This article was first published on The Coach Space
Life after maternity leave without the stress, crash and burn
Life as you knew it has changed completely with your baby’s arrival. And now you are about to embark on another journey: that of the working mother!
It’s natural to be anxious about returning to work after maternity leave. There’s the upheaval of starting a new routine, mixed with worries about leaving your baby and fears about whether your workplace has changed, not to mention how you’re going to fit everything in.
There’s a lot to contend with. But fear not, you can rock this new lifestyle (if you avoid my mistakes!). The key word here is preparation. Just like you prepared for your baby’s arrival, you should prepare and plan for life after maternity leave. More on that later.
Firstly, let me tell you how my return to work went after having my first baby. It went badly!
Take #1: How not to approach work life as a new mom
I got pregnant at a moment in my career where I was really enjoying my job. I was starting to get recognition and aspiring for promotion. So when I went on maternity leave, I enjoyed it without worry because I was looking forward to going back to work, and picking up where l left off.
My strategy was to carry on as before despite the challenge of being a new mom (in other words, it was a non-strategy). In my head it sounded like “I can do it all”.
I wholeheartedly believed I was a superwoman, that I could adapt so easily and quickly. After all, I made the choice to be a mom and have a career, so all I needed to do was push myself. Also being the only woman on my team, I felt like I had something to prove, that I could still be at their level whilst managing the unexpected challenges of raising a child.
Well, it worked for some months. Believing that I could do it all pushed me to my limit, until it became too much and I started to cry every day for no obvious reason – at home, in the car, at work…
That was the sign for me to take a break. I started to see a therapist and do some inner healing work. It was hard to admit, but my approach hadn’t worked and things simply had to change. My journey to self-healing started with examining my mindset and I eventually found some balance.
Take #2: The reality check
The second time around, I knew what not to do. I know my limits now and how to cope better with stress. I can recognise the early signs of overwhelm and burn out.
I know how to put distance between expectations and reality.
I am more honest with myself around what is possible, what is realistic and what needs to wait so I have enough space for everything.
Underlying all of this is preparation. A successful return to work after having a baby requires preparing expectations, priorities, and yes, a schedule. You may not be a fan of planning, but it could save you from crashing and burning like I did.
Start with your expectations
How do you expect your working day to pan out when you go back to work? Go somewhere quiet, take some deep breaths and visualise your ideal day. Go through hour by hour from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed: What happens? Also note where, with who, and how you feel.
What time do you wake up? How do you feel when you wake up?
How do you leave the house and at what time?
What happens when you get home? What’s for dinner, how is it prepared and who is preparing it? Etc.
Don’t forget self-care. It sounds like a cliché but it is so important. As new moms, we put ourselves last fearing that our kid will feel abandoned or unloved. I won’t go on about it, you know the importance of looking after yourself. So include your ‘me’ time. That could be reading a book, doing some yoga, gardening, phoning a friend, whatever it looks like to you.
Look at your ideal day as a new mother who works. What are the non-negotiables and what are the ‘nice to haves’? What has flexibility? What is realistic and what is not?
Question everything in your list.
What are the consequences for not doing something? Do you really need to start work at precisely 9am every day? Does it have to be you who makes the dinner, or can your partner do that?
Think about contingencies. How will you compensate for going to bed later than expected, or not catching that train? How will you handle a call from the nursery to say your child is unwell?
With a new baby, a new lifestyle emerges. You need to make space for what really matters and be able to let go of other things. So I encourage you to think about what matters the most to you.
It’s not about what you think you should be doing (or what other people think). It’s about what works for you, what is enough for you to be satisfied and content.
Be aware of perfectionism while planning. If you are a perfectionist, be curious of what triggers your perfectionist tendencies and why.
Now you have an understanding of your priorities and how you want your day to look, it’s time to get others involved. If you have a partner, it’s crucial to have their buy-in from the beginning.
Talk openly with them and decide who will do what. Share your worries and discuss solutions together.
Maybe there are other family members like grandparents or older children involved. Have open communication to ensure everybody is going in the same direction and responsibilities are shared.
Don’t forget your contingency plan. Who will do what when a disruption comes up, like sickness?
When you set expectations in advance, it is way easier to follow them. You cannot expect your husband to do or know what you want or need if you haven’t clearly said so. The more you discuss and prepare in advance, the better your quality of life will be.
Don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t work out brilliantly from the beginning. Wanting to do better is all it takes. Some days will be crappy and that’s ok.
Life as a working mother will work out fine – if you’re willing to adapt and be patient you will find your balance.