Even if you love your job, the last few weeks of parental leave can feel bittersweet. To go from spending every day with your little one to spending your workdays at a desk can be a challenging transition.
It’s natural to have some mixed feelings about going back to work after maternity leave, but too much preemptive anxiety and dread can steal some joy from the the time you have left.
Here’s how to enjoy the final few weeks of maternity leave and ensure a smooth transition for you both:
Prepare emotionally with a test run
The transition from leave to work life is fraught with emotions. Experts say moms should give themselves some space to deal with those feelings before the big day.
“I’ve held more than one sobbing mom who knew that it was the right thing to do,” says Barbara Harvey, executive director of Parents, Teachers and Advocates, Inc. and parenting coach for moms with young kids. “Still, on the day that she was going back to work it was still overly emotional for her.”
Harvey recommends moms smooth the transition by going to the childcare center three times in their final week of maternity leave: She suggests moms make a first visit with the baby and just hang out with the staff for awhile. On the second day, she likes moms to leave the baby for a half a day. On the third visit, they should practice saying goodbye for a whole day of care.
Practice with some me-time
Easing into childcare in the last week of a maternity leave allows moms to take some crucial time for themselves. Harvey suggests moms enjoy their baby-free day by getting a mani-pedi or scheduling a back-to-work hair appointment.
“[Go out for] excursions where you experience something for yourself and tolerating saying goodbye and saying returning and saying hello to your child and your baby,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychologist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child.
“What you need to experience is departure and reconnecting with your baby and seeing that your baby can handle it and that you can handle it.”
Touch base with work
Leaving baby is one piece of the end-of-leave stress puzzle; being back in the office after a break is another. Easing yourself into work culture during your last weeks can reduce some of the anxiety about returning.
This is especially crucial if you’ve had a longer leave, since there may have been a lot of change at work since your last shift.
“You might start to have some unofficial, preliminary conversations before you dive in full time,” says Eileen Chadnick, author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of "Crazy Busy" and founder of Big Cheese Career Coaching. “You might even go beyond a conversation and ask for some things that you could read up on.”
Chadnick recommends moms take an inventory of their organizational skills in the weeks leading to the return to work. And if you were the type to keep track of things in your head instead of in a calendar, it’s time to work on that. Balancing baby and work adds more to your mental load, so the more you can get out of your head and into an organizer the better, says Chadnick.
Manage your own expectations
Moms heading back to work after maternity leave need to be aware that anxiety about the return may be due to unrealistic pressure we put on ourselves. “I think the cause for a lot of that anxiety is stuff we make up in our heads,” says Beryl Greenberg, executive career coach, adding that a common theme in her coaching group is that returning moms often feel a need to work even harder than they did before their leave to prove they are still dedicated.
Greenberg says a lot of this anxiety can be avoided by recognizing when we’re the ones putting the pressure on ourselves. She says early conversations with your work team can help you avoid unnessesary anxiety about going back to work.
Revisit your maternity leave bucket list
While preparing to go back is good, making the most of the time you have left is even better. If there are a couple things left on your maternity leave bucket list, like a trip to the zoo or an afternoon at the library, make some room for that bonding activity in your schedule.
As Chadnick says, “Enjoy the last days with your child or children because it is a gift.”