Before I had my baby, I was a workaholic. I loved to work, and I knew I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. But the minute Baby was born, I immediately started to dread the day I had to return to my job. I knew I would miss the little guy like crazy — what I didn’t know was how I would cope.
Going back to work after parental leave is one of the hardest things many of us do. Here are the five most important tips I learned that will help ease the burden.
- Transition slowly: If you’re able, rather than going back to work full time immediately, start working from home a few days or weeks before you have to actually physically leave the house to return to work or coordinate working half days rather than full days to start — so you don’t have to go from zero to 100. I worked from home for three weeks before returning to the office, and it was a huge help to be able to dig out of my email inbox and ease back in (while still getting to stare at my beautiful baby from across the room and hold him during breaks). It not only helped ease the emotional strain of separation anxiety, it also helped me transition in the mornings and slowly ramp up to having to get ready and out the door.
- Carve out dedicated bonding time: Sleep is hard to come by with a new baby, but I found that I didn’t mind getting up early with him on workdays because it meant we had more time together before I had to leave. I also forced myself to be more deliberate about putting my cellphone and email away in the evenings and spending undivided quality time with Baby. Those few precious hours each day helped alleviate the pain of having to leave him all day.
- Work from home sometimes: Of course, for some jobs this is just plain impossible. But if you have the flexibility of a job that allows you to work from home, try to do so one day a week. I work from home on Fridays when I can, and it makes a huge difference at the start of the week to think I will only be away from Baby for four days rather than five. If you have a job that is skeptical of the work-from-home model, be careful to only ask for what’s reasonable and won’t get you into trouble — but also prove to your employer that you can work remotely and still produce just as much. Sometimes, bosses need evidence that you’re still working hard (even if you’re not physically there) in order to overcome their skepticism and allow you the freedom of location.
- Plan your prep time: It may feel overwhelming to work all day, care for Baby all evening (and all night) and still figure out when to do everything else you need to do — housework, exercising, social life… let alone any downtime to catch up on your favorite TV show. And it’s easy to feel guilty if you’re taking me-time while the baby is awake to do things that take attention away from the baby — after all, haven’t you been away from him all day? So try to prep things for the workweek or the next day in advance. Pick out your outfits for the week on Sunday night after the baby goes to bed; iron everything at once so you don’t have to skimp on that precious morning together-time to do it. Make a big tray of food for the week and prepackage a portion out for lunch the night before. And pro tip: Exercise with your baby (seriously, this can be fun, and a 15-pound living weight really adds to the entertainment).
- Arrange for updates: It’s hard to go the whole day at work without hearing from your baby or knowing how she is doing. And although my desk at work has become a not-so-subtle baby shrine, with pictures of him everywhere, that’s often not enough to satiate my ache. So I also get updates — including adorable pics — from my wife, who is home with him throughout the day, and we arrange to FaceTime when my schedule and theirs allow. This helps me feel a lot more connected, and it shrinks the gap when I miss him like crazy.
Whether you have two weeks, two months or two years off from work after having a baby, it’s never easy going back. These tips and other accommodations that work best for you can help ease that burden and make the transition as painless — and seamless — as possible.