Returning to work after months of maternity leave can be daunting. Just the thought of opening your email inbox and getting back in the work mindset might make you shudder, not to mention you’re still a little sleep deprived and learning the ropes of caring for a child.
All these feelings are normal. You’re returning to work as a different person, after all. You’re a parent now and your priorities might not look like they did before you left for maternity leave. Rather than enduring the extreme transition in the matter of a week, it’s important to give yourself grace and ease back into work. It will serve you, your family, your co-workers and your child better in the long run.
Here are a few things you can do to make your transition from full-on mommyhood to the office less overwhelming and more smooth.
Practice makes perfect
Giving yourself time to get in the groove of your new morning routine sets the right expectations for you and your baby. A few days before your official day back, practice getting dressed and ready for work as if you are going into the office that day. Take into account how long it takes you, what distractions you had as well as what clothes fit comfortably and are conducive for pumping if you are doing so.
👉 To avoid scheduling surprises on your first day back, try scheduling the caregiver or first day of daycare the week before you go back to work if you can.
Consider your schedule
Take a peek at your work schedule the day before you return and strategize when you need time to pump, call the nanny or school and maybe just to gather yourself if you’re having any feelings of sadness, separation anxiety or guilt.
Is there an important meeting interfering with pumping or the time you usually call to check on your little one? This can give you an opportunity to shift your pumping schedule, prepare your caregiver or daycare of the time you’ll call them, or even ask if you can reschedule the meeting.
Picking up and dropping off from daycare can take time but also can be an emotional process—especially on the first day. So, make sure to factor in the time it might take to drop off and pick up and try to be mindful of phone calls and meetings around that time. For instance, consider creating a buffer time of 30 minutes before and after pick up and drop off.
Prioritize what’s important
It’s only natural to feel like you’re in a constant state of playing catch up after a few months out of the office. Whether it’s the mountain of emails you’ll have to conquer or the onslaught of meetings you’ll have to attend to get caught up—it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Prioritizing your email and schedule is vital in order to carve out the time you need to get ahead.
Make space for productivity
To help with productivity and a stronger sense of accomplishment (like responding to emails), schedule one day each week without meetings for the next month if you can. If a meeting is scheduled on this day, consider its priority and move it accordingly so you may commit to a full workday uninterrupted with meetings. Clearly setting your boundaries with your work colleagues and contacts in order to prioritize is important here.
Time in the day that doesn’t involve meetings actually gives you time to prepare for what’s next instead of running from one meeting to the next and constantly playing catch up from the minute you return.
Don’t over-commit yourself
Front loading your first week with all the meetings might seem like the best way to get back to work, however more meetings will only create more work and deadlines—and can spin out of your control real fast.
No one is thinking you don’t have the capacity to handle the workload and will probably appreciate your foresight to plan realistically for the long run rather than trying to do too much at once. Overcommitting can lead to under-delivering resulting in lower quality of work, missed deadlines and some ball dropping.
Don’t stress over your inbox
Being out of the office for several months may lead to some stress over the number of emails you’ll have to work your way through upon your return. Don’t stress. You had your ‘Out Of Office’ notification on. People know and understand your leave. And if it’s a truly high priority, they’ll email you when you return and you’ll answer it then. If it’s not a high priority, you’ll return their email as you make your way through your inbox and they will understand.
Getting up to speed
The meetings you do schedule for your first few weeks back should include onboarding sessions to fill you in on what you may have missed while out. Deliberately plan who you need to meet with to discuss pertinent and timely action items that can help you get caught up and back on track. A good place to start prioritizing is meeting with colleagues that directly assisted with or covered your work while you were out, so you can get familiar with its progress and identify where you can step in.
Your life has shifted, but work has probably not changed too much in your absence. At first, your colleagues and contacts might realistically expect you to pick up where you left off. Setting the right expectations is always the best practice. In the workplace, it’s imperative to set expectations, especially when it comes to response time and work-life balance. Clear communication by providing some context to your situation is a great place to start.
