Taking a break from work to have a child can be a mixed bag of emotions for most women. On one hand, having a baby is an exciting time for anyone. But taking a significant amount of time off from work can be worrisome. Will your job be there when you are ready to return? If not, will you be able to find a new job with a gap in your resume? How will you strike a balance between being productive at work and caring for your family? Will you be able to contribute at work in the same way as before? While the process is never easy, the WBW returnees we talked to told us there are some things you can do to master the art of balancing a successful career and life at home as a mom.
Get your partner on the same page: One of the keys to a successful transition back to work after maternity leave is having a unified view with your spouse on what parenting will look like after your break. Who will take up what responsibility of cooking, chores, and nighttime baby duties? If it helps, write down all your household responsibilities and how you will split them with your partner. Having an honest discussion on what your expectations are from each other before jumping back into work can help keep unneeded stress at bay.
(Read our Complete Job Search Guide for Women Returning to the Workforce)
Talk to your boss: Having a supportive boss can make a world of a difference when you return to work. It’s important to discuss beforehand what his/her expectations are for you. Are you going to be assigned to critical projects right away? Or will you be given some time to ease back into work? Do you know if you will you be allowed to work from home? It’s important to get answers to these questions.
Also, it’s important to honestly communicate your situation and needs. Do you have any work or time constraints now that you have a child at home? For example, travelling may not be something you are able to do for a while. Or maybe you will need some time and a private room if you are nursing. Flexibility at work is often essential for a new parent and discussing this flexibility in advance can help you feel more comfortable about going back to work.
Get over the guilt: If there is one emotion that afflicts nearly all working mothers, it is a certain degree of guilt. There is no escaping it, and every mother has felt it at some point in her career. Leaving your baby for the first time when you go back to work can be heart-wrenching. After all, no one will be able to take care of your child the way you can. You will very likely miss your baby terribly, and that’s completely normal. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t feel bad for wanting and having a career. You will cherish every moment you have with your child once you get home from work, but remind yourself that you are supporting your family and providing a positive role model, and that is healthy for you and your child.
Figure out your support system: There’s no doubt that it takes a village to raise a child, and you will find yourself relying on that village when you go back to work. Do you have local family who can help while you’re at work or will you be using daycare? Having people you trust to look after your baby can take a significant amount of weight off your shoulders. Knowing your child is safe and cared for will allow you to focus on your tasks at work. Also, make sure you have a back-up plan in place as well for those days when your child care falls through- and it will.
Prioritize tasks: Going back to work will leave you overwhelmed with a mountain of “to-dos” at work as well as at home. There are only so many hours in the day and usually more things to do than you will have time for. In order to keep your sanity, it’s important to prioritize your tasks. What are the most critical things for today? And what can you let go of? Get into the habit of making daily lists and checking things off as you go. This will help you feel more in control. Being organized is essential to maintaining peace of mind.
Be patient with yourself: The temptation for a working mom is to want to do it all. But there are times that you will be running on fumes. So, excelling at work, keeping a spotless house, cooking a perfect meal, and being there to lull your baby to sleep is simply impossible. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do everything, every day. Be patient with yourself. Understand that you are not Superwoman and it’s okay to have a messy home or order takeout a few times a week. Doing it all is unrealistic, so allow yourself to be human and don’t burden yourself with that expectation.
Juggling your role as a mom and a working professional can be a rewarding experience. It just takes time to reach that point of equilibrium. Allow yourself to grow into your new role and don’t be disheartened with the ups and downs of the process. Have faith in yourself and with some perseverance and patience you will achieve that balance.