You just had your baby. It’s one of the most precious and miraculous experiences of your entire life to have birthed new life into this world and you want to spend every minute with your new bundle of joy. The touch of their soft skin, the sound of their coos, the first time you see them turn their head to the sound of your voice. Each day is new and exciting and you can’t imagine that the love you feel could grow any bigger because you’ve never felt such a strong bond, but it does grow bigger. It grows bigger every day. Even with the sleepless nights and extreme fatigue that you feel, or the overwhelming feeling of having to take care of the rest of your family when you have absolutely no energy, it grows bigger. The breastfeeding (or formula feeding!), the consoling and the lack of sleep drains you but every time you see that smile, or hear that laugh, your heart melts and you remember in those moments that being a mom is worth every minute of it.
Being a mom takes all of you. Then, in the blink of an eye three months go by and it’s suddenly time to go back to “work.” That’s if you are lucky to get 3 months! The average maternity leave in the US is less than 3 weeks. 3 weeks! (1) And a recent study showed that only about 47% of women were compensated for taking maternity leave. (2) And, according to a recent study of 173 countries, we are one of four countries that does not have mandatory paid maternity leave. (3) Now compare that to Finland’s 23 weeks (7 before and 16 after), Denmark’s 18 weeks (4 before and 14 after) or Sweden’s 18 weeks for moms, 90 days for dads and 480 extra days of leave at 80% of their normal pay (4) and I think it’s safe to say something’s not right over here.
And when you get home at the end of the day, nothing has changed. It’s back to feeding your baby, taking care of the kids, changing diapers and not sleeping. Not sleeping more. And then not sleeping again. And suddenly it’s time to wake up, take a shower (what are showers?!), possibly put on a little makeup if you’re one of those people who can do it one-handed, get dressed (hello, jeans and a semi-clean tee every single day) and get in the car. The next seemingly impossible feat is having your brain work perfectly for the next 8 hours. Pull together that P&L statement? No Problem! Write that report that takes every ounce of brain energy (that energy you no longer have as it’s focused on making milk for another human being?). In the bag! Then, when your business day ends, it’s back to feeding the kids, giving them quality time, changing more diapers, breaking up fights between siblings (mine are in that constant stage!), and staying up all night again feeding the baby. There simply is no “down” time. Did I mention the lack of sleep?
Being a mother is no doubt a full-time job in and of itself. It is also the most important job in the world. How we parent greatly influences how our kids will turn out as adults and in the world we live in today with rising rates of suicide, addictions, heart disease, anxiety and depression (5, 6, 7), it is more important than ever that we consciously parent our little ones. However, for many of us moms, we need (or choose) to hold another important job outside the home in conjunction with the many other roles we play such as being a partner, wife or friend.
Making the transition from having a baby to going back to work is difficult on all fronts: mental, emotional, physical and logistical. In fact, 67% percent of moms report anxiety when going back to work for the first time. (8) I experienced it with all three of my daughters. I think it would be very odd to be able to easily transition back to work with no uncomfortable feelings about it. Whether that be dread about leaving your baby for the first time or guilt for feeling so excited to go back, they are feelings that do not sit well. However, there is a way through! Being a working mom of 3, and having gone through the transition back to work 3 times now, here’s what I’ve learned to make it a little easier:
I can’t emphasize this one enough. Motherhood takes all of you. So does a job outside the home. You can’t spend extra energy that you don’t really have in the first place dreading the job you are going to. If you do, then it’s time to make a change. If you’re in an environment that you like and that “lifts you up,” that will make all the difference in the world! It may still be challenging to leave your little one with other caregivers, especially at first, but that feeling can be balanced out by the positive feelings, self-esteem and self-worth you get from being at work. When we feel good about what we’re doing, that translates to our family environment in a positive way and your little one will soak up all of that goodness.
