Maternity leave is certainly a time of mixed emotions – especially with your first child. On the one hand, you’re changing diapers around the clock, getting spat or vomited on, and just trying to make sense of your new life with a baby. On the other hand, you’re in awe of this beautiful miracle that God has blessed you with.
Here in Canada, we are very lucky to be able to take 12 or 18 months of maternity leave. Even still, every mother will tell you that this time flies by way too quickly. Just when you feel like you’re getting into the swing of things and forming a routine with your baby, it’s time to go back. A part of you might be really looking forward to this so you can get out of the house more, have conservations with adults, and feel like you accomplish something more than just feeds and diaper changes in a day. But at the same time you might be sad, anxious, and have all sorts of questions popping up in your head.
Will my baby be okay without me? Am I going to hate myself for going back to work and leaving my baby behind?How will I get ready, get my child ready, and also make it to work on time every morning? How will I focus at work when I have so much on my mind?
I am a full-time working mom (currently on my second maternity leave). My daughter went to daycare for almost three years before starting kindergarten at school. I have asked myself all of these questions. I have cried and been stressed to a level I didn’t think was possible. But I’ve also felt really happy at other times, too, for being able to do what I do.
Besides the obvious question of daycare, which I think is a completely separate topic and blog post on its own, I am sharing with you my top five tips to help make your transition back to work a little smoother.
1. Develop a good night-time routine with your child(ren)
I remember my daughter’s daycare teacher telling me that the best way to make sure I have a happy kid at daycare is to make sure she sleeps well. And the way to make sure she sleeps well and at a consistent time is to build a good night-time routine for her. I replied, “But our evenings and nights are so different from one day to the next! I don’t know how I can have a routine in place…” What I didn’t realize at the time was that the secret to success here was to try and eliminate that uncertainty I was talking about as much as possible. I wish I had set a routine sooner because it was life-changing after we did finally implement one. Without a routine, neither your child nor you gets to rest properly.
After we had a routine, I knew exactly what I needed to be doing at a given time instead of constantly thinking, “I still need to do this, and that, and that, and oh my God how is it already 8pm!”
Even if you’re not a routine-person yourself, your child will certainly appreciate a routine. And of course, a happy, well-rested baby would make for a happy mama as well. Yes, you will have some off-nights where something unexpected happens or you steer off your track, but otherwise, aim for a structured night.
Here is what our night time routine was like:
5:30 – 6:00 pm – pick-up child from daycare
6:00 – 6:30 pm – dinner time
6:30 – 7:00 pm – play time / screen time / clean-up time
7:00 – 7:30 pm – bath time (every other day in winter)
7:30 – 7:45 pm – reading / other relaxing activity
7:45 – 8:00 pm – brush teeth & get in bed
You get the idea. You can split these activities between yourself and your spouse. Or you and your spouse can do alternate days. Yes, these are going to be some hectic 3 hours for you, but they will help you maintain your sanity. After 8pm, you have some time to yourself. I used it to unwind, catch-up with my spouse, and drink a cup of tea in peace.
Having a routine definitely kept me calm but the best part was that it also calmed my daughter. You’ll be surprised at how quickly kids learn what’s coming next in their routine and start to look forward to it, instead of fighting it. My daughter used to get particularly excited about bath time and reading time and that helped her get from one task to the next. So yes, night-time routines can be life savers! Start to implement them as soon as possible, even before you start back at work.
2. Get Organized by Using a Calendar
Being organized is a key element to having a stress-free transition back to work (or for anything in life, really). If you and your husband are dividing the daycare or school drop-offs or pick-ups, appointments or anything else of that nature, it is absolutely important to keep a calendar that lays your days out in front of you. Once your child(ren) are older, you will only have even more items to keep track of – school events, library days, sports and extra-curriculars etc. If you like to have a large calendar hanging up on a wall at your house, by all means invest in a good full-year calendar or a dry-erase board. I find dry-erase boards somewhat limiting because you can only have one or may be two months up at a time. My husband and I use “Time Tree” – which is a shared calendar phone app. You and your spouse will have read and write access to it. Since it’s on the phone, you don’t have to wait to get home to add something. It’s very helpful because you can colour-code different activity types, add in notes and locations, and set reminders about your upcoming events and activities.
3 . Re-evaluate and Communicate at Work
You may feel physically or mentally exhausted at work, especially in the beginning. I remember not being able to keep my eyes open during my first week back (lol)! Waking up early, getting dressed, feeding and changing a child, catching the train and making it to work on time is no easy feat. Then you find yourself rushing back all the same. It’s an insane race against time if you ask me.
