Advice Column

Going Back To Work After Maternity Leave

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So as you all know by now, I have some issues regarding maternity leave in South Africa… and having to return to work when Knox is barely 4 months old is one of them.

The first time around (when I had my little girl) I was young, had PND and could not wait to get back to work – to be honest, we had some issues bonding due to various reasons and I was going crazy at home. I felt like I was failing at being a mom, and running away to work seemed like a good escape hatch – an easy way out. Boy was I wrong… It took years to repair the damage going back to work too early did (she was only 2 months old), but today our bond is stronger than ever.

This time around I embraced my maternity leave, I treasured every single second… spent my days memorizing Knox‘s face and spending quality time with Mikayla. I dreaded the day I had to go back. Wednesday, 1 April was D-Day and I am still struggling with the transition. Not only did I return to work, I also started a new job at a new company. Going back to work also has it’s perks –  I did my make-up and was wearing something other than yoga pants or PJ’s, I didn’t smell like sour milk for once and I actually combed my hair. I had a cup of coffee I could drink whenever I wanted (while it was still hot – can you believe it??), I could have a wee with the door closed and there were adults I could talk to all day about adult stuff, and I wasn’t getting spit-up on. The allure of a quiet cup of coffee ended on the second day and the realization that I was leaving my little guy, every day…indefinitely…struck me. I felt like my heart was being crushed. I have always known that being at stay-at-home mom was not for me, it will never be enough for me. I will always crave the sense of accomplishment I get from working, the thrill of being really good at my job, the challenge of leading others. Most of all, I like that I am a role model for my children.  I know that they might not understand it now, but I want them to know and respect the fact that I am pursuing a career that is fulfilling and challenging. I want to inspire them to become educated and go after their dreams with the same ferocity I did. I appreciate my time with the kids so much more in the evenings and on the weekends and I also know that they are gaining great social skills while I’m away.  Last, I love that I am contributing financially to my family. I love the financial independence, that’s a biggy for me..  I have worked so hard to get to where I am… I have exceeded even my own expectations and there is no way I could just throw all of that away.

Unfortunately, being back at work and away from the kids leaves me feeling deeply alone, I feel like a part of me is missing. Simply put: Being at work is breaking my heart, but staying at home is not fulfilling enough for me. So what the hell am I supposed to do? It is difficult, and in some ways it is really unfair – but I am doing the best I can, every day. I will carry on and hold my head up high, because I can do this. I am not going to make myself feel guilty, I will take pride in the fact that I am not only a career woman and working mom, I am also a home -maker, I am also a full-time mom… I am succeeding in doing something not many others can. I am doing it all, and I am doing it damn well. Do not let anyone make you feel like less of a mother just because you do not stay at home with your kids all day, and do not dare make anyone feel like less of a mother because they can’t afford to make the same choices you did or because they don’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom.

There is a whole lot of hard work and sacrifice involved in pursuing a dream.  It means making difficult choices and a willingness to believe in yourself even when no one else does. Does pursuing my own dream make me selfish? Maybe, but it I truly believe it is better this way.

Preparing to go back to work after having a baby can be one of the most stressful times in a new mom’s life.  From the time we brought Knox home from the hospital, I was counting down the weeks until I had to leave my little dude and go back to work. Even though I was borderline depressed about being away from the kids eight hours a day, it is something that had to be done and I did do a lot of planning to make the transition easier and to minimize the mom guilt of being a working mother.

Are the tips I’m about to share going to make you going back to work any easier emotionally, physically and/or psychologically? No, sorry… but it is worth a try.

1. Find a Great Nanny or Daycare

We are so fortunate to have Cole’s mom close by. She watched Mikayla when she was a baby and is now watching Knox during the day. Mikayla goes to a little Montessorri school half days and then joins her baby brother at nanna’s house afterwards. This also comes with its’ issues – make sure that you make your expectations and boundaries clear. If you are not that lucky, start looking for childcare options while you are still pregnant so you have plenty of time to interview and make a choice that you’re most comfortable with. It is so important to pick the right person to look after your little one, and it will help knowing that your baby is with someone you can trust.

