For many women, the only thing scarier than being a first-time Mom is returning to work after a maternity leave that seems more like 6 days rather than the average 6-12 weeks that most new moms are allotted. What should be a precious and important time bonding with your baby, as well as learning about yourself as “mom,” often turns into a time of uncertainty, particularly for those women who will be returning to work full-time. No doubt, even the most prepared parents will feel a certain amount of anxiety when leaving their child for the first time. Perhaps you are returning to work after being home with your child/children for a couple of years. But with some preparation and planning, making the transition from being at home to being back to work can be a whole lot easier for you, and your child.
Secure Childcare Early
I cannot tell you how overwhelming it was searching for childcare for my 3-month-old. Suddenly the joyful experience I had pictured in my head of touring bustling bright daycares filled with the laughter of happy children, turned into a mad dash search that made my college search seem like a breeze. The shortest waiting list my husband and I encountered was 9 months out. Yes, you read that correctly. The longest was close to 2 years, and that was for a daycare of which I had an affiliation!
Finding a daycare that meets your needs requires planning in advance. If you want your child at the place where everyone raves about, chances are you will need to secure a spot early in your pregnancy if your plan is to return to work right away, or put your child on the waiting list, and find an alternative in the meantime. I was fortunate in that I was in the process of looking for full-time work when my daughter was an infant, so I had the flexibility to wait it out. In the event you are put on a waiting list, call back often and get to know the childcare director. When I was offered my dream job, I’m positive part of the reason I was able to get my daughter into our first choice daycare was because I got to know the people who worked at the facility, and they knew I was interested and invested. It’s very easy to say no when you’re just a number.
With all that said, please let me assure you that there are many wonderful daycare centers with immediate openings. Just because a place has room, doesn’t mean it’s not great! Family situations change all the time, which lead to unexpected openings. I’m sharing my experience not to cause panic, but so you are prepared for what you may encounter in your search.
Have a Game Plan
Regardless of how much you have planned for your new schedule and new life as a mother who works full-time, the first few weeks are going to be chaos at its finest.
If you are returning to work when your child is still an infant, you may be still nursing and waking for night feedings. If you are still nursing, be sure to have a pumping schedule in place at least 3 weeks prior to returning to work. Not only will this help keep up your supply, but you will also be able to maximize breaks you may need to take when you return to work. You will also need to make sure your baby is comfortable with a bottle. This can take a couple of weeks. If you are unsure about pumping, reach out to your hospital where you delivered. Most area hospitals offer free classes.
For those of you who are returning to work after being home full-time, it may help to make sure your child(ren) are comfortable around other children. Find a local playgroup, schedule play dates, or take advantage of Elite’s amazing childcare program. From the time my daughter was 9 months old until her first day of daycare, at age 2, she spent a couple of hours each weekday at a play center located within my local gym. It was a win/win for both of us. I was able to have some “me” time working out and taking a shower, and she was able to play with new kids and get accustomed to other children and adults.
Discuss with your partner who will be taking your child to daycare and who will pick your child up. It is also important to decide how you will handle who stays at home on days your child is sick and when the daycare is closed. Make a schedule of who will cook dinner each night. This may seem like a small detail in the grand scheme of things, but there has been many a night when my husband and I sat down for dinner at 7:30pm with our 2 year old, because we failed to plan ahead. If you have multiple children, consider hiring a local high school student, or middle schooler if your children are older, who can act as a “mother’s helper,” and care for the children for an hour or so after you return home from work. This will give you time to unwind, gather your thoughts, and prepare your child(ren) for the evening. Yes, you will pay extra, but trust me; your sanity will thank you.
Schedule a Dress Rehearsal (or Two)
About a week before you return to work, practice going to bed and waking up as if you needed to be at work, and run through the morning routine, including packing up your child, stopping at the daycare, and driving to work. Keep track of how long it actually takes, and adjust your schedule accordingly to allow yourself enough time in the morning to arrive to work on time. You’d be surprised how much pomp and circumstance can go into packing up a baby each morning. Allow extra time for any last minute feedings and diaper changes that may arise before heading out the door.
Fake It ‘till You Make It
I promise; you will cry the first time you leave your child in the care of another person other than yourself. And that is totally ok, and absolutely normal. But, please, please hold back these tears in front of your child; particularly if they are old enough to comprehend emotions. If your child sees that you are upset, they will be upset. Rather, put on a great big smile, give them a big hug and reassure them you love them and you will be back to pick them up. Make it short and sweet, and don’t drag it out. Cry in your car as long as you need to—I made it to the parking lot before breaking down—but remember, for them, this is just another day and another chance to play and learn about the world!
The truth is it’s already easy for them, and I promise it will get easier for you too. If you feel guilty, don’t. Chances are your reasons for returning to work are for the well being of your family, and what’s best for your family, is ultimately what’s best for your children.
Cheers to you, Mom! You can do this!
(Not headed back to the office just yet, but still working from home? Check out “Working from Home: A Delicate Balance”)
-Susan Madden; Member, Mom, and Guest Blogger