CaCHunk caunk, caCHunk caunk. I’m typing to a steady, rhythmic beat. CaCHunk cachunk. My breast pump sets the pace as I tap on the keys, responding to a few emails from coworkers. Nothing makes me feel less professional than being topless in my office, but I’m getting used to it. A month ago I returned to work after maternity leave; I’m getting used to a lot of things. New routines. Busier schedules. Missing my girls. This phase is so hard. Harder than after my first daughter, in part because my job has changed but mostly because I know babyhood is fleeting. Our time is more precious and there’s little to spare. For all those who return to work, here are five tips for scheduling, streamlining, finding support and generally making life easier during the transition.
5 Tips for Returning to Work after Maternity Leave
#1: Spend Money to Save Time
When and where budgets allow, spending a bit of cash provides flexibility and saves time – time better spent snuggling sweet babies. Take a look at the pain points in your schedule and ask, is there an item or a service that can make things easier? Buying extra of bottles and multiple sets of parts for my breast pump freed up the time I used to spend washing them each night, a positive impact on my evening routine. I also have a once-a-month cleaning service, which is a definite splurge and something I feel a bit sheepish about admitting. Related: my house is only really clean for about 5 hours each month.
Once upon a time, I used the 75+ cookbooks in my collection. These days, our family has the same meals on rotation every week. Chopped Salad Monday. Taco Tuesday. Pasta Wednesday. You get the idea. It’s not exciting, but it has ended the dreaded “What do you want for dinner?” exchange that used to make up about 68% of conversations with my husband. Plus, it makes grocery shopping a breeze. Eliminate day-to-day decisions by automating and scheduling. Need the same basic household items each month? Use subscription delivery services. Waste time trying on outfits in the morning? Create a work uniform. I really appreciate being able to focus those few extra minutes on things like peek-a-boo or drawing with my daughters.
#3: Find a Confidante
Most moms follow a fairly standard script when asked how they’re doing at work. Yes, a little tired, it’s an adjustment, happy to have adult interaction again. None of it is false, but it’s often not entirely truthful, either. Some mornings I’m happy to drop my kiddos off, other days I still tear up. On the tough mornings, I find solace in confiding in another mom who understands these mixed emotions, with whom I can be completely honest. If there’s not another mom at the workplace, an online community or social networking group can offer empathy.
#4: Nourish Yourself
This one sounds so easy – take time to eat, to drink an extra glass of water, to take a break. But I know I’m not the only mom who finds herself running from meetings to pump and somehow forgets to have lunch. For the most hectic days, stash an emergency supply of non-perishables, like nuts, dried fruit or even canned soup for a quick meal. Hey, add a recurring shipment of granola bars to a delivery service (see tip #2) and never go hungry again!
#5: Go Easy on Yourself
I am fortunate because I have an hands-on husband who takes on his share of childcare and housework. Without him handling daycare pickups and grocery shopping and the evening PJs and toothbrush routine….well, I truly don’t know how we’d mange. Help takes many different forms, from a chore completed to a glass of wine to a hug to a deadline pushed back. Allowing others to assist takes some vulnerability, because it means admitting we can’t do it all alone.
For three protected months, maternity leave allows the chance to focus on one identity, being Mom. Then suddenly, shifting back to work means combining several different roles, balancing motherhood with professional, coworker, boss, subordinate, team member. Squeeze in wife, partner, friend and it can all feel that there are too many people one needs to be each day.
Go easy. Take your time.