Communicate your response time
Consider customizing the email signature or ‘Out Of Office’ tool in your email settings to explain that you’re in your first few weeks back from maternity leave and it might take more than the typical amount of time to respond. It will provide some insight to help manage their expectations, as well as set clear and healthy boundaries for you. For instance, letting your contacts know your new schedule and the time you’ve allocated for responding to email will help them understand it might not be best to expect emails from you after 5 pm.
Keep it short and professional:
For an automatic 'out of office' response: Thank you so much for your email. I’m currently in my first week back from three months of parental leave. Not to worry—you’re on my radar and I will return your email; however, my response time might look a little different for the next few weeks. Think more like 24-48 hours rather than 12. Thank you so much for your understanding and patience as I take the time to readjust to work and life after baby.
For an email signature: My work and family life requires flexibility from me, so my hours may not be your hours. No need to reply until your schedule allows.
Setting a realistic time frame of when they can expect to hear from you also helps set the tone for work interactions going forward. They might feel more at ease with your confirmation of receipt and acknowledgment that it’s on your radar. It also sets the tone for your working relationships, allowing for coworkers and contacts to respect your return-to-work situation with patience and understanding while building a layer of trust because of your transparency.
Be transparent about what you need
Nighttime feedings, diaper bags, mommy blogs, car seats and all the things in between—your life is different in a lot of ways post-baby. So, your professional life will most likely take on a new form, as well. Simply put, your time and availability are shared with another person now. It might not be as easy, both physically and mentally, to work until 8 pm or travel frequently for work. It’s time to focus on efficiency and optimizing your work time. Think about how to modify your best attributes to suit your new personal and professional life and ask for what you need to get that done.
Talk to your boss
If it will help you do your job better, be transparent about what you need. Whether it’s more flexibility, less work travel or even a modified schedule for the first few weeks back, make it clear that you’re focused and dedicated to your job but need certain things for the time being to do a better job in the long run.
When prioritizing and planning your meetings for the first week, this is a good time to schedule a meeting with your manager to get caught up and identify where you’ll need help or modifications.
Lean on the support of your colleagues
If coworkers offer help and support, take advantage. It builds trust within your working environment and allows you space and time to get re-acclimated. Leaning on the support from your colleagues can help minimize the stress of returning to work.
Seek out support groups
There might be support resources and groups within your company for working mothers. Reach out to fellow moms in your workplace for support or just general guidance and advice from their experience. And when you’re ready, offer support in return. The more open communication between mothers in the workplace will hopefully enable an environment where women feel comfortable confiding in each other for motherhood support.
Take it one day at a time
Transitioning from pregnancy to motherhood and back again to an employee can cause you to feel a bit out of sorts. You may still feel a bit of that new-mom, foggy mindset and not fully yourself. Take it easy and be kind to yourself.
Set goals for yourself
Small, yet effective, milestones can get you through the first day instead of trying to take it all on at once. For instance, for the first day just give yourself 1-2 goals. One goal can be simple, like taking the time to check in with yourself. If you have mom guilt, that’s ok. And not feeling guilty about going back to work doesn’t make you a bad mom either!
The other goal can be an achievable, work-related one like setting up all your meetings for the following week.
You did it! You got through the first day! Now, all you have to worry about is tomorrow and getting through that day.
Adjust to the new normal
Worrying is a new normal for any parent. Giving yourself each day to adjust to this new level of worry for another human is an important survival tool. Just like any new change, it takes time. So give yourself that time and celebrate each day you make it through.
Balancing work and life takes on a whole new meaning with a child because there’s more than one life to balance now. It’s a never-ending battle. Try not to worry about striking that balance and focus on your well being at work and at home.
Although it’s easier said than done, there are ways to at least alleviate the rocky parts that come with the transition back to work as a totally different person with a totally different life. And remember, just as your baby has phases, this is just a temporary phase and you’ll get adjusted to this new normal over time.
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