If you are a working mom (which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor just over 70% of mothers are,) then you have two full-time jobs – one of which is seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. To say this is the ultimate juggling act would be an understatement.
As a new working mom, learning how to navigate motherhood and my career has been challenging. There isn’t a playbook to follow, and everyone’s situation is different. However, if you are a mom or mom-to-be balancing new motherhood and a career, I have some tips that helped me make the adjustment easier pre-, during and post-maternity leave.
Before your maternity leave.
Share the news.
Tell your boss about your pregnancy as early as you feel comfortable. Frequent doctors’ appointments and the chance that you may not be feeling well are both good reasons to be open about your baby-to-be. More than likely, they will be supportive and excited for you. By delaying sharing the news, your boss may think your absences are for job searching or that you are slacking off! Or, they may hear it from someone else and feel slighted that you didn’t share the news with them first.
Plan for your absence.
Give yourself plenty of time to figure out coverage while you are out. Be organized! Document your responsibilities and note instructions where needed. Consider hiring a temporary employee or divvying up your work amongst coworkers. Collaborate with your team on the best way to handle things in your absence. Whatever the plan, everyone will feel more at ease once it’s in place.
Plan for your return.
Not only do you need to plan for your absence, you also need to make tentative plans for your return. What will your hours look like? Are you returning full-time or part-time? Is working remotely an option? Don’t be afraid to ask for flexibility, and don’t apologize for asking for it. The worst that can happen is your boss says no. If that were to happen, you would rather hear it now than the week before you are set to return to work.
Connect with other moms.
Make connections with working mothers in your office. They will be your allies and help you navigate the particulars of your office’s culture. They will give you advice and be there for you when you return to work. I’ve gotten much closer with several colleagues who were also expecting around the same time as me, or who are mothers to young children. Their empathy has been invaluable on challenging days.
While you’re on maternity leave.
Keep in touch.
Find the balance of disconnecting, but also staying in touch with your coworkers and boss. Check in periodically while you are out, especially as you near your return date. This will help you to feel reconnected and reduce some of the stress that comes along with being out for an extended period.
Ask your IT department to remove you from any email distribution lists while you are on leave and set a reminder to add you back the week you return. This will help reduce your inbox clutter.
Know what’s available.
Consult with your Human Resources department and other moms about what you may need when you return to the office. For example, do you need a “mother’s room” for nursing and is there a place to store milk?
When you return.
Understand that it will be hard.
No matter how much you love your job, the first week back is going to be tough. I cried my first morning. Accept that this is going to be a hard transition and give yourself a break for the first few weeks.
Print a photo of your baby for your desk and use it to inspire you. My daughter became my motivation to work hard and helped me stay focused on work.
If you can, avoid coming back on a Monday, otherwise, you are in for a long week. It will be much easier to go back to work mid-week, so you can dip your feet into your new schedule before being submerged completely.
Communicate with your boss.
After a few weeks back, check in with your boss and have an honest conversation about how things are going. Is the schedule you agreed on working for you, or do you need more flexibility? Are you meeting your boss’ expectations? Do not be afraid of a direct conversation. If you feel like things are not going well, your boss likely feels the same way. It will be much better to vocalize what is not working and try to find a solution rather than suffer silently.
Being a working mom is definitely a marathon! Communicating, preparing, being organized and being open and honest will go a long way in setting you up for success over the long-term. If you are a working mom, I would love to hear your tips for making the transition easier.
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