Having trouble determining if you like your job? Ask yourself if you loved your job before you had a baby. If the answer is “yes,” but right now it feels like a “no,” it’s likely because you just… had a baby? 🙂 Now is not the time to make any rash decisions. Wait it out at least 6 months and see how you feel before making any changes. If you hated your job before you gave birth, however, that likely isn’t going to change now, so it’s time to make a change!
Choosing a caregiver is one of the most important decisions you can make. It is especially important because you need to be able to fully trust that whoever is taking care of your kids is doing a superb job. You can’t be at work worrying that your nanny or daycare is falling short in any area when it comes to your baby. I made the mistake of not taking the time to seek out exceptional childcare with my first daughter. We cycled through several situations (some good and some not so good) until she went to preschool. With my second daughter, I took the time to find a caregiver I felt really good about, and if I had any hesitation at all with people I was interviewing, I did not compromise. Taking the time to find a good fit has allowed me to feel much more confident in work life because I know my girls are thriving at home.
As I mentioned before, being a mom takes all of you. Being a mom and working outside the home takes all of you and more. Having a business takes it to a whole other level but that can be saved for another blog 😉 You can’t afford to expend resources on things that take up unnecessary energy. For me, this meant clearing out as much “stuff” as possible from my life that wasn’t absolutely necessary. For example, I got rid of a number of physical items that were taking up unnecessary space in my life. That twelve-year-old shirt hanging up in my closet from college days? Ciao. A half broken toy that’s been sitting in the chest for years? Buh-bye. I also learned to say “no” where appropriate. I’d love to be able to go to every social gathering on the calendar (well maybe not after the third kiddo), but instead I learned to pick the invitations that worked best for me as a new mom. Lastly, are you doing a workout that you hate? Stop doing it and try something else you might like! You need all the energy you can to be a working mama so save it where you can! Child’s pose, anyone?
Being a mom (especially a new first time mom) is a forever life changing experience and is not easy by any means. Whether you’re a “working” mom or not, having a supportive community is essential during motherhood. If you have a community you can turn to, whether that be a local group of moms (meetup.org is a great place to find groups of other moms), your church, school PTA, or post-partum support groups, it can help ease the transition to motherhood and “working” motherhood by taking off some of the burden. It just feels good to know there are other moms out there going through something similar and who just get it. If you’re in the San Diego area “Moms on Maternity” is a great local resource and support network for moms going back to work!
Are you back at work and feel like you want to breakdown and cry? Let yourself. That first week (heck, the first month) can be especially challenging, so it’s important to acknowledge it instead of bottling it up. Hormones are also flooding your system (those hormones are powerful little beasts!), so remind yourself that what you are feeling is completely normal and go have a good cry 🙂
I think it’s very common for moms going back to work to feel “mom guilt” for leaving their little one. For me personally, a million thoughts ran rampant through my mind. I had thoughts that “I’m not doing a good job because I’m not taking care of my kids 100% of the time” or “Why should someone else be taking care of my kids while I go off to work?,” and “I’m a bad mom,” etc. (the list of worries goes on and on). If these types of thoughts cross your mind as well, I invite you to challenge them. For me, I ask myself “What is really true?” What is true (for me) is that I am giving my kids a gift. For one, I am showing them that you can follow your dreams and you can love what you do as a woman in this world. I am teaching them perseverance, dedication, resourcefulness and problem solving just by them witnessing my actions of being an entrepreneur. Second, when I am with my kids I am completely “with” them. This has been an evolving process since starting a business, but I have learned to create my own boundaries as much as I can so that when I am with my kids it is high quality time together. Third, I truly in my heart-of-hearts believe that it takes a village to raise a child. By exposing them to other care givers that I trust, I am theoretically creating that “village” for them. With this village, I also feel like I have more energy to give to them because multiple people are helping out and you can’t put a price on that feeling.
Maternity leave is the most precious time with your newborn and it can be the hardest thing in the world to go back to work when it’s time. If we can feel empowered as moms (whatever that means for you: going back to work, staying home or something in between), and model that to our children so that in turn we are happy, engaged, and present with them: that is priceless.