As your maternity leave draws to a close, you’re likely a big jumble of emotions. No need for me to spell them out – if you’re about to become a working-outside-the-home mama, you know the spectrum from dread to glee.
Let’s spend some time thinking about what actually happens at your job, though, once you’ve arrived back on your employer’s clock. What will those first few weeks back at the office really look like? And what can make them just a tiny bit easier for you?
Below find 3 real questions from real mamas who I’ve coached in my Mindful Return E-Course. Here’s my advice on how to head back to the office feeling calm, supported, productive and satisfied:
Question: I’m worried that I won’t be able to catch up on everything I missed while I was out on maternity leave. How will I possibly have time to do the work that’s required now and read my e-mail backlog, learn what happened while I was gone, and feel like I don’t have a big knowledge gap?
Answer: This was absolutely one of my fears, and with my first kiddo, I did it entirely wrong. I tried to catch up on everything I missed while I was out, plow through all those e-mails…and quickly got overwhelmed.
My advice? Schedule 30-60 minute meetings with your key stakeholders at work (direct reports, bosses, key members of your teams) throughout the first few weeks you’re back. Ask them (1) to give you highlights of what happened while you were gone, and (2) to advise you on how you can contribute best right now. Then let go of whatever happened. Don’t read every old e-mail. And don’t worry about knowing every detail of what happened while you were out. Look ahead and focus on what you can add to the team moving forward.
(Note: this strategy works to give yourself a fresh start, if you’ve already gone back, have little ones, and are feeling behind.)
Question: I’m really dreading the actual week of returning to work. Between trusting a new caregiver for my munchkin, feeling sad about separating, and wondering how I’ll function on so little sleep, I’m really anxious. What if I’m a teary mess at the office?
Answer: Set yourself up to be surrounded by others who will understand and have been there. Everything you’re describing is completely normal. (Yes, we all cry when we go back to work.) So before you go back, get in touch with other working parents at your office or who work near you, and set up lunches with them for the first week back. They’ll be able to relate to what you’ve been through, for sure. If you shed a few tears over lunch, they won’t judge you. And chances are, you’ll look forward to lunch with some good adult (though likely kid-related) conversation.
If you’re a parent who has already gone back to work, help those new parents at your office with their return. Reach out to them, find out their return-to-work date, and offer to take them out to lunch that first week back. They will probably be thrilled to hear from you and delighted you thought of them.
Question: How on earth will I ever feel productive at work again, between having to leave “early” to pick up my child before daycare closes, taking pump breaks, and having to stay home when my baby gets sick?
Answer: Take the long view, mama. Your career is more like a marathon than a sprint. You will discover new super-powers of efficiency at work (I promise!). And studies show that over the long term, women with children are actually more productive than their peers. So take deep breath. Cut yourself some lots of slack. And ease back in as you’re able. Give yourself time – I’m talking the better part of a year – to feel more like yourself.
And finally, if your employer doesn’t accommodate an easing-back-in transition period with some compassion and understanding, perhaps it’s time to think about a change. I’ve coached women who have made a job change shortly after returning from maternity leave, so I know it can be done. Resources like Fairygodboss can also help you figure out which employers out there are truly family friendly.