When I had my first child, I was faced with not only joy but also an over abundance of exhaustion caring for my precious baby boy. The struggle to maintain a routine was a bit chaotic, but the feeling of knowing I could hold my baby at any time was refreshing.
When it came time to head back to work, though, I was faced with uncertainty about how to make the transition successful.
Now that you are blessed with a new bundle of joy, you may be facing anxiety about the possibility of returning to work, just as I did.
- How will you deal with the reality of allowing someone else to care for your baby?
- How will you juggle work, care of your baby and household responsibilities?
The decision to re-enter the workforce is yours – and yours alone.
However, consider why you are returning, when you should re-enter the workforce and how you will make it work before taking the plunge.
Returning To Work? Make a Decision That is Right For You!
One of the first things new mothers must evaluate is their reasons for wanting to continue their career. Although it may seem simple for some, it takes some digging to uncover exactly why.
- Is it because of financial necessity?
- Do you seek fulfillment from a job or career?
Be honest with yourself when debating whether or not to return while your newborn is still cooing in her crib, suggests Diane Lang, counseling educator. “It’s natural to have a mix of feelings and emotions as you are making the decision,” said Lang. “Sort through your thoughts to make the right decision.”
Begin by answering these questions:
- Is going back to work at this very moment right for me?
- What type of job do I want?
- Will having a job, when it is not financially necessary, make you the best mom you can be?
According to Lang, many new parents don’t realize that being a mom is a full-time job.
“Just because you don’t get a paycheck or benefits doesn’t mean it’s not real work,”
“It’s a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week with no sick days or vacation pay responsibility.”
Consider whether or not you are ready for more, Lang said. Consider your time, wardrobe, daycare and commuting costs.
Most importantly, though, evaluate why you want to go back to work. For some moms, working gives them a sense of independence. For others, it builds their confidence. “Some moms need a balance of personal and professional accomplishments,” said Lang.
STEP1: Evaluate Your Rights as a New Parent
It’s important for you to know your legal rights before rushing back to the office before you and your baby are ready.
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides employees with up to 12 weeks of leave. The Act stipulates that your job is protected while on maternity or family leave during this time; however, employers are not necessarily required to pay you for your absence.
According to the United States Department of Labor, employees who choose to take family and medical leave are only protected by the Act if they have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours over a 12-month period. In addition, the company must employ at least 50 employees for the regulations to apply to the firm. Public agencies and public schools are also required to follow FMLA regulations.
The US Department of Labor determines eligibility for FMLA if you are using the time to:
- Care for a newborn child following birth
- Care for a child placed in your care due to adoption or foster care
- Care for an immediate family member who is suffering from a serious illness or when this family member is unable to work due to a health condition
STEP2: Know When the Time is Right
Unfortunately, there is not always an ideal or “perfect” time to leave your baby in someone else’s care. You have to evaluate the timing based on your financial situation, career goals and child care availability.
Time that you have requested off prior to the birth of your child may also factor into the timing. For instance, if you took four weeks of your FMLA time prior to your child’s birth, by law, your employer is only obligated to hold your job until your child is eight weeks old.
While it’s difficult to say that it is better for both you and your baby to return to work after one year, six months or six weeks, when determining the right time to jump back into your business suit, new moms must take a look at how the entire family is affected by the decision.
- Bonding: Have you and your baby had ample time to bond and build a connection? Bonding often occurs naturally at birth, said Daria M. Brezinski, life coach and psychologist. Mothers can also build a bond with an infant through breast feeding, face-to-face talking and skin-to-skin contact, according to Brezinski. Returning before you’ve had a chance to bond with your baby could impact your relationship long term.
- Finances: Your new baby depends on you to provide what he or she needs.
Do you need a steady paycheck to buy diapers and formula?
If you are not allotted pay during your maternity leave, it may be necessary to re-launch your career sooner than you would like.
- Child Care: Trusting someone else to care for your child is often challenging. It is imperative, though, that you don’t head back into the office until you have arranged care for your child in a day care or with a home provider. Unless you are asking a family member to care for your newborn, know that most day care providers restrict care to children who are at least six weeks old or older. It is also important to determine whether or not working while paying for child care is cost effective for your family.
Easing into a Career as a Parent
Balancing a baby and a career was never meant to be easy, but if you find a strategy that works for your family, your child will adjust seamlessly and you will gain a refreshing sense of independence. Leaving your baby for the first work day can be challenging, though.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Noel Goldberg recommends taking it slow. Start off with 20 hours for the first week, said Goldberg, and don’t be timid about asking family members for help to ease the transition.
Primarily, make sure that you are comfortable with leaving your child for a few hours each day. “Children will pick up on your feelings,” said Goldberg. “If you are feeling anxious, work on reducing that.”
You may also feel what is commonly referred to as “mommy guilt” the first few weeks on the job. “Mommy guilt is normal,” said Lang. “Most moms say they start feeling less guilty after a few months.”
It may help to plan some special one-on-one time with your baby once you return home or at bedtime to keep your bond strong even in your absence.
If you still feel as if you are not getting enough time with your little one, look into options that could allow you to have your cake and eat it, too.
