In the final days of your maternity leave, you are likely a mess of emotions. I know I was. For one, the average American woman only gets ten to 12 weeks of leave. Personally, I had ten weeks. That is not nearly enough time to learn how to care for a new human, care for yourself, adjust to a new normal, and be ready to face the workforce again.
The pressure of needing to jump right back in with my team and make it seem like I never left drove my anxiety through the roof.
I felt overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, and anxious. All the feels.
The days leading up to my return, my daughter just started coming out of her colic phase. I was exhausted. For ten weeks, my only thoughts were: will she finish this bottle? When do I need to pump again? I’m so tired of pumping! And, will Jane end up with Michael or Rafael?
Here are five lessons that helped me make it through the first year as a working mother.
Drop the Mom-Bias
Being a new mom leaves me in a constant state of feeling like I forgot something. This is 100% against the way I was before kids. I was the early bird, polished, and always ready. Nowadays, I show up to the office frazzled, probably a bit of a mess, and likely a few minutes late. It doesn’t matter that I still wake up at 5:00 am, meal prep, and pack bags the night before. And I am so hard on myself for that.
It took me about a year to figure out that the only person who really cared that I showed up 5 minutes late with spit-up on my blouse, was me. The only person that is really paying attention to the time I got into the office and left the office is me.
It is common to feel like everyone is watching you and judging you, but if you eliminate the inner-monologue telling you that you aren’t doing enough, you’ll start to notice that no one around you is actually thinking those things.
You have a new normal. It is time to let go of the need to prove that you are capable of doing your job and being a mom.
You don’t need to prove that to anyone because you are already doing it. When you let go of the self-judgment, you make work a more family-friendly place for everyone.
Time-Blocking for Kid’s Schedule
During my first few months back from maternity leave I was working strictly from home. That helped in my transition because I could still be with my daughter all day, but it became more difficult to divide my attention between her and work.
I still partly work from home and face the same challenges. To make it through my days, my daughter and I must keep a strict daily schedule. I always create her schedule first based on her current napping and feeding routines; then, I fill in my schedule based on the activities I know I can do during those windows. For me, I need less distraction when I’m writing or project planning; so I block time in the morning before my husband leaves for work and later in the afternoon when my daughter is content playing or having quiet time. I only leave my calendar open for calls during times I know my daughter is napping.
Create Your Village
Ever see a fellow mom who is crushing it at work, volunteering at church, making time with friends, and raising a tiny human? Your exhausted state-of-mind wonders how in the world is she doing this.
You, too, can absolutely do it all, but you can’t do it all the time, and you can’t do it alone. Behind every successful person is a tribe of people helping along the way.
The only way I was able to go back into the workforce was to build a village of support. I’m lucky to have a supportive partner and family closeby. I also found a sitter in the neighborhood and a part-time nanny. That’s a lot of people, but I need them all! It was important to me that anyone watching after my daughter respected our schedule. This helped tremendously in her transition of me working out of the house. No matter who in our village is watching her, she knows her routines are the same.
Communicate Your Boundaries
When I returned to the workforce, I felt so lost. I was somewhere between trying to be the working woman I was before I had my daughter and the new mom I became over those 10 weeks. My priorities took a total overhaul.
The only way to protect these new priorities was to clearly communicate my boundaries. At the return of my maternity leave, I scheduled time with my boss to catch-up. I used that time to ensure we both understood that any travel would be limited for my daughter’s first year, and any commitments outside of my regular schedule would need to be considered first.
The most important thing to do when setting boundaries is to follow-through on them.
When I say that I can’t come into the office before 9:00 am, and someone tries to schedule a meeting at 8:30 am, I push back. Is there a critical reason that the meeting needs to be at 8:30? If there isn’t a good reason, then I request to keep within the hours we agreed upon.
Create Your 10-minute Ritual
So far, I’ve talked about how to structure your time for the people you work with and your children. What I haven’t touched on is the most important person of all. You.
When you go about creating your new schedule and finding your time blocks, make sure you have 10 minutes a day dedicated to a personal ritual.
You should spend this time doing an activity that is only for you. What’s something you enjoy doing that doesn’t require a lot of effort? What’s something that puts you in a positive mindset?
For me, I spend the first 10 minutes of my day caffeinating and reading. It’s simple, but I know if I start my day doing something just for me, I’ll be much better for everyone else.