So you’re going back to work.
Maybe you’ve been on maternity leave.
Maybe your young charges hired you as Stay-At-Home-With-Me-Mom for the past few years, but when you found out that your toddlers didn’t provide a 401k, you needed to return to a work environment with richer benefits.
Either way, the workplace is now calling, and you’re about to strap on those boots or high heels or sneakers and get yourself a paycheck.
But you feel guilty.
Because you’re a mom, and how can you not? Like maybe you’re thinking this:
“How can I justify calling myself a ‘mom’ if I drop off my child at daycare at 8, pick her up at 6 and she goes to sleep at 7?”
“How can I say I’m raising my kids if a nanny feeds and transports and puts them down for naps ¾ of the time?”
I returned to work a couple of months ago after a year at home with our daughter, and these questions often crossed my mind. So having traversed the terrain of the stay-at-home-turned-working-mom myself, here are some insights I can offer:
1. Consider the Extra Love: When I returned to work, I worried a lot about whether I still “counted” as Annie’s mom if I wasn’t around as much. Then I thought of a friend of mine who had fertility issues and had to turn to an egg donor and surrogate to help her start a family. She once told me, “You know, I could feel threatened by these women, but all it really means is that my child will have two more people who care deeply for him. So why wouldn’t you want as many people to love your child as you can get?” I held onto that piece of wisdom when I dropped my daughter off at “school” for the first day. At her super-early-education-program-for-young-toddlers, she was going to meet other kids and teachers who would look after her and care about her and comfort her if she scraped a knee. That wasn’t a threat to me or my identity. It was reinforcement. It was another set of people who had her back, and that was a good thing.
2. Flex Your Kid’s Hours: Radio host Sheri Lynch wrote a fabulous book for new moms awhile back and she talked about parents who never got to see their young children because of their work hours. The solution: the parents moved the child’s bedtime a little later. Sure, parenting books say to put your kid to bed by 7, but if your kid will go to bed at 8 or (gasp) 9 and you can make it work the next morning and get some extra time with them, then do it! Or it may be that you want to switch your child’s bedtime to be a little earlier so you get some extra morning time. Either way, the point is this: think about ways you can make your child’s sleep work for them and for you. It might make like you’re able to be more involved in their lives that way.
3. Identify What You Can Flex: Changing your child’s bedtime is a great example of thinking in a flexible way that can transform the quality of your family life. Now where’s the flexibility in your day? What can you switch that will be the equivalent of shifting your kid’s bedtime? One option might be to ask your employer about alternate work hours. It certainly doesn’t hurt, and your boss might say yes. Maybe you could work 4 days a week for 10 hours or come in on the weekends or work from home one day. This way, you could get more time with your child while still getting your full workload in. Alternatively, maybe you want to think about small changes like cooking less and stocking up on prepared foods more (or at least cooking in bulk and freezing) so that you can spend more time playing make believe and less chopping vegetables. In short: Analyze your day. See what you can switch or let go of. Then make those changes work for you and your family.
4. Consider Big Changes: Big changes are hard, but once they’re made, they can transform your life. Like in our case, we asked my mother-in-law to move in for the year, and it has been amazing! A-Maz-Ing. She moved halfway across the country (her husband stayed in Iowa), and it’s made all the difference. Not only is my daughter building a super special relationship with her grandma, but we’re getting some help with everything from our laundry to cleaning the floor after our daughter drops rice all over it at dinner. And that gives us extra time to chase after our little Annie to give her more hugs.
The transition back to work is a challenging one, but what I’ve learned is that it’s also a huge opportunity to take control of your life and make changes that will help you in the long run.
So what changes are you planning on making? Or if you’ve already gone back to work, what advice do you have for moms returning to work?