A New Mum’s Guide To Beating The Back To Work Blues
Throughout the course of our careers we see a lot of friends and colleagues leave work to begin their maternity leave.
We see them bloom and glow as they progress in their pregnancy. We share in their thoughts, hopes and aspirations for their baby. We chip into the collection when they leave, and share in their joy as we shower them with baby gifts. Then they go away for a while… And come back transformed. Their outlook has changed, they get far less stressed about work than they used to and they feel generally happier and more fulfilled. They may take a little while for their workplace training to kick back in but when they’ve buffed off the rust, they’re better than ever with renewed vigour and joie de vivre. They make it look easy. But when the time comes for us to have our own kids, we realise the extent of the emotional journey they’ve gone through.
Childbirth is the source of tremendous change, both physical and psychological, for women. Looking into the eyes of your child for the first time triggers a sudden and irrevocable change in the minds of new mothers. Protecting this tiny person, whoever they turn out to be, becomes their first and only priority and every other worry that used to consume them simply melts away.
Maternity leave is a wonderful time for mothers and their babies to bond, but when it starts to come to an end all those anxieties when it comes to the workplace come rushing back. We worry about how we’re going to adapt to juggling the pressures of work and family, we worry that the time away from the workplace has caused us to forget how to do our jobs and we worry about how our baby will be able to get along without us all day.
These anxieties can conspire to instill in us a mounting sense of dread as we get closer and closer to our first day back at work. While these anxieties are neither unusual nor unreasonable there are some helpful ways in which you can beat these back to work blues.
It’s not just for boy scouts, it’s good advice for everyone. As tempting as it may be to bury your head in the sand in your absence, the best way to nip anxiety in the bud is to grab the bull by the horns and start planning your return as early as possible. Try to stagger your return as a return to full time hours can be jarring and draining for you and your baby. It’s important to keep an open line of communication with your employer so that together you can arrange a return schedule that benefits you both.
Planning will help you to assert a sense of control over this significant change in your life, and acclimatise your mind to the change. Arrange yourself a timetable for your new schedule in which you’ll nail down the times you’ll leave the house, get baby to the nursery or childcare provider and back to work, Make sure that these times are realistic and account for traffic. It’s easy for forget how nightmarish the rush hour can be.
Know your rights
If there’s one area in which new parents specialise it’s catastrophizing. We can all too easily find ourselves wrapped up in worst case scenarios without any evidence whatsoever that they’ll come to pass. We worry that our employers will treat us differently, that at best we’ll be handled with kid gloves and at worst we’ll be ostracized by our employers and colleagues. Here’s where knowing your employment rights under ACAS can be reassuring and helpful. When you know what you’re entitled to and how to get it, you’ll be surprised at how easily those return to work nightmares can fade away.
Don’t punish yourself for your emotions
Throughout pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and motherhood a new mother’s hormones strap her into an emotional rollercoaster. Motherhood is a wonderful experience, but it can really put us through the wringer emotionally. As such, when the paradigm shift of returning to work occurs it can be virtually impossible to preempt your emotional state in the run up to returning to work. You may feel fear that you’ll fail both at work or parenting, you may feel guilt at leaving your child unattended for 8-10 hours a day. You may even start to feel a little spark of excitement that you’ll be able to redefine yourself beyond the role of motherhood, which may result in feelings of guilt. More than likely, you’ll find yourself in an emotional spin cycle resulting in rotations of the above. Whatever you find yourself feeling, it’s important not to punish yourself. It’s not sinful to look forward to taking a step back from motherhood or to relish the prospect of a change of environment. If anything you should commend yourself for managing the fine line that all working mothers must walk with such aplomb.
Be realistic with yourself
Nobody expects your return to work to be as though you never left. Not your partner, not your boss, not your colleagues… But you probably do. You may feel the need to put pressure on yourself to be able to master your workplace obligations as easily as you did before you left. Your mind and body have been through a lot of significant changes, and employers worth their salt will know this. Having high expectations of yourself is one thing, but having unrealistic expectations of yourself is quite another and can be hugely counterproductive.
Try to set yourself two or three meaningful but realistic goals a day in your new job and incorporate this into your planning.
Be honest with your employer and colleagues
While some people may encourage you to “fake it till you make it”, the reality is that this will accomplish little short of you smiling while you burn out. Your employer will already be cognisant of the trials you may be undergoing as you juggle your work and parenting commitments (chances are they’ve had to do it themselves), and it’s important to be honest about what you’re going through logistically and emotionally. Resist the urge to smile through your struggles and take on more work than you can handle. You’ll benefit nobody from driving yourself towards a breakdown.
Taking the above steps will help the back to work blues fade away and make your return to work as manageable and (dare we say it?) enjoyable as possible.