Becoming a mother is a life-changing event. But just as you start getting used to being at home with your baby, you realize your maternity leave is coming to an end and you’ll soon have to swap the spit-up blanket for a laptop.
As a self-employed writer, I only took three weeks off after the birth of my first baby. Knowing babies slept a lot during their first few months of life, I assumed balancing motherhood and my downsized workload would be a breeze. Boy, was I in for an awakening. Plagued by mommy guilt when I retreated to my home office to work and guilt that I wasn’t working enough when I spent the day cradling my newborn son in my arms, I struggled to redefine who I was both as a working woman and as a mother.
Katie Bugbee of Care.com, an online marketplace for finding and managing family care, says the stress I felt during the transition from new mom to working mom was completely normal. She offered some helpful tips to make the transition easier:
Planning for the return to work ideally begins before the baby is born, says Bugbee. She advises expectant parents to start the search for a daycare or babysitter before maternity leave begins, to work out how drop-offs and pick-ups will happen and how you will handle an emergency.
Bugbee advises new working mothers to consider what they will realistically be able to handle and learn to say no to things that don’t fit into their new schedule. Before my son was born, I would take on every assignment that came my way. I never turned down work and would stay up until 2am in order to finish an assignment. With a new baby demanding my attention, I can no longer work the same hours and have turned down work for the first time in my career. I have also downsized my work schedule and informed clients that I wouldn’t be able to take on as much work as I did pre-baby.
While I never imagined I would hire a nanny, I realized after only one week of working that holding phone conversations with a baby crying in the background wasn’t the professional image I wanted to convey, so I hired a nanny to help out two mornings a week. In a recent Care.com survey, 75% of women who sought outside help reported it was a factor in reducing overall stress levels. Ask a family member to bring a meal over or hire a housecleaner to take some chores off your hands. Finding ways to take that stress away from you can help you to be both a better employee and a better mother.
While you may have felt you could be the model employee before having a baby, or thought you could be the model mom, once you have the baby you realize you’re neither. While a B+ or an A- may seem like a failure to perfectionists, to do everything perfectly only sets you up for failure as a new working mom.
“On your first day back, take it easy on yourself,” says Bugbee. Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss what has happened since you left and how you can step back into your role. Talk about shifting your hours if that will make your life as a new mom easier and let yourself ease back into your work life. “It can take up to nine months to find your groove again,” says Bugbee.
Find a support group of working parents to discuss your challenges. There are plenty of online groups, or you can start a working parents group at your workplace. Sharing your concerns, frustrations, and challenges with others can help you feel less alone and can help you brainstorm new strategies to make your life as a working mom easier.