Heading back to work after maternity leave is one of the most difficult transitions in the life of a new mom. After all, in addition to the stresses of a full-time job, there’s the added adjustment that comes with having to leave your little one with a caregiver. For advice on making the transition from home to work as smooth as possible, we spoke to experts Mary Quigley, NYU professor and co-author of “Going Back to Work: A Survival Guide for Comeback Moms”; Ellen Galinsky, founder of the Family and Work Institute and author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” and Laura Deutsch, founder of babybites, a social and educational community for moms in the city.
Feeling Guilty Is Normal
New mothers often feel like the only person who can take care of their child is them, which makes heading back to work a constant battle with their conscience. Experts maintain that the feeling is normal. “You’re going to have to realize that guilt is just standard operating procedure,” says Quigley.
“You have to understand that leaving is normal,” says Galinsky. “Worrying about leaving is normal. There’s very little that you can do to make it go away.”
Both experts suggest that the best way to overcome that guilty feeling is by finding childcare that makes you feel safe, secure and comfortable.
On the other hand, says Deutsch, moms she talks to often struggle with the fear that their baby will grow to “love the nanny more than them.” While this fear is common, it’s largely unfounded. “Nobody takes the place of the mommy,” Deutsch says.
Allow Time To Transition Into Your Childcare Routine
Your baby will need time to acclimate to his or her nanny or daycare, and you need time to grow comfortable with the new routine as well. If you’re hiring a nanny, Deutsch recommends starting your search eight weeks before going back to work, and having a one- to two-week trial period. “You want to know your nanny,” Deutsch says. “You want her to be someone you trust and love by the time you have to leave your child with her.”
Quigley advises moms to “try and establish a routine so [your child] knows what’s going to happen.” Plan to have your nanny arrive at a specified time, or drop your child off at daycare at the same time every day.
Start building the routine before you have to head back to work. “Leave for a very short time at first, and then a longer time and then a longer time,” says Galinsky, who also recommends leaving “transitional objects”—familiar things that may smell like you—to help your child adjust. Finally, make sure that you and your caregiver discuss how the first day will go so there are no surprises.
Create A Plan That Works For You
If you know you’ll be returning to work after maternity leave, “do as much advanced planning as you can,” says Quigley. Discuss your maternity leave with your boss months in advance so that expectations are clear. Galinsky points out that because of the Family and Medical Leave Act, “there’s the allowance for what’s called ‘intermittent leave,’ and that’s designed to help you get some flexibility in easing back.” You can create flexibility by returning to work early and spreading out your leave, or by not vacationing during the months before the baby is born and using that time later as an extension to your leave.
Most importantly, establish a routine that enables you to focus on work while at the office and focus on family at home. “Research says that kids don’t resent parents for working, they resent them for bringing work home with them,” Deutsch says. “When you come home, be ready to play and engage with [your baby] when you walk in the door.”
Finally, don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out from the beginning—instead, Galinsky says, “Take it a day at a time.”
Have A Back-Up Plan
“Things fall apart and that’s inevitable,” says Galinsky. There will be unforeseen circumstances—the nanny is sick, you have to work late—that require a back-up plan. “That’s when you may have a mother, mother-in-law, a sister or a friend who doesn’t want to be relied on for [regular] care, but is willing to say, ‘If you have a crisis, I will be there,’” says Quigley.
“Your whole life has changed—you’re getting up at night and you’re working when you’re exhausted,” says Quigley. “Take any and all the help you can get.” Let your partner wake up with the baby, let a family member help you with laundry, allow friends to cook for you. If you need an hour alone to relax, take it. Talk to someone you trust about how you are adjusting. “You need someone you can turn to when you’re going crazy, who will listen and help you figure out what to do,” says Galinsky. Deutsch recommends joining a support group for working moms. “You want to be around other people who are going through what you are going through,” she says. “You need to take care of yourself.”
Thinking About Returning To Work After Being A Stay-At-Home Mom?
more and more women are looking to re-enter the workforce after taking
time off to stay home with their kids. These moms face a host of
challenges, from explaining gaps in their resume to brushing up on
advances in their industry to negotiating for salaries comparable to
what they earned before. Here, experts share their tips for stay-at-home
moms looking to return to work:
Engage In “Smart Volunteering.”
Balance your time at home with volunteer work outside of the home.
Pamela Weinberg and Barri Waltcher, founders of Mind Your Own Business
Moms, an organization dedicated to helping moms
explore their career possibilities, say that when volunteering, moms
should “be sure to focus on activities or participate in organizations
that would further your professional in interests and career
aspirations.” This will allow you to update your resume with relevant experience and examples of functional skill development.
Stay Current Technologically.
Falling behind on technology will become a competitive barrier for your
return to the workforce, particularly when it comes to social media
tools like Facebook and LinkedIn. Use
these tools to stay connected and expand your network. Use the Internet
to find the latest updates on your target industry—familiarizing
yourself with sites like Crain’s New York Business can come in handy
when networking or interviewing.
Stephanie Levey and Lisa Morse, founders of MomsWorkNY, an organization focused on helping moms
transition back to work, encourage women to network—no matter where they
are. “Every meeting is an opportunity to network, from people in your
field of employment to playground interactions,” they say. Attend
lectures and industry events, and join organizations for other women
with similar career goals. Weinberg and Waltcher suggest printing up
business cards and bringing them with you to networking events.
Set Realistic Expectations.
You might have to take a step back to go forward in your career. Take
small steps and think long-term, accepting that the first step may not
be that “perfect” position. Keep an open mind and maintain a “can-do”
More Resources For Moms.
Check out the books “Going Back to Work: A Survival Guide for Comeback
Moms” by Mary W. Quigley and Loretta E. Kaufman, and “Womenomics: Write
Your Own Rules For Success” by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay.
Organizations like Mind Your Own Business Moms and
MomsWorkNY offer local resources, advice and