“The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant.” Jane Sellman
“Making the decision to have a child-It’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone
I was inspired to write this article by many beautiful, courageous mothers, family, friends and clients. I believe all moms are working moms, whether working at home and/or out of an office. When I had my first son almost 10 years ago, I remember how difficult this transition was for me, as a mom who worked out of the home, and I needed all the support in the world. Having a baby for the first time is challenging enough. However, a second adjustment most definitely occurs when a mother returns to work after her baby is born. And if this mommy happens to also have other children, the transition can feel completely overwhelming.
I also want to add that for women who stay-at-home or who work part-time, they are working just as hard…doesn’t matter if work is at home, in an office, or both. Juggling it all can be tough, and all women need and deserve support. This article is geared mostly to the mom who is returning to an office job and/or a job that requires separating from baby.
The vast majority of moms in the United States do return to work in some capacity, due in large part to economic necessity. With that, many feel frustrated that they do not have more lengthy maternity leaves to bond with their babies, such as generous family leaves found in Sweden or Germany and other nations (some countries provide a year of paid leave for families). Other struggles manifest if an employer is not considered “family friendly”, including flexible work hours and providing private lactation facilities for moms pumping milk at work. That being said, there is hope for moms who work outside the home to find the right balance and make the “juggle dance” more manageable. The following is a list of tips and suggestions for creating balance for women who wear so many hats. I wish I had this list to refer to 10 years ago….
“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?” Milton Berle
Note: The Internet can be a great resource and support for moms working outside the home. Websites that I have found particularly helpful about this topic are: mommytrackd.com and workingmother.com. These websites offer humor, practical advice on organizing family/work life, lists of most family-friendly companies, and time-saving strategies, not to mention healthy doses of reality-testing and perfectionism-banishing support. Realmomexperts.com is a wonderful website for self-care, as I mentioned in Dec. 2010 article. One can subscribe to weekly self-care tips, applicable to all hard-working moms.
My Top Twenty Tips for Moms Returning to Work (outside the home):
1) If at all possible, return to work on a Thursday (if you work full time) so that you have a short work week initially. Then you have the weekend to review how to make necessary adjustments for the following week. And you enter the new week knowing you can do this! It is empowering to get through the first week, even if it is a short one.
2) If pumping, find out ahead of time where you can have privacy. Is there a lactation room at your work? Or an office with a lock on it? You don’t want someone barging in on you while in vulnerable position. If you try pumping, and you find you just don’t have the energy to continue, perhaps partial supplementation with formula for your baby will be just fine. Then you can breast-feed when you are with your baby at night and on weekends. I did this with my first born, and it’s amazing how the body adjusts as needed. It worked very well for my son and myself. Or you can also be okay with letting go of breastfeeding if you are feeling too depleted.
3) Bring snacks and water. It is soooo important to stay hydrated and keep blood sugar even. It’s easy to forget to eat or drink water when multi-tasking. Remember that proper nutrition, including continuing with prenatal vitamins (if breastfeeding and doctor recommends), is essential to good mood health. Bring high-protein snacks (like almonds and string cheese) to graze on throughout the day and before/after lunch. What is good for your body is good for your mental state.
4) Allow yourself to cry. You will miss your baby. A lot. Initially, it will be very tough. Bring Kleenex. Give yourself the time and space to let the tears flow in the company of supportive people who understand your transition. Then distract yourself with tasks at hand to ground yourself back in the present. Reward yourself with some nice adult conversation and a cup of delicious coffee or herbal tea. Savor being able to enjoy a chat with your colleagues uninterrupted by baby’s needs.
5) It may be helpful to bring a transitional object that reminds you of your connection with your baby, like a picture of the baby, or a little bootie with his/her scent. Some women laugh that they have a “baby shrine” of baby photos at their desk so that they feel connected to their little one while away. Leave a photo of you with the baby and an item with your scent on it (a robe or article of clothing). You stay connected through your senses that way throughout the day.
6) Align yourself with other working moms. They are invaluable as support when you are having a tough day balancing it all. These mammas are doing what you are doing and more than likely have some emotional support and tricks up their sleeve that have helped them weather the storm of transitioning back to work. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Go to the seasoned mammas for support and guidance.
7) If at all possible, work for a family-friendly company. All moms/families deserve to have the flexibility they need to make work/family life balance possible. Sadly, not all employers embrace this philosophy. Some employers also have generous family leave policies. Check Working Mother magazine for the top employers who are “family friendly.” I especially love companies that have on-site daycare. My sister has been blessed with this benefit and has lunch with her son every day. She can hear him playing outside happily with his friends while she is busy providing for her family. Now that’s what I call ideal.
8) Take the longest maternity leave possible. That goes without saying. You will never regret having the maximum amount of time off to bond with your baby. Although the bonding process continues when you return to work and basically forever, that initial concentrated time with baby is so important for postpartum adjustment. Your body and mind are healing and you are getting to know this little creature you birthed into the world, not to mention trying to figure out what motherhood is all about. Take the maximum time you can afford off from work to allow the time and space to adjust. You deserve it.
9) If at all possible, be open to a flexible or part time work schedule so that you give yourself ample room to adjust to all the responsibilities of being a mom and working outside the home. This tip goes back to Number 7. Again, a family-friendly workplace is really essential to a happy mom. And a happy mom is a happy child and family.
