Going back to work after you have a baby is hard. And while most people warn you about the hormones, the tears, and the seperation anxiety, nobody properly preps working mamas for the physical toll on your body. Especially when that body only got a wink of sleep last night thanks to a hard-partying baby.
If there’s anyone who knows what to do when last night was a disaster, it’s Lori Mihalich-Levin, founder of Mindful Return and author of the new book Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave. It’s a working mama must-read that teaches you how to create your own path when your return from maternity leave, and covers every emotional, logistical and practical back-to-work scenario. Including the one where you got no sleep last night.
Below are Lori’s 5 best working mom survival tips for those days when you just don’t think you can make it through.
1. Re-set expectations for the day: Survival = Success. On days like this, my husband and I often quote to one another that line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (in the appropriate creaky voice), "not dead yet!" Remind yourself that this particular day is about putting one foot in front of the next, taking deep breaths (and drinking coffee if that's your thing), and remembering that with little ones at home, the stages fly by so quickly. This isn't the day to attempt to achieve major life goals or make any big decisions. It's just about making it through until bedtime.
2. If at all possible, take a nap before you go into work. I know this is not possible for everyone, given roles, schedules, and unmovable commitments. But, if you have an opportunity to drop your child off at daycare and come back home to sleep for an hour before going into the office, it can make a world of difference. There were days in the very early years of my children's lives, when I was so exhausted I was literally in tears at daycare drop-off, not knowing how I would function for the day. A small handful of times, when I really and truly was a hazard to myself and others, I went home and slept a bit before going into work. The nap salvaged the rest of the day for me, and my colleagues were understanding.
3. Separate the Must-Dos from the Nice-to-Dos. When you do make it into the office, ask yourself, "what MUST get done today?" Of course there are things that are nice to get done, looming deadlines for next week, etc. But don't focus on those now. For today, think back to #1 (Survival! Self-preservation!), and focus only on what absolutely has to happen right now. Take an hour to turn OFF your phone and your inbox so you can focus on the task at hand and minimize distractions. And promise yourself you'll worry about those non-urgent obligations tomorrow.
4. In the evening, choose sleep over clean-up. Even on the day after a horrible night, I've been known to get a second wind in the evening, after dinner. At this point, though I know I should collapse into bed, the state of the house sometimes gets the better of me. The dishes need washing, bottles and lunches need to be packed, the laundry needs to be done, and toys are strewn all over the living room. Today, after that horrible night of sleep, close your eyes to the mess, and put your head on the pillow. It's okay to let everything pile up for a night. You need the rest more than your house needs to be clean before you head to sleep.
5. Find the good. The chaos and sleep-deprivation of motherhood inspired me to start a gratitude practice. My version is writing down 5 things I'm grateful for before I go to sleep at night. And as I'm sure you know, working a gratitude practice is indeed sometimes work. When I've reached my limit of sanity and am up all night with a little person, there's often not a whole lot I'm automatically feeling grateful about. On these exhausting and frustrating days, I challenge you to choose gratitude over defeat. To feel your feelings (have a good cry in the shower), and then find the good. Take a minute to re-set your brain, by reminding yourself of those cuddles, smiles, and baby giggles that make it all worthwhile.
Get Lori's new book here!
Illustration by Sara Lautman for Well Rounded.