2. Don’t Go Around Harassing People With Pictures Of Your Little One On Your First Day

They might enquire, “How’s the baby?” Before you whip out your phone, try and remember your pre-baby life. Think back to how it felt to feign interest in the children of your friends and co-workers… Don’t be that person.

3. Get Everything Ready The Night Before

It’s hard enough to get out the door when you just need to kiss the baby one last time (ten times). Add a 5:30 am feeding and cuddle session, another at 7:45, and a diaper change (or two), and you will appreciate any spare second you can find. The night before, lay out your outfit. If you can shower at night without suffering from crazy morning hair, do it – I am not that lucky 🙁

4. Remember That This Too Shall Pass

Which I know, is practically impossible at 2am after you’ve been up with a crying baby and then you get back into bed, turn to your hubby/wife and say, “Hey asshole! You’re sleeping! You’re not the only one who has to work tomorrow!” and then loudly fluff your pillow and tug at the duvet. And when you wake up the next day with sand for eyeballs, the vibe is less “This too shall pass” and more “I feel like a prisoner of war.” But it will pass, I promise. And if my promise is not enough, have a glass of wine. After work, that is. Or before… totally up to you.

5. Try To Go Back On A Wednesday If You Can

Personally, I was so lucky as not only did I get to go back to work on a Wednesday, the Friday and following Monday were public holidays. Anyway, Wednesday because it’s a shorter week, obviously, and gives you some time to ease back into going back to work/dropping your baby off at day care/wearing make-up all week, wearing a bra, etc.

6. Be Equals

When I was home on maternity leave, I was responsible for our laundry, picking up around the house, making dinner, etc. But when I went back to work, things became 50/50. Since we both work, both get up early, etc., we both share equal responsibility with both Knox and Mikayla and things around the house. That means that no one is above doing laundry, cooking dinner, doing the dishes, feeding the kids or anything else that needs to be done around our home.

Before I went back, we sat down and we both agreed that whatever needed to be done around the house would get done by the both of us.

7. Quantity vs. Quality

Because pursuing a dream may mean more time away from your family than you’d like it is that much more important to make sure that your time together counts. Turn off your phone or computer or whatever other distraction has captured your focus and give them all of you.  Be intentional about setting aside time that is just for them. On the other hand, be wary of giving into the “mom guilt” that sometimes tempts us to want to over compensate, or to give our kids a bunch of stuff they don’t need to make up for the times we’re not there.  More stuff doesn’t make up for less time.

8. ‘Me-Time’ Is Just As Important

Finding some ‘me-time’, and also finding ‘us-time’ for me and my husband is extremely important. Personally, I ask my husband to watch the kids for about 30 minutes after supper so that I can go soak in the bath. That is my bliss, my ‘me-time’. After the kids go to sleep and all the planning for the next day is done, I sit on the couch and watch series with my hubby – or we just chat.

9. Don’t Compare

Comparing your situation to someone else’s situation serves no purpose except to make you crazy with self doubt, so just don’t do it.  Your path is your path and no one else’s.

10. Own Your Choices 

Every action has it’s own set of consequences, and every time we select one thing it means we are not choosing something else.  So own it.  If in your heart of hearts you believe that you have been called to a certain path, don’t waste time on regretting the things you can’t do.  Understand that when you make a choice to pursue a dream, you are also making the decision to leave something else behind. And that’s okay.

11. Cut Out The Negativity

Avoid people or things who purposely try to make you feel guilty about your decision to work. I do not hang out with or even follow anyone on the internet who sends me negativity about my choice to work. I try and surround myself with supportive people who I can lean on when I am feeling overwhelmed.

12. Use Your Support System

Your husband/wife has your back, tell him/her how you feel – cry on his/her shoulder. They probably knows you better than you know yourself and knows just how to make you feel better. Get support from your friends, your family.

13. Routine

I have said it a million times and I will say it again – kids need a routine. More than that – you need a routine. I promise you, it will save your sanity.

14. Meal planning

I love lists, so so so much. I plan our meals for the week on the weekend before I go grocery shopping. It truly saves so much time and brain power! Plan your meals for the week!

These few things can go a long way, at least for me. I don’t expect the working mom guilt to ever go away or for it to ever really get easier, but I do hope that each tough day or week that passes I get a little bit better at not letting it get to me. Working mom guilt can suck it.

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