New moms can inquire about work-from-home or commuting options prior to jumping back into a full-time work week. Many businesses operate virtual offices or offer part-time hours or flexible scheduling to accommodate new parents.
Preparing for the Inevitable Changes as a Working Mother
Preparation is often a helpful safeguard when leaving your baby for the first time. Before suiting up for the day, plan how you will not only cope with returning to work, but also how your baby will be cared for in your absence.
- Research Child Care Options: Consult with family members and other parents in your community to identify the best child care facility or in-home daycare for your baby. Ask for references and take your baby to the caregiver’s facility or home a few times before re-launching your career.
- Develop a Routine: Your sleep is crucial for your overall health and mental being. You need to feel awake and refreshed. Avoid going back to work before you have developed a healthy sleep routine for you and your baby.
According to the American Psychological Association, adults need at least five uninterrupted hours of sleep to function. In order for you to get adequate sleep, you must prompt your baby to sleep as well.
Consider taking alternative shifts with your spouse or partner to ensure you get the sleep you need or attempt sleep training approaches so the entire household rests in sweet slumber.
- Establish a Support System: Know that you are not alone. In fact, the old saying is that it “takes a village to raise a child.”
Before heading out the door to the office, round up your support system to help out when the baby is sick or you need a helping hand with day care, pickups or drop-offs.
You may be surprised at how many people – neighbors, grandparents and siblings – are willing to offer the support you and your family need.
Letting Others Know Your Expectations
Communication is the key to success for working moms. As you re-establish your career, spend time communicating your thoughts with your family, your employer and your day care provider, suggests Psychotherapist Christy Weber.
If you have expectations from your employer regarding work hours or accommodations for breast feeding, communicate these concerns prior to starting back to work. Discuss your child’s needs with your day care provider, too.
Make it clear how you want your baby fed, rocked, swaddled or soothed into sleep so you both feel confident in the care your little one receives.
Enjoy the Excitement of Re-Entering the Workforce
While it may be exciting to saunter off to work for the first time in a few months or even a year, make sure you are prepared with what you need to make it through the day.
Pack a bag that includes a breast pump and extra nursing pads. Buy healthy snacks to give yourself the energy and nourishment you need during the day.
Make your office space feel like home by bringing in a framed photo of your baby. When you are feeling pressured at work, just one look at that precious face may bring you peace of mind.
- Focus on looking and feeling good.
Even if you are not yet ready for your pre-pregnancy clothes, avoid wearing baggy maternity clothes that can make you look and feel frumpy.
Treat yourself to a few new pieces of clothing so you can feel good about your appearance when presenting in front of co-workers or working out a sales contract with a client.
- Know your limitations.
If you lived for your job prior to the birth of your baby, it may be time to re-evaluate your priorities at work. Learn to say no to overtime and communicate with your supervisors about how many hours a week you are willing to work.
- Seek out help if your workload is too much for one person to handle.
- Take frequent breaks during the day to make contact with your child care provider.
Many day cares and caregivers will send you text messages throughout the day to alert you when your child is napping or playing. Request photos of your baby so you can see for yourself that he or she is adjusting well.
Know that too much contact, though, can be overwhelming for both you and your child care provider. Discuss how you want to communicate prior to leaving your baby for the day so you are both on the same page.
Juggling Work and Parenting with a Clear Plan
If you find yourself struggling to keep the house clean, spend quality time with your newborn and fulfill your job duties, get creative with the juggling act.
- Delegate household responsibilities to members of your family
- Hire a cleaning service to help with deep cleaning
- Create a meal menu for each week and determine who is responsible for preparing and cleaning up
- Break up your work-related tasks and create a to-do list so you can hit milestones and deadlines
- Carve out some time for yourself to regroup, relax and recharge
- Seek out professional help if you feel overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety or depression
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t reign in the title of Superwoman and Supermom, suggests Weber. “The most important thing at this point is taking care of yourself and your baby,” said Weber.
Taking the Leap Into the Workforce
As a mother of two, I returned to work two months after my first child was born and the transition was a bit challenging at times. I feared that my cooing baby wouldn’t remember me after being gone all day long. I worried I couldn’t juggle my household and work responsibilities because all I wanted to do was parent my child.
However, with the support of my family, with a clear plan in place and a positive attitude, our growing family successfully managed the transition. As a result, I found the benefits of working helped me to appreciate my family more and prompted my children to develop a sense of independence in my absence for a few hours each day.
You, too, can make the transition work.
Evaluate the pros and cons of furthering your career, even when parenting is your primary job. Reach out for help and know that you are not alone.
1) Diane Lang, Counseling Educator: http://www.dlcounseling.com (interviewed personally)
2) U.S. Department of Labor: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla
3) Dr. Daria M. Brezinski, Life Coach & Psychologist: http://www.docdarb.com/profile/ (interviewed personally)
4) Dr. Noel Goldberg, Licensed Clinical Psychologist: https://drgoldberg.org/ (interviewed personally)
5) American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/10/balancing-kids.aspx
6) Christy Weber, Psychotherapist: http://listings.findthecompany.com/l/32100799/Christy-Weber-Lcpc-in-Chicago-IL (interviewed personally)