I’ve been back to work outside my home for six months. And I wouldn’t relive those six months for all the free spa days in the world. They were grueling both emotionally and physically. In fact, those months rank up there in difficulty with the first few months of being a mother, except that when I had a newborn, everyone from my mother to random strangers in Target gave me sympathetic coos and reminded me to a) take it easy, and b) ask for help.
The advice I got when I returned to work was less consistent.
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People told me to expect my kids to act up more in the first few weeks, and that it would be hard to carve out time to exercise because all of my nonworking time would be swallowed up by mothering. Other people told me what kind of snacks to keep at my desk and where to get a killer pencil skirt on sale (Banana Republic).
But you know what? The advice I was given as a brand new mother would have been excellent advice for a brand-new back-to-work mother. I wish someone would have taken me aside and told me that it was going to be one of the hardest things I ever did. Maybe then I would have been prepared for the ego-bashing that commenced when I found myself struggling to perform at the level I did before I took a two-year break to be with my kids.
Now with six months under my belt, I can look back and see ways in which I made it harder for myself to transition back to work. And as I look forward to the next six months, I’m going to be doing things differently and learning from the mistakes that are still so fresh. Here are the top four things I wish I’d done when I first returned to work, and more importantly, what I plan to do going forward.
From here on out, I am not comparing myself to my 2011 pre-motherhood self.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
I waltzed into my job thinking I could pick up exactly where I left off two years earlier. I planned to produce excellent reports and be on top of the game in two weeks—three weeks, tops. My unrealistic expectations set me up for heartache when I found myself struggling to get up to speed in week four, and still having a hard time in week 12. From here on out, I am not comparing myself to my 2011 pre-motherhood self.
2. Ask for More Help
I could have asked for more help both within my job and from family and friends outside of work. At work, I could have asked to talk through complex issues with colleagues instead of pulling my hair out and trying to solve them alone. At home, I could have asked my husband to relieve the nanny so I could spend some extra time getting a grip on my projects. I could have asked friends for meal ideas for weeknights or suggestions on how to get in a workout.
3. Celebrate What I Do Well
Hearing me talk about it, you’d think I did nothing but screw up at work in these first six months. But that’s not how it went. I never stopped to celebrate and acknowledge the projects that I aced, or the ideas that I generated that improved my team’s performance. From now on, I celebrate my victories and learn from my failures.
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4. Connect With Other Working Moms
I was so overwhelmed these past few months that I didn’t reach out to other mothers who were doing exactly what I was doing. Because I was isolated, I denied myself the fellowship and support of other women who were struggling just like I was. I’m not the only woman trying to fit it all in and struggling to regain my footing after being home for several years. There is no reason to suffer alone.