I returned to work in December after a year-long maternity leave, and it has been a challenge. I should put that in the present tense: it IS a challenge. It is a challenge to get everyone up and out the door in the morning. It is a challenge to muster the energy to teach French to 150 children that aren’t mine all day long. It is a challenge to have patience left for the child that is mine at the end of the day. It is a challenge to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. It is a challenge to get through the bedtime routine without at least one (if not more) of us crying. It is a challenge to have any desire to do anything productive after Huckleberry is in bed. And it is a challenge to do it all over again the next day.
But I like a challenge and I love to problem-solve. So don’t think that this is going to be a whiney negative post about how much I miss maternity leave, because it’s not (if you can get through that first paragraph, ha ha). This is a post about what I’ve learned in the past two months as I get settled into this new routine.
Here are my 10 tips for moms returning to work:
1. Plan ahead
Meal plan and grocery shop for the week, and schedule easy meals on the busy days. Make your lunch and set out your clothes the night before. Pack the daycare bag or kids’ school bags the night before, as well. Create a realistic weekly chore list that you can stick to and plan around. These are just a few ideas, but we’ve gone so far as to write on the calendar which one of us is driving each day or who gets to shower (we shower every other day to save time and the planet). Any planning ahead that you can do is going to save you some time and some stress during the busy work week.
2. Schedule some “me time”
Plan a visit with a friend mid-week. Send your partner on some errands with the little(s) in tow on an evening or weekend. Go to bed early with a good book. Grab yourself some self-care products, like an Oh Mother Care Kit or a little something from Shiva’s Delight (review to come), and then lock yourself in the bathroom for a good soak in the tub or work a little “me time” into your morning routine. Sign up for the 365 Mile Challenge and go for a daily mile-long walk by yourself. It doesn’t matter what your “me time” looks like, just make sure you get some on a regular basis. You can’t pour from an empty cup!
3. Schedule some “us time”
Leave the little one in daycare just an hour longer than usual and go for a walk just the two of you. Ask the grandparents to babysit and go see a movie. Put “Date Night” on the calendar more than once a year. And do lunch if dinner doesn’t work. “Us time” is harder to come by when you’re both working full-time during the day and parenting full-time evenings and weekends. But “us time” is just as important as “me time” and “family time”.
4. Learn to say “No”
Turn down the lunch date that is going to add more stress than enjoyment. Decline the invitation to a dinner party that doesn’t fit into your schedule. Refuse the offer to spend your entire Saturday bargain hunting with a friend. Say “No” to everything that isn’t a “Heck yes!”. It’s tough but it gets easier. And it is a lot easier to say “No” than it is to rearrange your entire day/week/month around something that you don’t actually want to do anyway. In light of minimalistic living, ask yourself if whatever is being asked of you adds value to YOUR life. If the answer is no, then say “No” to it. And don’t read this and think I’m awesome at saying “No” – I am still learning myself, but it is paying off and I am happier and less stressed for it.
Ask your partner to grab the groceries this week. Get your older kids to help the younger ones get dressed in the morning. Have a sibling pick up a joint birthday gift for your mom this year. Anywhere that you can have someone else do a task instead of you, delegate! There are times that you can’t say “No” because that laundry actually NEEDS to get done, but it doesn’t all have to fall on you. We got into the habit of me doing almost everything around the house simply because I was home, but now I’m not and the pendulum is slow to swing back to centre as I learn to let go and delegate more.
6. Ask for help
When you can’t say “No” and delegating isn’t an option, when it all feels like too much, ask for help. I think this has been one of the hardest things for me to do so far. I see myself as an independent, hard-working, productive, cool and collected woman who gets shit done. And I see asking for help as a weakness. This is changing, slowly. I often wait until I’m at the point of locking myself in my bathroom at Huckleberry’s bedtime because all of my “tricks” aren’t working and he won’t stop crying and now I’m crying and I have so much left to do today and blah blah blah before I’ll ask for help. And then I’m not really asking, and it’s not pretty. Don’t wait until you are falling apart to ask for help. And help can come in a lot of different forms – sometimes all I need is a 5-minute breather and I can get back to whatever I was doing. Other times I need a whole lot more than that. But Trail Dad is always ready to jump up and do whatever it is that I need, he just needs to know what it is that I need.
7. Learn to love the rain
Metaphorically and literally. Embrace the chaos. Expect the worst. Learn to love the bad days. There will always be good days and bad days, but the bad days can feel more like good days if you accept them. Find a silver lining, celebrate the small wins, lace up your hiking boots and learn to love the rain. It’s all about perspective.
8. Find your new normal
Don’t expect working full-time after a parental leave to look anything like working full-time before a maternity leave. It is NOT the same. Your priorities look completely different. Your time outside of work looks completely different. Your energy level looks completely different. Really, your life looks completely different. And that is ok! This is your new normal. Accept it, work with it, enjoy it. And don’t compare apples to oranges.
9. Go easy on yourself
This right here is the best piece of advice that I received before and during my transition back to work. And it’s also a great piece of advice for working while pregnant and adjusting to life with a new baby. Go easy on yourself. No one notices your “mistakes” as much as you do, and no one expects as much from you as you do. So the only person you are really letting down is you, and who needs that? Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Cut yourself some slack while you find your new normal.
10. Be ok with sucking at stuff
When I decided to write this post, I turned to Trail Dad and said, “Can you help me come up with a title for a post about how to be ok with sucking at stuff?” Seriously, that’s how good with words I am. But this whole going back to work thing has been a huge learning curve for me. I like being really good at a lot of things. It is a big part of how I see myself. I am a really good partner, a really good sister, a really good friend. I am an aspiring young French teacher, an enthusiastic human of the outdoors, and pretty good at just about everything that I try. I have always worked really hard and reaped some pretty big rewards. And now I suck at stuff. I don’t have the time or energy or brain space to be as good at things as I once was. I could sit around and sulk about it, or I could be ok with it. It is part of finding my new normal and going easy on myself. And it is my biggest piece of advice for you, maman, as you transition back to work.
For those of you who have been there and done that, what advice do you have for other moms returning to work?