5 Tips for Navigating the Emotional Challenges of Returning to Work Post-Baby
October 12 2021 – Kathryn Wepfer
Returning to work after baby is often an extremely challenging transition with numerous new logistics to manage. Many of us Type A working moms focus on logistic management: engineering new schedules, preparing the required gear, and trying to figure out how we’re going to fit all the new pieces into our daily lives. What many of us don’t expect is the range of emotions that can come with this transition, many of which can feel contradictory and even make us feel a little crazy.
After the birth of my first child, I had a variety of emotions. I wonder if you can relate to these?
- I felt eager to get back to work. I felt confident that I knew what I was doing there. I know how to be successful. The thought of working seemed easier than navigating first-time parenting.
- I felt fear about returning to work. Was I actually ready to jump back in? Could I perform like I had in the past? I’d look forward (sometimes with glee) to interacting regularly with adults again, of filling my days with conversations about new customers, how our projects were progressing, and what our latest financials were.
- I felt anxiety about leaving my daughter in someone else’s care. Would she be well cared for? Would she miss me? Would I be able to leave her?
- I felt nervous that my colleagues would see me and treat me differently. Would they perceive my new motherhood identity and experience as an asset or liability?
At times I felt like I was on a constant emotional roller coaster. Looking back at these emotions, I see myself starting to navigate my new identity as a working mom and trying to understand how my professional and personal identities were merging into this new version of myself I now inhabited.
With so many emotions happening inside, returning to work can feel overwhelming. After navigating the experience myself and telling so many women’s stories of returning to work and pumping for The Pivot blog, I’ve seen a few consistent themes that can help new moms adopt a mindset that maximizes their likelihood to emotionally thrive through this challenging transition:
- Identity reconciliation takes time and can feel uncomfortable, but you will figure out how to merge the professional and personal parts of yourself in a way that works for you. Take pride in the new richness of your life and remind yourself that ultimately your work life will help you be a better mom, and your parenting experience will make you a better professional.
- Adjust your standards and expectations for this postpartum period. Get really clear about the things that are most important to you in your daily life and let go of the rest. You add a tremendous amount of daily responsibility (and hopefully reward) into your life with a baby, so some other things must fall off the priority list for now. You can add them back in later, but for now you will be happier by making these adjustments.
- Let go of all thoughts about anyone’s opinion of you as a working mom. Don’t worry about what colleagues without kids will think of you. Don’t worry about what extended family members or friends think. Show up as the best version of yourself that you can be for this period of your life, and have confidence in your new ability to bring not only your professional wisdom to your work, but also the immense wisdom that comes from navigating the challenges of parenthood.
- Ask for the help you need. Emotional support from your partner, friends, and family, assistance with childcare, extra hands to run an errand are all helpful. And always seek mental health support from a medical professional if you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with the experience.
- Eliminate all guilt. There’s just no place for it as a working mom. For many of us, working and parenting is how we live fully into our multifaceted selves. It allows us to bring the most to the world. To do that, you must spend time in each world, yet not simultaneously, and that’s okay. Your kid(s) will be fine, and you will be better for it. Have no tolerance for guilt!
If you’re a new mom, you may be engineering your return to work plans, perhaps building a spreadsheet and mapping out all the logistics. But don’t forget to honor the emotions – all the emotions – even if they don’t always make sense. This is a time for reinvention and redefining yourself as anything and everything you want to be with all parts of your identity. And as one mom reminds us, most importantly:
Just try to be kind to yourself. It’s simple, but important. Be kind to yourself.