9 tips for going back to work from maternity leave during COVID-19

You are *not* failing. You are being asked to do the impossible right now.

coming back from maternity leave during COVID-19

If going back to work after having a baby seemed difficult before, it's hard to imagine having to find your footing back in your professional job during a global pandemic. Many parents currently have no childcare options. Many are going back to jobs on the front lines and have to use emergency childcare. No one is doing this the way we would have wanted to.

Here are my 9 tips for going back to work from maternity leave during COVID-19:

1. Remember that you are not failing

You are being asked to do the impossible right now. There is a reason people line up childcare when they go back to work after maternity and paternity leave because it's simply not possible to put in a full day of work while also being responsible for the full-time care of your baby. Yes, you will probably feel frustrated. Yes, you will feel like you're not getting "enough" done. And none of it is your fault. You, mama, are doing the best you can right now. Talk to yourself as you would talk to your best friend. Don't belittle yourself for anything.


2. Find the good

Perhaps you're now working 100% virtually and that means you don't have to drop your baby off with a caregiver every day. Maybe you can breastfeed more and not have to pump as much. If you're still going out of your house to a job, perhaps the good you find each day is in your baby's soft skin and amazing giggles. Wherever that good may be, find it and note it every day.

3. Re-negotiate *everything* at home

If you have a partner in this parenting adventure, now is the time to sit down and re-assess all of the daily tasks you complete and to come up with a new daily schedule. When you were on leave, you probably took on certain home-related work that you will no longer be able to complete while you are working. Put everything on the table and talk about who will do what. Also discuss how you will split your work day and responsibilities. Some couples split their days in half, where one works during the morning and the other works in the afternoon. (And then they both try to work at night after baby falls asleep.) Other couples trade off every hour or two. Read this if you need a script for talking to your significant other about difficult topics like this one.

4. Ask all work stakeholders two questions

  1. What did I miss?
  2. How can I help now?

Plan virtual meetings (video is better than phone) for your first week back with your supervisor, any direct reports and key colleague collaborators. Don't spend time reading old e-mails or trying to get "caught up" on everything you might have missed while you were out. Simply ask them the short version of what happened while you were away. And then ask them what you can dig into that will most help your work team right now.

5. Plan a virtual date with another working parent for your first day back

In pre-COVID-19 times, I found that new parents always benefited from being able to commiserate with other working parents on that first day back in the office. These connections are all the more important now. Yes, the other working parent you'd like to talk to probably has a tight schedule to juggle, but with a little coordination, you'll be able to get together for at least a short chat. And that other parent will know exactly how you're feeling.

6. Focus strategically

Use the Pomodoro Method and Daniel Pink's "Most Important Task" to help you with focus and productivity. Everyone—and I mean parents and those without children alike—is distracted right now. By illness, anxiety, fear, the news, change, loneliness, you name it. There are two tools that have really been helping me lately. First, to identify each night what my "most important task" will be for the following day (check out Daniel Pink's short video about this "MIT" here). And second, to do work in short but undistracted chunks using the Pomodoro Method.

7. Avoid comparison

Repeat after me: Comparison is the thief of joy. If there's one thing my nine years of parenthood have taught me, it's that comparisons simply aren't helpful in working parenthood. Before, during, or after this COVID-19 crisis. Comparing the way you worked before baby to how you work now will be useless and unproductive. Similarly, comparing the way your return to work would have gone before the crisis isn't helpful. Comparing yourself to your colleagues and how they are working (particularly those without children) or to other parents and how they are parenting (particularly those who aren't employed "outside") doesn't help anyone. You do you, mama. Whatever that looks like during these crazy times.

8. Remind yourself that parenthood is giving you skills that are useful in your job

What? You're getting better at your job by being a parent? Surprise—it's true! Working parents are prioritization ninjas. We know how to problem-solve like nobody's business. And we're able to communicate with cranky stakeholders who can't articulate their needs. The list goes on. (Still don't believe me? Check out this post.)

9. Please, please don't do this return-to-work-thing alone

Find your people, mama. Isolation is the shortest route to burnout, and in a time when many of us are confined to our homes, meaningful connections are proving even harder to come by. Not sure how to connect to other new working parents navigating the same thing right now? The Mindful Return program starts May 4 (find out more and register here for the mom version or here for the dad version).

This is an incredibly difficult transition, especially now. Reach out for help when you need it.

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