When it came time to go back to work, I gave the evolution very little thought. To quote the singer-songwriter Rhett Miller: “This is what I do. For a living – this is what I do.” My whole life I’ve been a work-horse and have always found great satisfaction and passion in my career. So how could returning to it be that hard? Everyone warned me the first couple of days were difficult, so I came back preparing for the worst. And you know what? Those first few days were surprisingly easy. Everyone told me how great I looked (last time they saw me I could have be mistaken for a double-wide trailer) and how cute my kid is (that never gets old). I was wearing something other than yoga pants and I didn’t smell like spoiled milk. And shoes…for the first time in months I was wearing shoes! I had a cup of coffee I could drink whenever I wanted, adults I could talk to all day about adult stuff, and I wasn’t getting spit-up on. It was awesome!
But a few weeks in the allure of a quiet cup of coffee ended and the realization that I was leaving my child, my bear cub, every day…indefinitely…struck me. And by struck me I mean mowed me over. I felt like my world was crumbling. I knew from my maternity leave that being at home was not for me, it wasn’t enough for me. I craved the sense of self-worth I get from working, the thrill of solving work-related problems, the challenge of leading others. But being back at work and away from Peachy left me feeling empty, vacant, deeply alone. Simply put: Being at work was stomping on my heart, but being at home wasn’t fulfilling enough for me. So what the heck was I supposed to do?
Well – here’s a combination of advice I got that was genuine and real and helpful, things I learned the hard way, and some stuff I wish someone would have told me. Here’s hoping it helps you or someone you know make the evolution to working mom with grace and confidence.
Be patient with yourself: I wanted to walk back in the door as the firecracker that I was pre-kid. And that is profoundly unrealistic. You won’t be the employee you once were – and that’s OK. Sure – you’re not the first one in the office and the last one to leave anymore – but you’re a better leader, coworker, and employee now because you’re a mom. Your multitasking skills have gone through the roof. Your compassion and empathy are higher than ever before. And don’t even get me started on your time management skills! It might take you a few weeks to realize your new attributes, and it might take your employer a few weeks to recognize the value that the new-you brings to the table. Expecting to walk into work the same person you were when you left is the professional equivalent of expecting to wear your pre-pregnancy jeans out of the hospital after having the baby. Ain’t gonna happen.
Be kind to yourself: The path you are on is not easy and you will need supporters to be successful. And the first supporter in line needs to be you! Don’t worry about what’s not getting done, what you wish you could do, what others have done. Don’t get caught up with the game of trying to compare yourself to other working moms. Find at least one positive thing in each day: (I wore shoes all day…I got out of the house in under 2 hours…). But overall be kind to yourself. Don’t allow yourself to flood your head or your heart with negative thoughts. “If your compassion does not include yourself it is incomplete.” Buddah
Know someone will say something stupid: It’s inevitable: Just like someone said something stupid when you were pregnant, or right after you had the baby, or in your early post-partum months. Opinions are like Someecards on Facebook…everyone has them and they feel compelled to share them. I got a lot of “well it’s too bad you have to go to work” and a bit of “so – have you figured out how long you’re going to work” (like it’s a phase, or a rash, or a bad perm that will eventually go away). Brace yourself – it’s coming – and find the humor in it. Sometimes you have to laugh or you’ll cry your eyes out.
It’s not as glamorous as you remember it: I look back on my time at home with the Peach and remember the one time I slept with her warm little body snuggled on my chest. I remember the day I met a friend for lunch and Peachy slept through the whole meal – giving me some much needed mommy time. I remember that one three hour nap where I got so much accomplished around the house. But somehow I’ve forgotten about the day I left her screaming in her crib for a few minutes while I cried in the bathroom – literally having to work up the courage to face my child again. Sometimes we’ll have a great weekend where naps all go as planned, no diapers are blown out, and the smiles outweigh the cries and I’ll think “Gosh, I miss out on this every day.” But the reality is during the course of any given day she’s cranky, overtired, spitting up, pooping out of things, teething, and generally frustrated. It’s not all snuggles and ladies who lunch – being home all day is a different form of work.
Like I said, I’m still working through the transition. Some weeks are better than others. But most weeks I try to focus less on the fact that I’m burning the candle at both ends, and and more on just trying to enjoy the brilliant light.
What did I miss? What helped you make the transition back to work from maternity leave?