori, a 2014 Abundant Mama alumni and now founder of the Mindful Return community for moms returning to work with intention. I love how she offers tips for new moms returning to work who are trying to juggle it all with confidence.
About a year ago, I went back to work after maternity leave from the birth of my second little boy.
He was a delight – if not a great sleeper, and his older brother was generally helpful – if deep in the throes of potty training. My husband was an equal parent in this adventure of having two munchins, and I had a job I loved. My maternity leave was 16 weeks – relatively long by US standards, and I had all the logistics (pumping, daycare, bottle prep, etc.) of “how to return to work after maternity leave” figured out, given this was my second time around.
It was a recipe for mommy success. A case study in abundance. Right?
When I tell it that way, of course it sounds just fine.
But a year ago, the last thing on earth I was feeling was abundant.
Just getting out the door in the morning was a struggle.
I was awoken 3 or 4 times a night by one or the other little person. The moving pieces with two at different ages and stages were overwhelming me. The two kids’ naps overlapped for approximately 37 seconds per day, it seemed, so I never had a minute to myself on Saturdays and Sundays. Pumping milk at work seemed all-consuming. Someone advised me that I needed to cook for the week over the weekend, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that. The kitchen floor never seemed to be anything but sticky, and I couldn’t seem to catch up on everything I had missed over the past few months at work. Somehow 1 kid + 1 kid felt like 85 kids. And I felt like a grumpy, tearful mess.
I was, in two words, completely overwhelmed.
I was also wondering: Was I the only one feeling this way? I ran into a colleague a few months after I had come back from leave, who had herself just returned to the office. And one good look in her eyes – not at just the dark circles, but into the deep frustration, fear, exhaustion, and loneliness – told me it wasn’t just me.
It can be really hard for new moms returning to work, it turns out. It wasn’t just me.
Not wanting to miss out on what I realized were precious times with my little redheads, and wanting to keep moving forward in my career, I knew something had to change, and that I needed more help than I was asking for.
I did some serious thinking about what was causing me to feel so overwhelmed. I joined the fantastic community Shawn created through the Abundant Mama Project. I started talking to lots of new mamas. And I founded a Returning to Work Community at my office.
I discovered there were things both I and society could do differently that would make the whole return to work go a lot more smoothly. That could take some of the fear, confusion, unknown, and negativity out of returning to work. That would empower new mamas to have a peaceful, empowered, and radiant return from maternity leave.
Here are 4 Simple Tips for New Moms Returning To Work:
Build a Transition Ritual into Your Day: At the end of my day at work, I always switch shoes – from work shoes, back into my commuting sneakers, for my walk to the metro. I now take a moment while switching shoes to take a deep breath. Do nothing for 30 seconds. (A whole minute if I’m feeling daring!) And think about the evening I want to have at home with my kids. It helps me release the day, and gives me at least a moment for myself before I head back home.
Plan for the Unexpected: I know, it sounds silly. But figure out who’s “on call” for unexpected events on a given day. My husband and I sit down with our calendars on Saturday evenings and figure out who’s in the best position to handle the “your baby has a fever” call from daycare each day of the coming week. It takes some of the stress and adrenaline out of that inevitable call.
Take Credit at Work for a Well-Planned Leave and Return: Do you set official goals at work? Is there a review period? If so, build your maternity leave planning into your professional development goals. And then when review season rolls around, don’t forget to remind folks how much effort you put into being thoughtful about your departure and return.
Connect with Other Returning Mamas: Despite working in an office with 600 employees, I definitely felt isolated when I left and came back from maternity leave. Can you find other new mamas in your office to talk to about their leave and return experiences? If so, seek them out, and see what pearls of wisdom they may have to offer.
I know there is a better way to return to work than the experience I had, and I am inspired to share my insights with future returning mamas.
It’s an exhausting, overwhelming time in life – there are no two ways about it. But I am inspired to work toward creating a world where mamas won’t have to feel like they’re going through this transition alone — where they know they have the tools to be leaders both at home and at work and where they can celebrate their successes at work and their new families.
And where they can feel calm, empowered, and present to focus on the amazing new lives they’ve created.
DISCUSS: What tips can you offer new moms going back to work for a successful transition?
Lori Mihalich-Levin lives in Washington, DC. She is the founder of Mindful Return (www.mindfulreturn.com), a blog and e-course that inspires women to plan a peaceful, empowered, and radiant return from maternity leave. She is also the Director of Hospital and Graduate Medical Education Payment Policies at the Association of American Medical Colleges, wife to a fantastic redhead from New Jersey, and mom to two beautiful redheaded munchkins. Follow Mindful Return on Facebook.