10) Remind yourself that you do have choices. If this job does not fit the needs of your family, you can look elsewhere and offer up your talents to a company that values family balance. You are NOT stuck. If you can’t leave a bad situation immediately, execute a swift plan of action for an exit strategy. Do you need to take additional classes to beef up your skills? Do you need to do more networking? Make a time-line for your goals, and incrementally chip away at what is needed to move to another company.
11) The African proverb,“ It takes a village to raise a child,” is apropos. And it does take a village to do this Herculean task called raising a child. Finding good quality child care is essential. Take your time interviewing babysitters, whether in-home or center-based, and know that your baby will be fine with a loving caregiver while you are at work. Your baby will learn that he/she is loved by many. He/she will also know that you are his/her mommy and his/her most special attachment. That doesn’t change when you go back to work.
12) If you are in a relationship, it is essential to have a supportive partner. That goes without saying. You need to be able to negotiate division of labor with chores, childcare, time for yourself, and time as a couple. Sometimes couples therapy is helpful to assist with improving couples communication during this major life transition into parenthood. Make time for date nights to honor the couple relationship and keep the family foundation strong.
13) Quality v quantity time w baby. You’ll need to renegotiate with yourself how you view spending time with your baby. Remember that quality time is really what’s most important. There are moms that spend hours with their children without quality interactions (sadly), and those children don’t fair well. Children who know they will have quality time with their parent(s) daily adjust quite well to parents returning to work. (There are studies that back this up).Plus, all the social skills your child learns at a young age are invaluable (studies also back this up).
14) Organize the night before. Lay out/iron your outfit, back the baby’s bag with diapers/wipes/bottles/food/etc, put together your lunch/snacks/water, grind coffee and set timer. Lunches made for older kids (or better yet, have older kids make their lunches…delegate!). Also if you can afford it, delegate tougher chores/tasks to hired professionals (I.e housekeeper, gardener, etc.)
15) Self-care during work week and on weekends. Have a bubble bath before you go to bed, letting go of the day’s stress and anticipating an exciting day at work with adults the following day. Give yourself permission to wake-up just 10 minutes earlier than you need to, to focus, meditate, pray, breathe. You won’t regret that quiet time to get centered. (again, see www.realmomexperts.com for daily self-care tips).
16) Keep the focus on mood health: Especially for those moms who have recovered or are in the process of recovering from a postpartum mood challenge (clinical term: postpartum depression/anxiety). What is good for your body is good for your mind. Keep the exercise program going to lift endorphins which keep serotonin levels high in the brain (neurotransmitter that regulates mood); if taking medication, proceed as your doctor advises; eat nutritious meals which also include omega-3 fatty acids. The latter has been shown to support mood health. And strive for at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep (a full sleep cycle) so that serotonin is not depleted in the brain through sleep deprivation. Continue with psychotherapy to support transition to working outside the home if needed.
17) Positive self-talk: You can do this thing called working motherhood. You are a role model for baby and providing for a good life for your child. Create a list of positive affirmations that will help remind you of why you are a working mom and how good it is for your family. Focus on the benefits of working outside the home. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Every day journal three things you are proud of you have accomplished that day (I am sure there are many more than three). Also record three things you are grateful for. Journaling with positive affirmations and recognition of what you are accomplishing goes a long way to keep mood health happy and even.
18) Keep your support network strong: This also means outside of work, you need activities, friends, and community to help buffer life’s stresses. Are you involved in a religious institution that provides a parent’s night-out? Do you have friends who you can meet on the weekend at the park who also have children your child’s age? What extended family are available to provide daycare if your child gets sick or you just need a night out with your partner? Keep those networks strong. Do you have a creative outlet that helps reduce stress (i.e. painting, photography, scrapbooking, hiking, etc.)? Keep those activities planned on your calendar to balance out life.
19) Pay yourself first. You are earning this money. Make sure you have a self-care fund that you add to for pedicures, a fancy cup of coffee, getting your hair done, a night out with the girls…you need and deserve a pampering fund for all the hard work you do.
20) If you are feeling so overwhelmed, down or anxious that your ability to get out of bed or function at home or at work is affected, do not hesitate to get an assessment by a trained perinatal mental health therapist. This caring, supportive person can work with you to determine if you have a biochemical condition (clinical term: postpartum depression/anxiety which affects 20% of all childbearing women) that warrants further intervention through psychotherapy, medication management (in some circumstances) and other supports. Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net) has a list of volunteers who can connect you with specialists in women’s reproductive mental health. Also see www.postpartumprogress.com for the most up-to-date information on PMADs (perinatal mood anxiety disorders: clinical term) and daily affirmations of hope for those in active recovery.
I hope my tips for moms returning to work outside the home is helpful to you. The list is by no means exhaustive, and I am sure I could add dozens more tips to fill a book! I know from my own personal experience that being a mom who works outside the home can be very rewarding and fulfilling. It can be challenging to find just the right balance, and that is a goal I strive to achieve daily. Some days are easier than others, but mostly I really enjoy the “juggle dance” and feel very grateful I can be a fully attentive, “good enough” (albeit not perfect) mother and a dedicated professional at the same time.
I wish you good health and a joyful transition to a full life, being a working mom.
“The moment the a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” Rajneesh
Cheers to you and this beautiful, adventurous, challenging journey called motherhood. May you embrace all that encompasses your new role and thrive.