It’s hard. Whether you are going back after a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, going back to work after welcoming your bundle of joy is tough. Your body is still healing, you are faced with the delightful choice of putting on the maternity clothes AGAIN or stuffing your body into your prebaby duds, and you will be spending a bit less time with your new arrival.
Even if you are psyched about the prospect of picking up where you left off or just enjoying conversations with other adults that don’t revolve around poop–no judgment here–change is hard. Going back to work is definitely a change. On top of that oh, you know, no-big-deal-you-just-produced-another-human-being change.
Here a few tips to help you keep your sanity during this super fun time. I certainly don’t have anything figured out, but I wish I’d thought of these before.
1. Just go ahead and get some labels already.
If your child is going to be cared for in any setting that will involve multiple children, just get some nice labels. After months of cobbling together schemes of permanent marker and painters tape, we finally got some Mabel’s Labels. I immediately wondered why I had not done this sooner. See, for daycare, you have to label EVERYTHING. Bottles, bottoms AND lids. Pacifiers. Sippy cups. Onesies. Shoes. I heard of a friend’s daycare where you actually had to label individual diapers. Say what?
I would do things like, of course, label the spare outfit, but then forget to label the outfit the baby was wearing, which was much less obviously your baby’s once it was removed. Just do it. Invest in some labels. The ones we got have survived eleventy billion dishwasherings and umpteen laundryings. It will keep your daycare providers from silently, politely cursing you out and from you losing that one Ralph Lauren ensem you got as a gift. (Aside: labels are a great gift for a new baby. They would make a great shower gift, except no one shares that name anymore.)
2. Think about a schedule.
That’s right. I said it. The controversial “s” word. This one applies to babies that are more in the months-old rather than weeks-old stage. If you aren’t into schedules, that is totally cool. Do you. But I posit that it is less stressful to hand your baby over when you can provide clear guidance on what the baby likes. At least for me, being able to say “he eats around 11:00 and around 3:00” was more calming than having to say “oh, just feed him whenever you think he seems hungry.” You know your baby better than anybody. Being able to share some of that knowledge can give you peace of mind. Also, some daycares have schedules they do for all the kids. It’s worth checking on to see if you should be working toward that schedule.
And I don’t just mean schedule for the baby. Think about your schedule. You and your partner have to now–on a daily basis–perform a coordinated operation on the level of planning of some military attacks, just to get your baby out the door and back in. (This applies less if you have a nanny or someone coming to you.) First, think about what makes sense given your work. Do you always have a client calling you at 5:00 pm? Maybe pick up is not for you. Dreading the psychological toll of drop off every day? Maybe you can negotiate with your partner and do pick up. Doing extra stuff (aka retrieving your very precious cargo) on top of your work day is hard. Think about how you can do this as painlessly as possible.
Also, make a plan for getting out the door. For a long time, I had a post it on our front door with a list of what was needed each day for the baby. It did not prevent all failures, but I’d like to think it helped on some. If your partner is in charge of dropping off a stroller so that you can walk home with the baby, you don’t want to just leave that to chance. (Or vice versa of course.)
In addition to making a plan for the stuff, plan on the time suck. I swear there is a time vortex that eats about 15 minutes between when I lock my house door and get in the car. I don’t know where the time goes, but the vortex is real and that time is gone forever. You cannot prevent the vortex, but knowing is half the battle.
3. Make a plan for washing ALL THAT STUFF.
You are probably already accustomed to an uptick on the laundry front. If you have to dress up for work, I recommend waiting until the very last minute to put on your fancy clothes and then taking them off immediately upon setting foot back in the door. This will save on laundry and dry cleaning. Trust.
Now on top of the laundry, be prepared to tackle things in the kitchen. If you have a young baby, that probably means bottles. If you are pumping, that also means pump parts. Even with nifty sterilization bags and trays and whatnot, you still have to go through several steps that you did not have to do before. This is eating into your work or family or TV or whatever time. Make a plan with your partner. I don’t know how to make it take less time, but expecting that it will take time can save your sanity. I also don’t know how to make it fun, but throw in a podcast or glass of wine and it is practically “me” time. Snort.
4. You found childcare you like? Great, GET MORE.
You can plan for the known. You should also plan for the known unknowns. Right now this means snow days and sick days. You don’t know when they are coming, but they are definitely barreling your way.
I don’t have a good answer for this; it was an area where I failed. Who will watch a sick kid without notice and who can get to you in the snow anyway? But, especially if you don’t have family close by, you should try in case your boss still believes in deadlines even when day care is closed.
At least talk about a plan with your partner because this will come up. Some services watch sick kids. Your work may have a suggestion. This would be a good time to make friends with the neighbors as well. On snow days, maybe you guys could trade watching kids so that you could each at least get a half day of work in.
Also, if your work offers any sort of possibility to work remotely, make sure you have that all set up and ready to go. You don’t want to wait until there is ice on the road and your kid is streaming snot to find out your VPN fob is only a decorative key chain.
5. Expect it to suck for awhile.
You may hate the first day. You may hate the first week. Don’t make any snap decisions. I’ll grudgingly admit our moms were right; time does help. It takes awhile to settle into any new routine. Give it some time.
You are returning to work a changed person. Your world has been turned upside down and put back together with gummy smiles and spit up. But you are returning to a world where little has changed. Your colleagues, who may have been covering your TPS reports while you were out, are likely dealing with the same problems, same clients, and same everything. They just don’t understand how fully your world has been rocked.
Maybe it will be smooth sailing. But I say to treat it as I advise all my friends interested in breastfeeding: expect it to be the worst thing ever and be pleasantly surprised if it isn’t. If you are a month or two in and everything is awful, maybe think about some other options. But remember, give it some time.
How was your transition? Any other tips?