How should moms prepare for going back to work to help manage the emotional transition?
Moms can prepare for the emotional transition back to work by doing a number of different things to strengthen their mindset. For one, make room for all the emotions. The more you do this now, the less likely you’ll be caught off guard if and when they show up. This can include fear, ambivalence or excitement and everything in between. While the uncertainty about going back to work is common, we don’t hear enough about the women who are looking forward to heading back to their careers as a place of familiarity and predictability, unlike the early days at home with a newborn. However, if you think you might need more time at home, learn more about FMLA and your company’s policies to make the most informed decision. I often suggest talking with Human Resources to get clear about what kind of medical documentation you might need to support your request for additional time off. Additionally, consider that your adjustment back to work will not look like anyone else’s. Keeping this at the forefront will help tackle any comparisons to anyone else who may appear to be having an “easier” time. Also, explore how returning to work will benefit your whole family. Not just financially, but also through your sense of identity and the example that you will be setting for your baby. Connecting with this sense of purpose on a larger scale will help in the moments of self-doubt. It’s also important to identify who your supports are and surround yourself with allies. These are the people who you know, trust and will be there for you without judgement. They will be invaluable during this time. Finally, secure childcare and do a test run at least a week leading up to your return to gradually ease into the routine, work out any kinks and develop a backup plan. If you’re able to snag some downtime during this trial run, then it might be a good idea to use it for some self-care. Take a nap, get a massage, go shopping for clothing that you feel comfortable in, etc. I could go on and on but if you take nothing else away from this article, I encourage you to do your best to savor the time that remains, remind yourself that nothing is permanent and know that it’s ok to change your mind.
What are the sources of stress you find most women struggle with in those early weeks and months back in a work routine and how can they help minimize those sources of stress?
The constant push pull that happens when these two major life roles require your attention, has proven to be the most stressful. It’s a source of the often talked about “mom guilt”. I don’t promise that it ever disappears, because that’s what happens when you identify strongly with being a mom and an employee. However, it does get easier over time and managing the “mom guilt” is possible when you believe strongly in your actions and minimize comparing your circumstances to others. More practically speaking, dealing with fatigue (optimize nutrition, physical activity, good sleep hygiene and the adrenaline will carry you through) finding time for pumping (schedule it in, stay hydrated and try to be at peace) settling into a new routine (repetition, re-evaluate and make changes when necessary) often come into play as well.
Since a lot of our moms don’t have the luxury of going back to work part-time, are there any tips for how to manage finding balance during weeknights and weekends?
During the times when you’re not at the office, I encourage moms to have clear boundaries around their home life. Be as present as possible when you’re with your family and try to minimize distractions from work. Get organized and tackle mundane tasks in advance, such as meal planning, lunch prepping, bottle washing, etc. the night before or during the weekend to carve out more time for relaxation. Have a discussion with your partner around priorities and if possible work in conjunction with them to get the responsibilities accomplished and out of the way so that you can all focus on things that are most important. Finally, if it makes sense for your family, then call in for reinforcements. Whether that’s a landscaper, the occasional housekeeper or meal delivery, see what you can outsource to make room for the things that are most valuable, like family time and self-care.
How do you address with your patients the identity shift of going back to work? Your colleagues still see you as the same employee but you are a mother now and feel completely transformed.
I help clients by tackling that shift internally first. Explore how you have been transformed and in what ways becoming a mother has enhanced who you are as a person and an employee. Yes, you might be more tired than ever but are you also more compassionate, humble, driven, efficient and able to prioritize as a result of being a mother? The more confident you feel about this answer will set the tone for future interactions with colleagues. Above all, be honest, gentle and hold reasonable expectations about your performance and others will follow suit.
Are there any products or services that you have found that working moms might find helpful?
The ones I hear about most often are:
Google calendar: Staying organized will help manage your new normal, that is a schedule that’s now not only filled with work related events, but also your baby’s appointments and family activities. The ability to share with multiple people will help both you and your partner stay on track.
Hospital grade breast pump: If you’re breastfeeding then you’ll be using this often, so invest in one that is efficient and allows for the most comfort. Consider a hands-free pumping bra and make sure to get extra parts to stash in your car and/or office in the unlikely event that you forget parts at home.
Shop Buru: An online shop with the admirable mission of helping moms feels confident and capable at work and at home by providing clothing options that are professional and nursing friendly.
Grocery delivery: Whether it’s Peapod, Fresh Direct or Amazon Fresh, choosing to have your groceries delivered will cost you some planning upfront but will help you save time and money in the long run.
Carolyn Kagan, LCSW is a Maternal Mental Health Specialist, owner of Alliance Therapy Practice and mom of two. She helps women learn to capture the joy of motherhood despite the obvious challenges and specializes in the treatment of Postpartum depression and anxiety. When not in the office you can find her providing education in the community, running after her little ones or knee deep in her garden.