Maternity leave, if you’re lucky to have it for long at all, can be an incredible time to bond with your new baby; adjust to motherhood, recover from labor and delivery and basically get to be a mom without having to have any other real responsibilities (Work-responsibilities, that is, because let’s face it, you will always have so many responsibilities.)
Whether you have six weeks, six months, or six years, returning to work can be both exciting and nerve-racking and filled with quite a bit of, “what abouts” that may plague you as you sift through your plan to return to the working world.
Here’s a little run down of what you may expect when it's time to make that transition:
Leaving Your Babies After Maternity Leave is Gonna Suck
Whether you have one or ten, the first time you go back to work after having babies may feel different than any other time you’ve gone back to work, started a new job, or returned from a vacation.
You will now have a part of your heart that you are willingly choosing to leave in the care of someone else. (Be it family, friends, a nanny, or daycare.) If you have young children, it will be tough to do this. I left my firstborn in daycare full time when he was seven months old. And, not gonna sugar coat it, it was awful.
But it does get better as the days go by. And it does get easier to leave them.
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While I wish I could have had more time at home with my second (he started daycare at three months old), the transition was relatively easy for both of us. He knew very little else and was still at a great age to welcome new people to comfort and love him.
However, not every baby is the same, and not every family handles this transition in the same way.
Just remember your little love bug has been with you the entire time they’ve been alive. It’s somewhat unreasonable to expect them to plop into a new situation and take to it like a fish to water. Yes, some unicorn babies or children may be born to go to daycare, but that’s the exception generally, not the rule. I regularly see newbies in both my kid's classes and one thing they share in common is about a week - 10 days of crying at drop off. Then they're good and pretty much adjusted.
Be patient, be calm, and trust that you’ve chosen right in your childcare and leave them with the confidence that they will be loved and cared for just as you have done up until this point.
If you’re looking for a full-time nanny, Urbansitter has some great resources (and some excellent nannies) that are worth considering. Personally, I trust in my mommy gut way more than a resume, and if it feels off, odds are it is.
Leaving Your Babies After Maternity Leave is Gonna be Awesome
The first time you drive away from your babies may suck, but by the third or fourth time, it’s going to feel pretty great. At least, that was my experience. Shortly after returning to work, I began to look forward to my commute as the special quiet time that I get to have all to myself.
If it had been a particularly tricky morning getting out of the house, sometimes I would drive most of my 45 min - 60 minutes to work in complete silence, decompressing from all-the-fucking-noise.
If you miss reading for fun, or just like listening to something other than music, Audible and Podcasts can be fantastic ways to catch up on the latest bestseller or topical popular podcasts.
When we were on the cusp of potty training I plowed through this book during my commute and was able to potty train our son over the course of a long weekend (in other words, it works)!
Re-entering Adult Life After Maternity Leave is Strange and Beautiful
I love working; I love being a working mom. I also don’t tend to enjoy the newborn phase of parenting because I’m one of thoooooseeee moms.
I don’t do maternity leave well, generally speaking. I get stir crazy, hopped up on hormones, and lack of sleep, and I feel like I need to be productive beyond keeping a small immobile human alive. I crave a routine and newborns are notorious for saying “nope” to even the best-laid plans.
Sure I had my husband, and mom friends to keep me company and feeling slightly less insane, but I still craved that need to be productive and to have real tangible things to do.
Returning to an office full of adult conversation has always been like a jolt of fresh air. OH YES! HUMAN’S SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER! They make jokes! They banter!
It also feels like this weird adjustment at the same time. The person you were before you became a mom is now different -- split. Your attention and your priorities are different. (At least, this was the case for me.) You may find yourself opting out of grabbing drinks because there’s a slim chance you could make it home in time to see your baby before he falls asleep.
Or you could find yourself using all your lunch breaks to make Target runs for diapers and wipes and last minute birthday presents, and also wine, instead of hanging with the co-workers.
On the other hand, there are some perks to this new post-maternity-work-life situation. I once had a supervisor come into my shared office look at all of the producers and loudly state as she looked directly at me, “You have kids, so you’re out - but the rest of you have to come in this weekend.”
The challenge of splitting your time between your children and your passion can feel two parts wretched, and one part like you’re living your best life boss mom dreams. It is an incredible balancing act to juggle the role of motherhood and that of a professional, and there’s something about being a mom, I believe, that makes you faster, less inclined for bullshit, and more productive. You’ve got kids that are waiting so that spreadsheet is going to get done, and it’s going to get done right meow.
On the flip side, you’re also more present with your kids in some ways because you’ve been gone from a majority of the day with them. I would soak up every single word out of my boy's mouths the second I came home even if it was the tantruming kind of nonsensical words.
Just Keep Swimming, Momma
After I had Sam, my heart had become split in two, as had my attention, and my patience, and my responsibilities, and everything else. But mostly I was resentful that I was spending just two or three hours every morning with my babies: feeding them, getting them ready for work, feeding myself, and getting myself ready for work.
It was organized chaos at best.
And nearly every time I dropped them off I would sit in my quiet car for a moment thinking to myself, did I do enough? Was I a good enough mom this morning? Because the truth is, I wouldn't see them again until the next morning. My hubby would pick them up after he got off work, feed them dinner, and put them to bed long before I would get home from work.
Now that I had two my energy, my heart was split in two as well. Because having a toddler requires so much energy, patience, and attention, I often found myself pulled away from his baby brother. And I actually began to look forward to the middle of the night wake ups, when I could spend one on one time with my snuggling little baby, almost as if he was my only one.
And he could get all of me, without the stress of fighting for my attention.
My balance was shaken by these moments and I would question all of my life decisions and career choices. Forget meeting anyone for anything on the weekend, because that becomes sacred time. If you wanna hang? My children better be asleep or invited.
Keep putting one foot in front of the other and just keep moving forward. Just like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” you’ve gotta do your version to keep swimming.
Working Moms, Look Out for Each Other
I was lucky that when I returned to work, in both cases, my immediate supervisors were also moms. They knew all too well the stress, both emotional and physical, that raising a tiny human can cause, and also how it can impact my work performance. Because the truth is, as a supermom, sometimes you won’t be able to do it all.
Also, it’s Murphy's law that my child will always get sick when I’m on deadline, when I’ve got a critical meeting, or when there is seemingly no way to be in two places at once. Which is why we must look out for each other as working-mom sisters.
I’ve had mom friends pick up my kid who had a 103-degree fever, give him Tylenol, and take care of him while I frantically tried to reach my husband who had been in a meeting to go get him and bring him to the pediatrician.
I’ve had mom friends bring me food while I’ve been in the ER with a very sick baby.
I’ve had family and friends swing by to give me a break for an hour or so when I'm home with a sick kiddo, so I could answer emails or write.
Hillary Clinton was indeed right that it does take a village, a mom village, a family village, a working village to raise your child and to do it in a way that also gives you the freedom to follow your career dreams.
In the meantime stock up on every medicine that you can think of because inevitably you will have an ill child in the middle of the night when NOTHING is open.
Good luck, and handle your biz, boss lady.