After my daughter was born, the last thing I wanted to think about was leaving her to return to an office. It was a feat getting out the door on time for playgroup, let alone putting on a work-appropriate outfit and carrying on a conversation that didn’t revolve around sleep and how to get more of it. For me, I felt lucky to have the opportunity to take a long maternity leave, but I also had many friends who were happy to go back to the office earlier. Regardless of when it happens, returning to work after baby is a source of anxiety for many parents. It can be a difficult transition filled with worry and fear.
Re-entry into the workplace after the birth of a child brings with it many new challenges. In the DC Metro area, simply finding affordable childcare is a test in and of itself. Add to that the ever-present worry new parents face when leaving their child with a new caretaker. While the morning commute used to involve catching the train and reading the newspaper, you’re now responsible for getting another person packed and off to daycare in that tight window of time. Because returning to work brings new responsibilities without the addition of time, it is no wonder new parents are left feeling stressed out and tired. Here are a few suggestions you might find helpful during this tough transition:
Be kind to yourself and accept your emotions whatever they may be. It’s ok to have mixed emotions. Some days you may be excited to go to work while others may leave you wishing you could play hookie. Some mornings you may be eager for an adult conversation while other days may make you envious of the daycare provider. Unless you have a contract that stipulates otherwise, you reserve the option to change your work-life situation to fit your new needs. Sometimes simply knowing that you are not permanently bound to a particular situation can give you peace of mind.
Know your limits and respect them. You are the best parent, friend, child, sibling, employee, the best you, when you respect your own limits. We often want to please everyone and help wherever we can, but sometimes we truly can’t without it being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Furthermore, respecting your own limits will establish healthy boundaries between you and the significant people in your life. It is also a good lesson for children to see their parents protecting their boundaries.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need. Think about what could make your daily routine more manageable and then consider options that might help you arrange this. Would it be helpful to talk to your partner about reassigning household duties? Would you benefit from rescheduling lunch meetings to take some personal time for yourself? Do you have a family member living nearby or trusted neighbor who might be willing to help with occasional errands or childcare? There are no awards for taking on too much.
Prioritize self-care. Set aside time for you. As a new working parent, you have many responsibilities and a long list of to-dos. We often leave our relaxation time off the list as if it is less important than cleaning and grocery shopping. When we don’t care for ourselves properly, how can we expect to be well equipped to care for our children and do our jobs? By neglecting our needs, we are teaching our children to do the same. Self-care can be something as small as taking a bath or going for a walk. Even if you can only spare 15 minutes, make time in your daily routine for you. Some ideas for daily self-care: exercise, meditation, playing an instrument, pursue a favorite hobby, take a mindful walk, get extra sleep, maintain a journal, laugh with your child, read a good book.
Make time for your partner. Date nights are important. You and your partner are a team. In the same way that self-care is important to your functioning as an individual, taking care of the bond between parents is vital to the functioning of the family system.
Find a local parents group. Other parents can be a tremendous source of support. Public libraries often hold regular playgroups for parents and children to meet and neighborhood listserves can be wonderful resources for connecting with other parents. A playgroup can give your child social exposure and offer you the opportunity to bond with parents who might share your experience.
Challenges during this time of transition are natural and to be expected. When I chose to return to work, I was both excited to put on my “social work hat” again, and also nervous about how the changes would affect me and my family. As you experience both a range of emotions and a variety of challenges during this time of change, don’t forget to be kind to yourself, to find support, and congratulate yourself for your efforts.