Dear Returning-to-Work Mama,
You’re about to put those work clothes back on, pack your pump, food, and bottle bags, and kiss your baby goodbye as you head back to your office. Maybe you’ve had a transition week to head out and buy some new clothes, get a haircut, and get used to being separated from your beloved little one. Or perhaps not. Either way, your colleagues await.
I was there twice, mama. And if I think back, I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach. The lump in my throat. And the terror and glee all swirled up in a tightly-knit ball somewhere in my chest. While the return, for me, was easier emotionally the second time around (knowing my daycare providers and all), the logistics seemed twice as complicated. I was tired, and no matter how I look back at it, both transitions were rough.
Having learned a few things from my own experience, I offer you four important ideas to keep in mind today, on your first day back—
First, as you venture back to the office, let your community at work support you.
Find a working mom friend to have lunch with, so you can have that space to share what’s coming up for you with someone who truly understands. Set up meetings during the first few weeks back with all your key stakeholders—direct reports, your manager, other colleagues with whom you work. And enlist their help in integrating you back into the team. Don’t focus on what you missed or on reading every e-mail that came in while you were on leave. Instead, get your colleagues to tell you the major events that took place during your leave, and ask them how you can best contribute to the team moving forward.
Second, remember that trust of your caregiver grows over time.
You’ve likely just recently met the person who is now taking care of your baby. While you did your homework and know as much about them as you can, it’s completely normal for you not to trust them completely from day one. Don’t beat yourself up if you worry. Know that day after day, you will work toward a relationship that works for you. And if it doesn’t, trust yourself to make a change. Nothing has to be permanent.
Third, know that your baby’s firsts don’t count until YOU see them, mama.
Truly. I was so incredibly worried I would miss seeing one of my son’s milestones, because I was back at work. But remember that baby could learn to clap or stand up in his crib at night. Or while you are in the bathroom. I promise you when YOU see that first clap or hear that first word, it will be the most exciting thing in the entire world.
And finally, hold space for yourself and your feelings this week.
Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, and don’t believe for a minute that your entire career depends on how you do today, this week, or this month. It doesn’t. Just put one foot in front of the other, and let those baby steps you take—indeed, let survival—be enough.
Whatever happens today, mama, whether at work or at home, you are enough. If you forgot your baby’s diapers or her change of clothes, you are enough. If you couldn’t pump as much as you wanted to, you are enough. If you ran late getting into the office, you are enough. And when you reunite at the end of the day, your love and snuggles will be enough. Your connection with your little one will always, always be enough.
With compassion and hugs,