Getting back to work after maternity leave is a unique experience – both for the baby and the mother.
First is “THE” decision. To work or not? And when? And how? And what work to take up? Most mothers go through a range of deep thoughts and human emotions – ranging from worry, to guilt, to anxiety, to indecisiveness, to happiness, to questions, to what’s really the right thing to do, to how to balance professional commitments and personal priorities, to….. The list is endless.
From my own personal experience and discussing this with several of my mummy friends here is what I can say with absolute conviction: There really is NO right or wrong in the decision to work or not. It all depends on YOU…
What do you want? What is right for you and your family at that particular point in time? What kind of circumstance are you in? What kind of support system do you have? And most importantly, how bad do you really want to work?
I went through all of the above when I became a mother. And I decided to resume work after my maternity leave. Along the way I learned a few lessons which I am sharing in this post – with the intent that it may help some mother somewhere.
It’s a personal choice – Whether you resume work is a personal choice. And when you resume work is a personal choice. It boils down to what you believe is the right thing to do both for yourself and your baby. And once you’ve made the choice, be vocal about it. Some mothers I know started work when their baby was a week old and some decided not to ever get back to work. And then of course, there are all possible permutations and combinations in between. Once you have made a choice, don’t beat yourself about it. There will be pros and cons with whatever you choose. So own up your decision and everything that comes along. It is a package deal, you see!
Be clear on your priorities – I can’t emphasize how important this is. Before you resume work, ask yourself what tops in your priority list – For the day, for the week, for the month and for the year. And this should be so ingrained in your DNA that if anyone asks you in the middle of your sleep, you should be able to say them with absolute clarity and conviction
Here’s the thing | As a working mother, you CANNOT have a zillion high priority items all the time in your ‘To-Do’ List. So be mentally clear on what and who stand where on that priority list. It obviously changes with time, and you need to be cognizant of these changes. You may have to make a few deviations occasionally based on the circumstances. So a little give and a little take, and life becomes easier to deal with.
The most important thing to note is that you can’t have everything you want all the time – be it as part of your professional life and personal life. Acknowledge and Accept this. Some patience, some perseverance, some passion, some sacrifices, some extra hard-work and some sleepless nights are all important in the long term. So try to be practical and realistic about expectations of yourself, people around you and life.
Plan, Plan, Plan – You need to have a plan for how the day-to-day operations will work out. And especially on who will be primarily accountable for the key things to keep your house running. And joint accountability does NOT usually work! So ensure that you spend significant thought in planning. Write out your plan. And communicate the plan with those who need to know. Most importantly, review the plan and make changes based on your situations and circumstances. And for those day when things just DO NOT go as per Plan A, B or C, do try to explain your situation to family/at work, and ask for help.
Have a plan for any unexpected circumstance / emergencies – You never know when there is a situation which is completely unexpected. For e.g.: Baby is not well, Your baby’s caretaker is absent, You are unwell, etc. etc.(And most parents will vouch for this in the first few years of their kids life). Think through how you will tackle such a situation. For e.g.: Will you be able to work from home? Will you be able to take time off? Will you be able to request a friend / family to support you? etc. etc. etc. Most importantly, be cognizant on your constraints and limitations, and ask for help.
Start the solid foods for your baby (if possible) – Starting your baby on solid foods is a definite milestone in the baby’s growth and development. And if medically your baby is ready to be introduced to solid foods, try and initiate it before you resume work. Try and start the solid foods a few weeks before you resume work. This will help your baby settle down to solids and also to watch out for any food allergies that your baby might have
Get the right support network – Of friends or family or professional support. Be clear on your requirements and criteria for this support network. Be realistic to the constraints of others. Evaluate your options and then decide on what will work for you.
Recalibrate your expectations of yourself – You are NOT a super human. You are NOT a super woman. And you are NOT a super mom. There, I said it. You can be super for one day, ten days – But you won’t last the year with all your “super powers”. So let go of some expectations of yourself. One question which is important to constantly ask yourself is ‘Why am I doing this?’ And sometimes the answer will take you by surprise. Many times you do so many things for no real worthwhile reason; they really have no meaning, value, impact and significance on your life or the lives of those around you. And you continue doing them (sometimes for all your life) simply because you are so conditioned to doing so! It makes sense to stop doing some of these meaningless chores and invest your precious time elsewhere or to do it at a time when it does not impact the items which top your priority list.
Express yourself & Speak-up – At workplace. At home. And at any other setting where you believe is vital for others to know what you think, how you feel and what your priorities are. You will be surprised that many times others are more supportive than you can ever imagine or expect provided you express yourself and are reasonable with your requests
Converse with other mothers – This is probably the most important point in this entire post. You are not the first one in this world who is in this situation. There have been a zillion mothers who went through this & a zillion more who will go through it. A few conversations with mothers who have been through similar experiences are usually of great help; not only does it make you more aware of the realistic issues, constraints and challenges, but it several times opens up options which you probably never thought of. Sometimes, just a re-iteration of what you already know or a ear to listen to your rant or a hug saying that ‘This too shall pass’ or a validation of what you already from an experienced mother really helps!
Give yourself ‘Me Time’ – Ensure you consciously set aside at least an hour a week to do things you love – just for yourself. While it may be hard to practice initially, if you are determined you will be able to make this time. And this is absolutely essential for your rejuvenation and to energize you. Once you get to work, the demands at work, along with the needs of your child and tending to the domestic responsibilities at home can be over-whelming.
But do make the time to INVEST in yourself – for your own good and the good of your family and friends. Once you start working, the little day-to-day pleasures which you almost took for granted will have a whole new meaning. Something as simple as watching a movie in the theater or having a dinner without baby talk and worries or reading the newspaper or watching your favorite program on TV or going for a walk or your weekly dose of FaceBook time… Whatever you do does not really matter… Just do it for yourself, at least once a week. You will be shocked and surprised at how important this is to keep you going in the long run.
Of course your situation is personal and unique to you. But then again, how unique can it really be?