Back to Work After Baby
Every working mother has a different experience when she has a child, but some things are common among us all. We are anxious about how we are bonding with our child, whether he is getting enough sleep, enough to eat, enough stimulation – and the list goes on. As if this isn’t enough, the ultimate return to your career can be difficult as well. You ask yourself, “how will I reintegrate myself? How will I prioritize my family? Will I still be considered a valuable, high potential employee?” Whether your maternity leave is six weeks, six months or a year, the added pressure to return to the workplace as the same person you were before you left, is a feeling that we all encounter.
When I had my first child, I assumed I would figure out this “motherhood thing” and keep it moving. As a self-described type A personality, I believed I could control all things. I held to this poorly contrived theory for as long as I could – which was about six seconds after my child was born. I had a generous 6-month maternity leave to figure out my new life and I enjoyed every minute of it. I opted to completely disengage from work so that I could immerse myself in my child and my home life.
One week before I went back to work is when I realized I would have to figure out how my new role of “mother” would impact me in the workplace. My re-entrance was not easy – decisions had been made without my input, some of the players had changed, the pace seemed quicker. For my first few days back in the office, I started to wonder if I could keep up. It took me about nine months to create a sense of normalcy where I felt confident and comfortable at both work and home.
I would not be telling the whole truth if I said I had figured everything out with the birth of my second child. Actually – it would be an outright lie. My circumstances were different, I was running a global marketing team; a job that required a lot of travel and a job that I could not be absent from for a long period of time. I absolutely loved my incredibly demanding job, though was fearful as to how I would juggle work and home. My maternity leave was five weeks and I was traveling globally after only 10 weeks. While I had much less time to get my bearings, what I did have was a supportive husband, family/friends, boss and team and a few guiding principles to keep me on track.
It’s All About Mindset
Start prepping yourself for your return to work several weeks prior to your return date. Only you can dictate what this means for your situation, but I typically spent a few hours a week reading news on my industry, connecting with colleagues and reviewing presentations that were completed during my leave. I did this while my son was napping. This put me in a positive place and allowed me to ease my way back in on my own terms.
When you have a husband, children, and a demanding job, there is very little time for anything else. This is why you have to make time to do the things that will help you be more efficient at home and at work. What is meaningful to you? For example, is it important to you to be at work 30 minutes before everyone else so you have time to catch up on reports or email? If so, figure out what systems you need in place to make this happen.
Give Yourself Reasonable Goals – Be Wonder Woman Later
Do not re-enter your job thinking you will know everything and resume full responsibilities on the first day. This is a foolish goal. You must be strategic and systematic about your return – figure out what is most important to tackle and focus on this. Ask a lot of questions, listen in meetings, and set realistic goals based on what you are hearing. Most importantly, communicate with your boss and team to let them know what you need to be successful, how you plan to ramp up and what your priorities are. Also make sure to understand what their expectations are of you as you cannot work in a vacuum. Once you establish your priorities, lay out a plan for yourself that includes daily or weekly achievable goals to meet.
Set Boundaries – Learn How to Turn Off
Application of this principle will be different for everyone based on job, family situation and your personality. Some people dedicate 24 hours to non-work time, others will say their weekend is sacred, while others will say once they leave work at 7pm, they are done for the day. Wherever you are on the spectrum, do your best to stick with it. Re-entrance after maternity leave does not mean that you work 24/7 to ramp up.
It Takes A Village
Cliché, but true. Use every disposable resource you have to make your life a bit easier. If you know you have the type of job that requires you to travel on a dime, keep your mother (or mother-in-law) on speed dial. If you have many late nights, secure the time of a babysitter you trust. No time to do laundry for the kids, then outsource this task. I was told very early to “invite other people into my challenges”; they are bound to either be a solution or will help you find one.
Whether you decide to Lean In, sit back or kick the door in – handle your re-integration to your job in your own way. While I believe in hearing and learning from other successful women, it is important to remember that one size does not fit all. You will go through several iterations before you figure out how to work both ends of the scale of work and motherhood.
Stephanie Davis Michelman is a full-time working mother, wife and business woman. Stephanie is currently the Vice President, Global Marketing for AHAVA, a privately held beauty company. Prior to this role, Stephanie held senior marketing and sales management roles at L’Oreal USA. Stephanie holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia. Stephanie resides in New York City with her husband and two children.