It’s not uncommon to have a bit of anxiety when it’s time to go back to work after maternity leave. There are a lot of changes that have taken place. These tips can help with the transition.
A lot happens after you have a baby, and when you finally get settled into your new life, it can feel – quite quickly – that it’s already time to go back to work.
You are allowed to feel overwhelmed by the change in pace and routine that going back to work creates.
Feelings about going back to work after maternity leave
Maybe your professional life adds much more stress to your life as a mother, and you feel immense guilt or overwhelming fear of returning to work.
Or perhaps you’re dying to return to your “old self,” and diving into your professional life can help. While you enjoy motherhood, you might feel you need other ways to stimulate that brainpower (and look forward to adult conversations).
Maybe you feel a combination of both. The below four tips on returning to work after maternity leave can help whichever way you feel.
How to transition back to work after maternity leave
1. Make your self-care a priority
I am willing to bet that you are known for taking good care of everyone around you—your family, friends, coworkers, etc. You probably take their needs seriously and do whatever it takes to meet them.
But, who watches after you?
Postpartum self-care is a non-negotiable need – a priority you must make – especially as all the mental clutter from work adds to the space.
Remember, you must put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others.
Protect your mental health at all costs. Take the time to recharge your batteries and regenerate. Daily.
Think about it that way: how could you be of service to anyone else if you are in no condition to do it? Remember, you must put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others. The same principle applies here.
So, take good care of yourself, including what you eat, how you sleep, and how to ask for help. Bring some movement into your routine and make time for it. Your future self will thank you for this.
Pro tip: don’t forget to take your vacations and PTO. It’s a mandatory break you must be diligent about using to preserve your sanity.
2. Notice – and process – your emotions
Big changes – like going back to work – may trigger many emotions:
- Imposter syndrome
Practicing self-appreciation and self-love is crucial because some of the emotions you experience while heading back to work might be difficult.
Make the space for them, acknowledge them, sit with them and remember your why to process those feelings fully. Don’t try to figure it all out at once; take your time and rest, knowing you are doing the best you can for yourself and your family.
I deal with “mom guilt” by reminding myself I am showing my children that being a working mom means being able to show my children that I can live a fulfilled life outside of being their mom. I am setting high standards for both of them.
And ultimately, I believe that being a mom makes me more qualified to go after what I want. And those end-of-day rituals – another non-negotiable – with your children can help make up for what was missed during the day.
3. Ask for help (and accept it graciously)
Here it is: you must be open to accepting help, even if it’s not how you expect it. It’s about what gets done, not how it gets done.
Allowing myself to ask and accept help when needed has helped me get more done, ease stress, and expose my family to different ways of doing things. It takes a village.
It’s about what gets done, not how it gets done.
Asking for help extends beyond your nuclear family, too.
It could also include reaching out to HR for flexible hours, requesting a pumping room (by law, your employer must provide a private space that isn’t a bathroom), and chatting with your team about any necessary changes.
Below, you can read more about how to talk to your employer about supporting you after maternity leave.
4. Embrace your motherhood skills in the office
It may be your first “return to work after maternity leave” or your fourth one; I guarantee you that every time will feel different. I’m convinced that being a mom adds to our worth and value, especially to an organization.
We bring transferable skills to the table that could apply to almost every work, task, or project we are currently working on.
Skills like patience, outside-the-box thinking, empathy, and fairness are all practiced in our daily motherhood lives and can prove invaluable in the workplace.
Plus, dedication, focus, and excellent time management make us working mothers ideal employees.
Being a mom doesn’t mean we don’t have career ambitions or would neglect our work. We are professionals at juggling multiple priorities at once. We need a world with fewer social stigmas and more understanding for when we have to pivot work priorities, sometimes at the very last minute.
Helpful books for the working mom
How to get more support from your job after maternity leave
Some organizations are already good at proposing gradual returns to work for their employees. You can request some modifications (and things you, by law, are required to receive) to help make your transition from maternity leave to the professional world feel a bit smoother.
1. Collaborate for a more flexible schedule
Work with your leadership team/ HR to craft a schedule that could work for you to support and accommodate you.
Consider the idea of working remotely. This flexibility is crucial for working parents. It could be that you are still breastfeeding or want to be hands-on with your little one for a while.
Krystin Morgan, a working mom at Hubspot, states on her LinkedIn profile:
“I’m excited to be back and thankful for the flexibility to work remotely. No commute = more baby time.” More bonding is benefitting both parents and children.
Also, it’s worth nothing that a supportive manager certainly makes a difference. They understand that it is important to keep giving working mothers the opportunities they deserve – or nudging them out of their comfort zone – while supporting their evolving needs at home.
2. Come back to work gradually
You could start part-time for a month and then full-time after that. Or rearrange your schedule to include time dedicated to your childcare needs.
Flexible work schedules allow the room for things to change instantly and was a lifesaver during the pandemic when juggling remote schooling with full-time jobs became the norm.
Review your career goals and see if they align with your new priorities or if it’s time to pivot and try something else.
3. Create an outside-of-work support system
Share parenting responsibilities with your partner amd delegate – from time to time – to extended family, close friends, nanny services, etc.
Find a way that works well for you and your family when it comes to the distribution of labor to avoid little grudges that could, in time, become big rancours.
At work, another parent can provide the space for you to be well. For example, a mom at work, or a colleague/mentor can bring diversity of thoughts and opinions, so make sure you build a solid network.
I personally know a group of parents that came together to help their HR teams revise their policies and accommodate parents and caretakers. Bottom line: don’t hesitate to leverage your voice and experience to amplify the message if given the opportunity.
Final thoughts on the back-to-work transition
Those are just some ideas to get you started on your journey back to work. You will think of many others, and my rule of thumb is to favor an idea that puts your kids first.
If it feels like “Mission Impossible“ in your current organization, it might be time to reevaluate your work environment. Again, flexibility can be the working parent’s best tool. Life may happen during working hours, and work could occur when the kids are asleep.
However you feel about change, give yourself a lot of grace and go easy on yourself. A gradual transition is more manageable than a sudden one. And don’t forget, you are a mom; rest assured that nothing – okay very few things – phases you. You got this!
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Gladys is a life coach for moms trying to balance their work and family life. She is a life enthusiast who lived in five different countries and mastered two languages. A former quiet introvert, today she is passionate about helping working mothers live significant, beautiful, shooting-for-the-stars kinds of lives.