My daughter was three months old to the day when I dropped her off at the daycare for the first time after my parental leave ended. She smiled toothlessly at me as I left her in the hands of Miss Monica. I took a mental snapshot of her chubby cheeks, downy blond hair and emerging personality. I had evaluated many daycares but as I walked away, the realization dawned on me that I didn’tREALLY know Miss Monica.
I suddenly had an urgent need to know if she was right-handed or left-handed?What was her favorite movie? Did she have any cavities? How about her go-to karaoke song? In my over-tired, slightly anxious and story-filled mind, these all seemed like relevant pieces of information I should know about the person watching my precious child. But I had to get to work, so I pushed these questions aside along with the voice in my head telling me I was a terrible mother for leaving my little girl with a complete stranger.
I started the car, knowing I had only a seven-minute drive to switch gears from mommy mode to worker mode. All my energy not devoted to driving went towards camouflaging my grief over leaving Riley for the first time. I blinked back tears in hopes of preserving my mascara and took deep breaths to calm my flushed cheeks.
After what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was sitting in the office parking lot putting on a fresh coat of lipstick. A glance in the rearview mirror reassured me that I had it all together on the outside, even if my insides were faltering.
Armed with my computer bag, purse, jacket and two framed photos of Riley, I walked towards the door. My hand hovered over the handle. I filled my lungs, straightened my shoulders and walked in.
The familiar smell of carpet, stale air and coffee brewing filled the unchanged lobby—unlike my house that smelled like baby powder, shampoo and diapers.Conversations floated over the cubicle walls. The sing-song cadence of nursery rhymes replaced by the soft murmur of customers being helped. Co-workers enthusiastically welcomed me back and obliged when I practically shoved my photos in their faces. My chair squeaked in its familiar way and, even though someone had fiddled with the height, it was familiar. It was my chair, my desk, computer, all the way I had left it.
I knew I hadn’t been there in over 90 days, but it felt like no time had passed at all.
Everything was the same, except me.
This is how I felt heading back to work on that first day. I’ve written many blogs about going back to work after baby, but the topic remains one of the most stressful and emotional times in a new mom’s life.
The facts are that seven out of ten mothers with children under the age of 18participate in the workforce. Three out of four are employed full time. While this is a victory for the generations before us that fought so hard for a woman’s right to have a career and a family, many women fall into bed every night exhausted and feeling guilty for not doing either particularly well. The women who fought to get us into this position never could have predicted how hard it would be to integrate these two worlds.
Studies have also shown there are great benefits to children who have working moms including being strong leaders, earning more money and being more flexible and independent.
But all the studies in the world don’t help when you're worried about your child and your coworkers or when you are trying to figure out how to keep the house clean, make meals and find enough time for sleep. It’s an adjustment, but it is possible, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.
I could write about this for days, but here are three tips for heading back to work:
· Have a conversation with your spouse/co-parent. You should both be on the same page not only with who is doing pick up and drop off, but who will pick up if the little one gets sick.You should also talk about “Daily Grind” chores around the house – who is going to do the laundry? Dishwasher? Clean the bathrooms? Make dinner? I know it seems like a silly conversation but can help avoid a lot of drama later on.
· Have a conversation with your boss.What are their expectations of you as you come back? Do you have the option of easing back into a forty-hour week? Do you have to work a standard 9 to 5 or is their flexibility to work off hours or from home? Have you shared if you will be pumping throughout the day? Is there a designated room or do you need accommodations? Don’t be nervous about asking for what you need, your boss will be so happy you are back, they will likely assist in any way they can.
· Know that Enough is Enough.Chances are you will have a to-do list a mile long and whether it is filled with work projects or life projects, you will never cross everything off the list in one day. You must to know that whatever you completed in that day was enough. We are accustomed to giving 110% and if we don’t, we feel like we fall short. Giving 110% is not mathematically possible, so don’t feel guilty. Do what you can do and know it is enough. We need to focus on work -life integration now more than ever.
The one thing that all working moms need, on their first day or their five hundredth day, is support.
None of us are alone in this journey.
You may feel like you are the only one, but I can guarantee you, you’re not.
I’m cheering you on, and so are millions of other working moms.
You’ve got this!
Kacey Hartung has spent years in the corporate trenches, juggling multiple responsibilities as a working mom. She began blogging in 2013 to start a conversation with other working parents and create a more integrated approach to work, family, self and life. Kacey joined CaraPollard Coaching in 2019 to help expand support to corporate parents.