I vividly remember my first day going back to work from maternity leave. My husband was at home taking a belated paternity leave but I was still uneasy. There's no book to prepare you for all of the things you'll have to figure out.
After the novelty of being able to run to the bathroom at any time and eat hot food wore off, I found myself trying to remember what my daily routine at work used to be... I was trying to figure out how to get my job to work with our impending move to the suburbs paired with missing my son so much that at times I could barely breathe.
I didn't figure it out the first day back, which ended up in a broken breast pump and me in tears.
Over the course of the several months that followed, however, I realized these five things that helped me regain my work sense of self and then some.
1. Take it easy on yourself
In every way, you need to be kind to yourself. Moreso than you ever have. The way you've seen most people reference this period of time in their life on social media or in passing conversation is likely nowhere close to the reality. Don't hold your reality up to someone else's edited picture.
Give yourself time to adjust to your new day-to-day in the context of your job, your relationship and as a parent, because you'll feel it in different ways for each.
2. Advocate for yourself
One of the hardest things for me was asking for what I needed to make my new normal work. There was a time where I'd regularly attend some form of industry networking event once a week or so—and where I had time to stay at work for as many hours it was necessary to get the bulk of my work done.
After returning, I knew that had to change. I sat down with my manager periodically to discuss how I was feeling and how we could change things to make all of the pieces come together. We eventually came to an agreement that would work both for our family and for the company.
3. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes
Aim to find a way to keep some of your interests in the mix in your limited free time. My varied interests, though a bit reigned in from their previous state, bring value to both my career and my family (yes, even the seemingly mindless time spent with my sister doing a podcast about The Bachelor). This likely won't be an immediate priority anymore, but it's something worth addressing in time.
4. Admitting that you’re struggling isn’t a sign of weakness
It takes extreme strength to be honest with yourself. Every case is somewhat different, of course. For me, there were so many factors all converging into a perfect storm at work and in my personal life.
Navigating how to re-acclimate myself into the workplace, redefining my personal sense of self, working on accepting my body image post-baby, losing that minute-by-minute access to my son's milestones, packing up to move out of the city and buying a house for the first time was overwhelming. It was a lot at once. Reading all I could about this process helped me realize that my struggles were totally fine.
Beyond fine, they were completely normal.
5. Don’t do it alone
I'm lucky enough to be part of an organization that supports working parents and to be a team with a husband that values everything I bring to our family and the career I have built. Your support network doesn't have to look the same as mine, but you should have your own form of one. Learn to say yes (to help, when offered) and no (to invites, when they become too much).
You can do this. No one has it fully figured out for that first day back at work (or even those first three months) and, in time, you'll have this under control, too. Promise.