Back to Work

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

AUGUST 12, 2016

shutterstock_273096269.jpg

Many new moms returning to work after maternity leave, experience feeling increased anxiety as the return to work date approaches. Even though you may have planned for this reality, researching your options and choosing your daycare provider well in advance, suddenly the reality is here and many women find themselves emotionally just not ready. I often ask the moms who come to the new moms group I lead, if they can specify what it is that they are most concerned about. The response is often the same. The idea of suddenly being away from baby for up to eight hours at a stretch feels unimaginable.

Learning to be a working mom is a work in process, and just like when you first brought baby home from the hospital there is no personal frame of reference to draw from. You can listen to the wisdom and suggestions of other working moms, but you will also have your own experience. I often tell moms that if on a scale from 1 (most mild) to 10 (most intense),coming home from the hospital was a 10, going back to work is a 9.5. It’s an adjustment, and one that you can do some logistical planning for, but the emotional part is a process.

The logistics of balancing work demands with child-care schedules, and the necessary tasks of grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning, is a challenge, but here are some suggestions to help in the transition:

If possible, plan for a transition prior to returning to work. Visit your childcare with your baby, first staying for a little while and observing, then gradually leaving your baby for longer periods of time. Visiting will help you begin to develop a relationship with your provider, so important to your peace of mind, and will help give you one or two opportunities to practice what it feels like to walk out the door and leave your baby behind. If you are able to plan your return to work day mid-week, that helps, as you have the opportunity to go to work for a day or two, and then have the weekend to regroup.

Communicate with your partner. Determine who will do drop off and pick up. Try to anticipate how you will handle the days when baby is sick, or needs to be picked up in the middle of the workday. Take an inventory of your resources. If you have a nearby relative or friend who is at home during the day, find out if she would be willing to be available for emergency back -up. Check with your employer. Some companies offer back up child care or contract with a company, for emergency childcare services.

Be organized. Ironing your clothes and packing the diaper bag the night before will make the morning a lot easier. Expect the unexpected. Your baby may need a diaper or full clothing change just as you are walking out the door. Be flexible, and above all, keep a sense of humor!

In June, 2014, Shonda Rimes gave one of the best commencement speeches I’ve ever heard at the graduation ceremony of Dartmouth College. I highly recommend watching on You Tube, as there is something in her delivery that just can’t be captured in the narrative, but still……

"So women and men of Dartmouth: As you try to figure out the impossible task of juggling work and family and you hear over and over and over again that you just need a lot of help or you just need to be organized or you just need to try just a little bit harder ... as a very successful woman, a single mother of three, who constantly gets asked the question "How do you do it all?" For once I am going to answer that question with 100 percent honesty here for you now. Because it's just us. Because it's our fireside chat. Because somebody has to tell you the truth.

Shonda, how do you do it all? 
The answer is this: I don't.

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids' Halloween costumes, I'm probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby's first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter's debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh's last scene ever being filmed at Grey's Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.

Something is always missing.

And yet. I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land and it is named after their mother. In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn't want them to know the me who didn't get to do this all day long. I wouldn't want them to know the me who wasn't doing.”

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.