Don’t be afraid to speak to your boss about your routine to give him or her a sense of your day. It is better to talk about these things than to hold them back. Don’t let others assume that everything is the same as before, because it is not. If you have to split certain tasks between yourself and your spouse, such as pick-ups or drop-offs, speak about them openly and in advance to all your co-workers and stakeholders so that they know what is up with your inconsistent office arrival or departure timings. Manage expectations of others around you and you will have an easy time.
I found that another important thing to do was to take this opportunity to break old habits. Recognize opportunities for faster, more efficient work practices. If this is your first mat leave, you will soon learn that you don’t have all the time in the world to get stuff done at work like you used to. A baby is waiting for you back home that you need to save your energy for. You need to do your best to work smart instead of working hard. Some of this will happen automatically and some of it you will have to think harder for. Consider delegation, creative solutions, maintaining a stricter personal calendar, and re-evaluating some of your tasks and commitments. Try to see if there are some tasks that you can eliminate altogether. Spend some time during the first few transition weeks to do this.
4. Meal Plan or Meal Prep as best as you can
Now before I start talking about this, I have to admit that I am not the best meal planner or preparer. I’ve had really good weeks, really bad weeks and all the types in between. There is nothing wrong with getting take-out when you are tired so don’t be feeling guilty. Depending on the type of job you do, sometimes that “tired” phase can even last for a couple of weeks. Of course, for most families take-out is not sustainable and it makes no financial sense to order out more than cooking meals at home. When my husband and I had too many days of take-out in a row, we also didn’t feel like eating it and We’ve also found that after a while we spend a long time just wondering what to even take out and find ourselves And I must say that meal prepping is very much worth it.
When it comes to homemade meals, I would say it’s important to have a realistic idea of what you can do and then try your best to implement it. Some people like to prepare complete meals on the weekend that simply need to be warmed up or baked before being served during the weekdays. Others like to make fresh and easy meals whenever possible, but have the daily menus pre-planned along with the ingredients all chopped up and ready to go. Depending on how big your family is and what your preference is, you can do either one. Personally, I have either done meal prep or nothing at all.
Below, I’m sharing my “ideal” (emphasis on ideal) weekly schedule with you, starting from Saturday:
Saturday: Grocery Shopping, washing/chopping/cutting ingredients
Sunday: Prepare 4 meals – keep 2 of them in the fridge and freeze 2 of them
Monday: Eat pre-cooked meal from fridge
Tuesday: Eat pre-cooked meal from fridge
Wednesday: Defreeze and eat one of the frozen meals
Thursday: Defreeze and eat the last frozen meal
Friday: Eat-out / Finish leftovers
The weeks that I meal prep according to the above schedule go by extremely smoothly and are totally worth the effort, even though it means that Sundays are very tiring. Sometimes it’s very difficult though, especially if you have to do something out of your normal routine over the weekend. Any weekend where we have to attend a birthday party or a wedding or anything unusual, it all becomes too difficult and we end up with lots of take-out. I’m sure there are ways to plan around that, but not ones that I have mastered enough to write about.
5. Get into the right mental state
No matter what your position at work is and how much you enjoy your job, it is very likely that you have at least once considered not going back to work at all. Many women have this overwhelming guilty feeling and want to quit. For many, it may not be an option financially. Many others may very well realize that they actually do want to work but emotions are getting the best of them. This is all normal in this transition period.
- All the uncertainty you face right now can make you imagine worst-case scenarios and exaggerate them that much more. It is very likely that your mind will change and be more at peace once you have settled back at work and have a new routine going for both yourself and your child(ren). So don’t rush into any decision unless you’re 100% sure.
- Know and accept that the first couple of weeks are hard. Both you and your child will most likely cry. You will think of your child while at work and perhaps call to make sure they’re okay. But it will get easier. If your child is going to daycare, you will see them making so many friends and becoming more comfortable and confident in social settings. You will also notice that they will learn a lot and through a wide range of both indoor and outdoor activities which you perhaps couldn’t do with them at home.
- While still on maternity leave, remind yourself of the positives – what you liked about working and what are the reasons why you would want to keep doing it.
- Meet with or talk to other working moms you know and share your concerns with them. There are many reasons why women continue to work including having financial stability, more structured days and set routines that help the whole family, and setting an example of independence. You will find a lot of support so definitely connect with them.
- Talk to stay-at-home moms who decided not to go back to work and ask them why. This may very well be the answer for you too and hearing your concerns being concerned by someone else could be just what you need to make the final decision.
That’s all the tips I have for you. I’m on my second maternity leave right now and I find that I often fall into the “grass is greener on the other side” trap. One some days at work, you find yourself wishing to be a stay-at-home mom. Similarly, days at home with kids can be long and hard, and you wish to go back to work. It is not easy, but certainly doable. Good Luck!