It’s the day you’ve anxiously awaited — with dread, or excitement, or a little of both. It’s the day you return to work after maternity leave. You were rocking your professional role before your baby came along. Now you want to know how to increase effectiveness and decrease stress as you make the transition back to business as a working mom.
There are tons of great “hacks” for making your return to work after maternity leave easier: do a dry run of the childcare plan before your first day, return to work midweek instead of on a Monday, treat yourself to new work clothes, bring in a picture of your baby, get backup childcare in place, and so on. Those are certainly worthwhile tricks that can bring some immediate relief as you return to work after maternity leave. But what can you do for more lasting positive effects now that you’re a working mom? Below, we go beyond these quick tactics and explore 6 powerful strategies for business success after maternity leave (and beyond).
Remember Your “Why”
At some point before becoming a parent, possibly even before knowing you wanted kids, you chose your job. Maybe you’re running the company you’d dreamed about since you were five. Maybe you’re working at the first company to offer you a job after you sent out five hundred resumes. Whatever your situation, think back: what was it that made you say “yes” to your current role? As you prepare to return to work, it can be helpful to remember your why.
At the most basic level, going back to work will provide you with more financial security. It might seem like your salary barely covers childcare expenses, but remember that you still have decades of income earning potential ahead of you, while your childcare expenses will significantly decrease in a few short years. During those years, you’ll also be gaining skills and raises that you’d miss out on if you stayed home.
Beyond financial security, many women also find that working outside of the home provides them with the intellectual stimulation they crave and a boosted self-image.
Reframe your mindset
Without discounting how hard it is to be a working mom, it’s important to remind yourself how lucky you are to be one. (More on gratitude’s positive effect on happiness here.) There are countless stay-at-home moms who would give anything to head into a clean, quiet office each day. Likewise, there are many professional women who would give anything to come home each day to a precious baby. For their sake and your own, stop thinking of the things you have to do as a working mom. Instead, try to reframe these thoughts as things you get to do.
While it’s a subtle difference, your word choice matters. When you tell yourself you “have to” leave early to take care of a sick child, it’s framed negatively. When you instead tell yourself that you “get to” be home, you instantly transform the same situation into one of gratitude. The next time you bemoan an aspect of working parenthood, try reframing it with a mindset of gratitude. Your hands are full, but so is your heart.
Meet with your boss as soon as possible
Before your first day back, or soon thereafter, set aside time to meet with your supervisor. Ask them to fill you in on any changes that happened with your team or the company in your absence. Make sure you’re aligned on expectations and find out if there are any new priorities for your role. Confirm your excitement to get back to crushing things at work, but also see if they’d be open to you working from home or from a “babies in arms” friendly co-working space for a few days a week as part of your transition back.
Once you’re back at work, it’s important to find opportunities where you can go above and beyond your supervisor’s expectations. Proving that you’re still dedicated to your career will help break down the “maternal wall,” a barrier of discrimination against working mothers. Additionally, when your boss sees you excelling at work, they’ll be more understanding when you inevitably need an extension or a day off to care for a sick child.
Build relationships with colleagues
As you may have experienced, new motherhood can be very isolating for some. It can also drain your energy and free time, making it harder to attend your company’s social events. Perhaps now more than ever, though, it’s worth the effort to build relationships with your colleagues. Get lunch, grab a quick coffee or go for a walk. Beyond the camaraderie, these relationships can also be a source of professional support: When you’re friendly with colleagues, they’re more likely to include you on important projects that could advance your career. They’re also more likely to cut you slack if you miss a deadline. These natural outcomes of strong professional relationships can help ease your transition back to work after maternity leave.
Start setting boundaries.
At some point, it’s inevitable that you’ll feel torn between demands at home and demands at work. One way to minimize this strain is to set boundaries with your partner, your colleagues and even (perhaps especially) your boss — and remember, this is important for everyone, not just working moms. The first step in setting boundaries at work and at home is to reflect on what matters most to you. Perhaps you don’t want to work on weekends but will be online for a few hours after your child is asleep. Maybe leaving work by 5 p.m. is nonnegotiable, but you need your partner to do the morning childcare drop-off.
Once you’ve established your boundaries, you need to clearly communicate them upfront. It can feel awkward making what might seem like demands, but having those awkward conversations early helps prevent future frustration, stress and burn out. Communicating also helps ensure that while people might not always respect your boundaries, at least they won’t be blindsided when you remind them.
Celebrate your wins.
For a lot of ambitious women, it’s easy to constantly strive for more without appreciating how far you’ve come. As you return to work after maternity leave, however, it’s important to recognize and appreciate even the smallest wins. A study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that acknowledging progress can trigger the brain’s reward circuitry and motivate people to keep working toward their major goals.
One effective way to celebrate your wins as a new mom is to keep a work journal. Before you leave the office each day, take a few minutes to jot down some of the day’s accomplishments. Even if all you seemed to accomplish was not yelling at an annoying coworker or falling asleep in a meeting — you did it! You survived another day, and though there may be setbacks here and there, life as a working mom is only going to get easier. In addition to giving yourself a moment of gratitude before your commute home, looking back at past entries can also be a source of reassurance on rough days. From getting out the door in time to closing your first client post-baby, what you’re doing is hard — and you’re getting it done.
Know that you’ve got this.
Being a working mom isn’t easy. Sometimes it feels as if you’re stuck in your own version of Groundhog Day, but take heart: You won’t always be staying up all night with a crying baby, discovering spit-up in your hair before a big presentation, pumping in a converted closet, dashing out the door to get to daycare on time, and passing out in bed just to do it all again tomorrow.
Until then, remember why you’re going to work, reframe how lucky you are to have a baby and a career, build relationships with your boss and colleagues, establish and maintain your boundaries, and celebrate your wins. With these 6 strategies, you’re sure to find business success as you return to work after maternity leave.
Are there other new moms in your life? Share this with them to let them know they’ve got this too!
Kelli Newman Mason is VP of People Operations at New Knowledge. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children.