You are the parent who has to return to work after your time on parental leave. It can bring so many feelings with it. You may be excited or scared. Separation anxiety is natural, but how do you get back into the new groove?
Here is how I prepared to return to work after my parental leave.
Before leaving, I spoke to my co-workers who had gone through their leave, as corporate policies change yearly. I also investigated what other time off I could use. From this research, I learned about intermittent parental leave, the option of returning to work earlier, and using the remaining time for bonding before my son’s first year. I took 10 weeks consecutively and left two weeks to take every other Friday to bond with my son.
Before you start your leave, sync up with your benefits department and clear up all your questions. Here are some to consider:
- When can you begin your leave?
- Do you need to call insurance, and when?
- Is intermittent parental leave an option?
- Can you use sick time, and how much? Before or after the leave?
- Are you able to accumulate vacation during your leave?
- If there are holidays during your leave, does it count?
The caregiver situation
We had no family members that could care for our son, and daycare was our only option. If you are planning to use a daycare, call months ahead of time; the wait for infant registration in Atlanta can be several months long. Get on the waiting list, tour the center, and interview them as much as possible.
- What is their security protocol?
- Do they have cameras?
- Do they offer a Parents’ night out?
- What do you need to bring (diapers, diaper creams, labeled bottles, etc.)?
- Are glass bottles allowed?
- Will they be able to provide medication that your child regularly takes?
- Will they honor your family or cultural feeding plan?
I reached out to a few friends about this subject, and the most popular answer was that what surprised them most about returning to work and leaving their child at daycare was how quickly and constantly the child would get sick. A little spoiler alert, you will get sick too, which will affect time away from work to care for your sick baby, up those immunity vitamins.
Set expectations with your employer
Before you return to work, have a check-in with your manager. Things happen, and your organization can change while you are out. Check-in and set expectations. Ask if they have a transition plan. Ask how the workload will be during the first few weeks, their expectations, and how often you and your manager should check in. You will likely still have well visits and unpredictable sick visits for your child. How will this potential scenario play out? Is there a flexible schedule option? And if your team is no longer working remotely, is there an opportunity to work from home a few days a week?
Plan the week
This one is tricky, we can plan all we want, but life happens. But in an ideal world, setting the diaper bag the night prior does make for an easier morning. Bottling, labeling, and refrigerating the milk the night prior also helps. I usually have four-compartment door storage filled with “daycare” clothes, a backup change, socks, bibs, and pajamas for each day of the week. Sometimes I skip it, but it’s nice to have it there when my brain is not functioning, and my husband secretly loves it too.
If anyone asks you how they can support you, do not forget that when you return to work, that time is critical. If no asks you, bring it up by expressing how nervous you are returning to work. If someone offers to set up a meal train for you, mention that a meal train for the first weeks of your return to work would help enormously.
Take and freeze all the leftovers! If you cannot meal prep, the leftovers are a time saver. Let me tell you, frozen leftover pizza will look good when you get home exhausted, or you just brown bag it to eat at work. Lasagna, in my house, is celebrated for three consecutive days or more.
Block time in your calendar
Block the hours before you are expected to be at work, your lunchtime, and the after-hours by when you need to leave work. Set that boundary. Sure, there will be days that you will have to come in earlier or leave later, but if your calendar is busy, the chances of that are lower.
Use your lunchtime. I am guilty of wanting to work through lunch so I can leave earlier and pick up my son. But, maybe a few days a week, I have found joy in getting my nails and hair done during lunch. It is the best way and time to re-energize yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You still need to do something for yourself. Speaking of cups, get a stainless tumbler for your morning coffee or tea because your hot or cold beverages will go the other way quickly.
I know it is easier said than done, but if you have blocked time for yourself in your work calendar, you are more likely to make that moment for you happen.
” schedules will be whack, and the first month returning to work is the hardest of motherhood.”
My friend Kelly was very surprised that she was a different person when she returned from her maternity leave. She operated and thought differently, which was an adjustment to take in. My college friend Frances said, and it echoed with me strongly, ” schedules will be whack, and the first month returning to work is the hardest of motherhood.” For me, that hit home. Do not drop your therapist. Reach out to friends because being a working mama is a complicated bliss. There are so many emotions of guilt mixed with excitement met with chaos.
Know that you are not alone; all moms struggle in all phases. No mom is perfect. So, from one mom to another, in the wise words of Bella, on the episode of Baby Race for the Bluey TV show, as she comforts an overwhelmed mom, Chilli, “And there’s something you need to know.” […] “You’re doing great.