Heading back to work after having a baby comes with a pretty expansive set of dilemmas, doesn’t it? Some of these dilemmas are of the logistical variety, of course: “How will I get out the door on time, without spit-up on my clothes, and not forget the 100 things my childcare provider needs to have for the day?”
But there’s also the emotional variety: “I’m sad about leaving my baby with a stranger! What if he forgets who I am? What if I miss a milestone?!” It doesn’t help that the person to whom we’d like to explain where and why we’re going each day can’t possibly grasp the concept of mommy-goes-to-a-workplace-to-earn-money-and-returns-at-the-end-of-the-day. How can we possibly communicate with our baby what’s happening and offer reassurance that everything will be okay?
For me, the answer is through storytelling, which I’ve found to be an excellent way to weave together the work and home parts of my life. Here are my three top tips for talking to your baby about work in a way that can help bring your anxiety down and help your relationship with your little one flourish.
1. Start early. I mean, really early! When your baby is in utero, you can begin talking to him or her about what you’re up to, where you are headed and why, and what happened during your day. We know they love the sound of your voice even in the womb, and if nothing else, it gets you in the habit of starting to create that running narrative for them. Also consider taking baby to your office for a visit while you are on maternity leave to help make “work” part of their comfort zone.
2. Turn your day into stories. “When I drop you off, mommy’s going to the metro, sweetie. I’m going to take a train (choo choo!!) to get to the office and help some hospitals today,” I may have said at some point to my little one on the way to daycare. When you come home in the evening, think of your day as a series of stories you can tell. Was there a traffic jam or a subway delay (little people LOVE hearing about transportation, particularly if there are sound effects!)? Can you tell a story about someone you worked with? Or what you ate for lunch? Babies love stories, and you will soon become their favorite storytellers.
3. Get help with your OWN emotions. When it comes to kiddos, you’ve probably noticed that emotions are as contagious as germs. Even if your baby can’t understand your words, I’m sure you’ve noticed that they clearly understand your emotions. To be able to tell baby your going-to-work stories in a way that doesn’t increase their anxiety, you need to be able to tell these stories without being panic-stricken. I’m not advocating for burying your feelings and hiding your true emotions here (though sometimes keeping a stiff upper lip at daycare drop-off is required, of course).
Rather, take the time to process how you’re feeling about going back to work, so that you can be there to narrate the present for your child. Commiserate with other working mamas; take the Mindful Return course to get your head in a better place; journal about your feelings; talk to a therapist… Whatever will help you be the calmest version of yourself so you can head out the door without shedding a tear.
By telling your workday stories, you are not only helping your baby learn more about the whole, integrated version of yourself from the very beginning, but you’re creating a fun and wonderful storytelling tradition that’s likely to be one of your favorite parts of family life.
Photography by Lindsey Belle for Well Rounded NY.
Get more tips on how to talk to your baby, your partner and yourself about work on Lori's Mindful Return blog.