Before that long-awaited date on the calendar arrives, it’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel about it. No, we’re not talking about your due date or your child’s birth date. The epic day in question is the one when you head back to the job — same worker, new title: mom.
Though the experience of balancing parenthood with professional responsibilities is different for everyone, the transition period is almost universally tricky to navigate. As for that first week back at work with a new baby at home or in day care? Clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Stephanie O’Leary warns new parents: Brace yourselves for a whirlwind of feelings.
In addition to likely being hormonal and exhausted, you might notice a shift in your attitude toward work. “Your heart is now connected to your baby, which changes the way you view the entire world,” O’Leary explains. “Things that seemed so important before — like project deadlines and business-casual attire — may now seem trivial compared to how many times your infant has eaten in the last several hours or the impact of teething on naps. As a new mom, you are suddenly facing the new challenge of maintaining your professional identity as a mother, and there are layers of emotion that come along with that journey.”
Overwhelmed yet? Just take a deep breath. Not only have you totally got this, but we’ve tapped experts for their best advice on how to hack it — broken down to one key tip for each day of your first week out of sweatpants. Because “one day at a time” really is the only way to go here.
When you first part from your baby after being glued at the hip (or, ahem, the nipple) for the past days, weeks or months, O’Leary says it might feel strange at first. And yes, of course, you might shed a few tears as you drive away from your home or day care — but you also might feel… relief.
“You will be appropriately worried and apprehensive about leaving your baby, but it is also completely normal to be excited at the prospect of wearing grown-up clothes and having conversations that do not revolve around bowel movements and spit-up,” O’Leary explains. Instead of beating yourself up over the guilt, savor the time you have reconnecting with your colleagues, sharing your iPhone full of baby photos and using another side of your brain again.
Congrats! You’ve successfully made it through one full workday plus one evening with three feeding cries for your attention, and you’ve still made it back to your desk, coffee in hand. O’Leary says many moms feel energized by their ability to manage work and home life, if only for one day — so far. We hate to break it to you, but that feeling will likely wane and waver over the next few days, weeks and months, so bask in it now — cautiously. “Savor this newfound confidence while maintaining realistic expectations. You don't have to be perfect, and it's OK to pace yourself by not taking on more than you can manage at first,” O’Leary advises.
Workplace expert Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim suggests reaching out to your human resources department for information on mother’s groups at your company or other tools available to you.
Prepregnancy, “hump day” had a different meaning; the halfway point of the week maybe meant happy hour plans or making a workout-and-brunch date for Sunday. But nowadays, as Wednesday rolls around, it might dawn on you how much your working situation has shifted. After all, a year ago, grabbing cocktails or heading to spin class with your desk mate after work may have been the norm, but now you’re unavailable. O’Leary suggests setting different expectations and anticipating feeling a tad let down as you hear office chatter around after-work activities. “It may feel like you've worked 10 days straight by this point, and there are still three full workdays on the calendar before the weekend,” she adds. “Be sure to make self-care a priority so you don't lose your momentum.”
When you yawn your way out of bed at 7 a.m. for baby’s first breakfast of the day, don’t be surprised to find an inbox full of emails and calendar invites. By now, O’Leary says your manager has likely fully implemented you back into your role, and the responsibilities will start to mount again. As you weed through your laundry list of duties (and that laundry load full of onesies), O’Leary urges working parents to employ the same strategies at their office as they do at home. “You still have to pull your weight and meet expectations that do not bend for parents or those running on less than four hours of sleep. Try to delegate responsibly whenever possible and resist the urge to bring your work home — because less sleep is not the way to increase productivity,” she explains.
If you’re still feeling out of touch with your company, your brain could be to blame, according to Hakim, as postpartum mental fog is common for many women. That’s why she suggests setting up a one-on-one to go over any lingering questions that contribute to your performance.
While you might have been mourning your social life on Wednesday, now that you’ve put in a full workweek, those parties and gatherings might seem less enticing as you eye a weekend of quasi-relaxation (or at least what passes for it these days). In other words: If all you can think of is lounging around your living room and cuddling with your baby, that’s totally, completely OK and normal. “Give yourself permission to fantasize about staying in your PJs,” O’Leary urges. “This phase will not last forever, so give yourself credit for all you've accomplished, and use your weekend to recharge,” she adds. Sound advice if we ever heard it.
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