Well, it’s here. The day you’ve been dreading for months (or weeks, depending on your maternity leave). Time to slip on a blouse and skirt, strap on those heels and pretend you care about your appearance. Time to return to work.
Two weeks before returning to work, I had about three different meltdowns. One of them was so bad that my husband literally offered to put me up in a hotel for the night so I could actually get some real sleep (that’s saying a lot, folks). Sleep deprivation took a good chunk of the blame (as it always does), but the thought of leaving my child broke my heart into pieces. Even though I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from home several days a week, the end of maternity leave marked the end of a special time in my life. My first time having a baby, holding my child and cultivating a bond. It was a special time between the two of us, tucked at home together away from the day-to-day responsibilities of the world. And now that time was coming to a close.
Don’t get me wrong – maternity leave has NOT been a walk in the park (this article says it all). There’s been crying, tons of spit-up, countless loads of laundry, and let’s face it, I was lucky if I ever even changed out of my sweats. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Now I was left wondering if my son would be happy with this new schedule. What if he didn’t adjust? What if he hated his caregivers? What if – gasp – it messed up his sleep schedule (god forbid)? I made myself crazy with the what-ifs.
Well, I have three days of work under my belt and I’m happy to say it’s gone much better than expected. I’m typing this from the comfort of my living room with my feet propped up, my sweats on and my son in bed. I’m exhausted. This new schedule is definitely going to take some getting used to. But overall I would consider week one a success.
So how can you find success and sanity in returning to work? Here are 7 ways:
Connect with your boss in advance.
None of us want to think about work while we’re still on maternity leave. But if you can connect with your boss before you return to discuss any immediate projects or deadlines looming, it will make your return much less stressful. My boss happened to be on vacation the week I returned, so we connected the week prior to chat about projects that needed my attention while she was out. It was nice to know what to expect in my inbox when I returned and it gave me a chance to talk honestly with my boss about how I was feeling. It’s also a great opportunity to set expectations and tell your boss what you need from him or her to have a successful transition. So don’t shy away from picking up the phone. That one call can make a world of difference in your first day back.
I’m a natural planner, but not when it comes to meal prep during the week. My mornings used to consist of hitting the snooze button five times before throwing on some clothes and running out the door eleven minutes before my train was scheduled to arrive (it takes ten minutes to drive to the train station, so you do the math). Breakfast was a luxury. Lunch? Forget about it.
Now I have a built-in alarm clock in the form of a small child. But that doesn’t mean I can get both of us dressed, fed and out the door without some careful planning. My solution? Prepare the night before. It sounds easy enough, but who wants to prepare meals at the end of a long day? You’d rather sit on the couch in your sweats and slippers watching another episode of The Walking Dead, amiright?
Trust me – there’s no better way to make a morning go smoothly than to prep everything the night before. Make your lunch and stick it in the fridge. Dust off the crockpot and gather the ingredients you’ll need for tomorrow night’s meal. If you’re breastfeeding, organize your pump and bottles into one bag (remember to bring a cooler so you can keep the milk cold when transporting it home). Leave everything by the front door otherwise you might forget it when rushing out in the morning (if you’re like me). Yes, all this prep will cut into your valuable evening hours sans-baby but do you really want to be rushing out the door with spit-up on your clothes and a screaming baby in the backseat only to realize halfway to day care that you forgot the diaper bag? I didn’t think so.
I chose to return to work on a Wednesday and I’m SO glad I did. It made the anticipation less stressful because I knew I only had to make it through three days before the weekend. And it gave me an opportunity to trouble shoot any issues with my schedule without having to try and get through an entire week. I strongly urge you to return midweek if possible – that way you can start getting acclimated without the stress of a full week in front of you.
Do not – I repeat do not – take on any major projects your first week back. Think of it as your first day at a new job all over again. In my case, it really felt that way because my team had switched floors while I was out. I came back to a new desk on a new floor with boxes of my stuff scattered around. I spent my first day back in the office unpacking and having the virus protection software on my computer updated (sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?) Shockingly all those tasks, while small, took up a lot more time than I realized. But they were necessary in getting me back up and running.
Go easy on yourself – you’ll spend the first few days weeding through emails anyway. If any eager colleagues try to push major work on you because they’re oh so happy you’re back, politely ask them to handle it for you until you’re back on your feet. They did it for three months – they can handle a few more days, can’t they?
Stay in close contact with your child’s caregiver.
Not a minute will go by where you’re not thinking about or missing your child. That’s when the waterworks come in (it’s completely okay to cry at your desk if you’re coming back from maternity leave, at least in my opinion). It’s comforting to have photos and videos of your baby to look at whenever you’re feeling sad. Ask your child’s caregiver – whether it be a family member, day care, or nanny – to send you photos and video throughout the day. You don’t have to be stalkerish about it, but if they can send you something every few hours it will help the time pass and give you something to look forward to. Although nothing beats seeing the smile on your child’s face when you greet them after a day apart.
There’s no way around it: the first week back is going to be hard (and maybe the weeks following). You’re going to be juggling two full-time jobs. That pretty much makes you superwoman. So you deserve to treat yourself.
Think of things that would make you happy that first week back. They don’t have to be big things. It can simply be grabbing a coffee from your favorite barista on the corner or buying yourself lunch instead of bringing it. Maybe it’s buying a new work outfit in anticipation of the big day. Or maybe it’s a massage at the end of the long week. Whatever you do, make sure you reward yourself for completing your first week back. It ain’t easy, but you did it.
Adjust your expectations.
When I thought about returning to work, I imagined the worst. It turned out, it was just that: an imagination. The anticipation of work was worse than actually returning. Once I was back, it felt strangely comfortable. And I’ll be honest and say it even felt nice to be “off duty” for awhile.
You may have major expectations – either good or bad – for how your first day or week will go. Scrap ‘em. Go into it with an open mind. Don’t assume you’ll get work dumped on you right away or that you’ll spend your whole day crying in a bathroom stall. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. Don’t expect anything from the day, or from yourself, and you just might be surprised what will happen.
Remember – this transition is harder on you than it is on your baby.
Moms: what other tips would you offer to those returning to work after maternity leave?
To follow my journey as a new mom, check me out on snapchat (username: michellelvroom)!