More and more, moms are being told that they can “do it all.” We can have a career and be a “perfect” mom, all at the same time. From social media to stories from moms who don’t remember the early challenges of motherhood, images of moms balancing the demands of motherhood and a career are everywhere. Many moms leave work for maternity leave thinking that their time off of work is going feel productive and by the end of 12 weeks, they will be ready to be return to work the same person they were when they left and simultaneously be a fully engaged and attentive mom. And then parenthood happens. Often within the first few weeks, moms start to realize that it is nearly impossible to “do it all” and something is going to have to give. We realize that one small tiny human takes an extraordinary amount of work, energy and overall emotional output. Of course, this is all worthwhile, but it can take time to adjust expectations and settle into what is now the new normal.
So how do you go back to work and keep it all together? First and foremost, it is helpful to think of this as the next step in the transition to parenthood; the first being the actual experience of learning how to be a mom on a day to day basis and the second being how to function and be successful at your job and also be the mom you hope to be. Just like it took several weeks to figure out what you are doing as a mom (and I would argue that this process easily can take a year but we, at least in the US, are not given that the luxury of being home that long with our babies), it is going to take several weeks to get a rhythm down.
Here are some things to help this process go a bit more smoothly:
Make your list
Before going back to work, make a list of all the things you have been doing while at home on maternity leave—things that will still need to be accomplished when you return to work, but now you will not be home to do them. It all still needs to get done and your partner may not realize all the “behind the scenes” work you are doing while you are at home with your baby. For example, there is tons of laundry that needs to be started, transferred to the dryer, folded and put away, dry cleaning is dropped off and picked up, bottles are washed, pump parts have to be washed, packages are accepted, groceries are purchased, meals are made, doctors appointments are made, conversations are had with your health insurance company (raise your hand if you have spend hours on the phone with your insurance company arguing over the bill from your delivery! Hours of your life you will never get back and time you won’t have back at work.). These are just a few examples. Your list might be different. Sit down with your partner and your list and decide who is going to be responsible for what tasks. These are not “mom only” jobs, and you won’t be able to do it all when you are back at work. If you are hiring a nanny, consider what tasks can be delegated to your nanny for her to do when your baby is sleeping and make sure this is clearly detailed in your contract.
Ask for help
Beyond the list, there are going to be things that you have forgotten that you did while you were home or things that you need an extra hand with now that you are doing two jobs (your paid work and your mom work). It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the details that need to be accounted for. It is okay to ask your partner, a relative, or even friends to help you. Think about who you have that can help if you get into a pinch and, for example, you won’t be able to pick your baby up from daycare in time. I would argue this is always important but especially when you are going back to work, your brain may be going in a million directions and having someone take a small load off of you can be a tremendous help.
Practice makes perfect, or perfect enough
Take a few practice days before the real thing. If you are hiring a nanny, have her come several days to even a week before you are going back to work so she can shadow you at home and get a sense of how you do things and what your baby is accustomed to. Most importantly, practice going out and leaving your baby at home with your nanny so that you can start to be more comfortable with this experience. If you are starting daycare, find out if your daycare has an option to do some shorter transition days so your baby can become used to the environment in smaller doses before staying a full day.
Cut yourself plenty of slack
No one can do it all, despite the shiny, smiling social media photos. Every mom has moments when she feels like she is failing at everything. If anyone says they haven’t had these moments, she is lying or doesn’t remember. This is all new for everyone—both you, your baby and really your whole little family. All of these transitions take more time then we ever want them to, but eventually, you will start to feel like you are getting into a rhythm and your life is starting to take on a new structure, even if that structure sometimes feels chaotic. Your life is not going to look like it did pre baby. That may mean that groceries are ordered, dinner is take-out, the dog walker comes even when you are home after work. Whatever it is, it is okay to do these things so you can focus on yourself, your family and your job.
Check out these helpful tools
I highly recommend that any mom returning to work, whether it is after your first baby or your 3rd, reads the book the 5th Trimester by Lauren Smith Brody. This book so clearly and helpfully breaks down the experience of returning to work as a mom into all the parts that we need to think about and then offers real world guidance on how to help make this transition a bit smoother. Her website also has very helpful tools you can use as well. I would also check out Mindful Return, which is an online class you can take to prepare you for your return to work. There is even one for partners now! She also sends out a great Saturday Secrets newsletter that you can sign up for to get weekly tips. I highly recommend both of these resources.
You’ve got this mama! Trust in yourself, trust in your ability to do your job well and give yourself space to figure it out. You don’t have to be perfect, just good enough.