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How to Support a Mom Returning to Work

A few months ago, I ran into a mother I know only in passing because her older son is in my daughter’s preschool class. Hoping to make conversation in the grocery store check-out line, I asked her how her recent return to full-time work was going. The stricken look on her face said it all, and her answer confirmed what her face told me. “Terrible,” she said, explaining that her 6-month old was refusing a bottle and not eating “all day long” while she was at work.

“He literally won’t eat or drink a thing while I am at work from 9 to 5.” I commiserated about how hard the return to work is and offered her support and a lunch date for whenever she felt up for it.

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Here’s what I didn’t tell her: I’ve seen her nanny with her baby son, and I’ve watched him drink from the bottle. While the nanny and I talked about the weather while waiting for the preschoolers to be dismissed, I saw the baby drink no less than three ounces of milk. Actually, I’ve seen it a couple of times, and one time I saw him guzzle it down and ask for more.

I could only imagine how it might feel to have an acquaintance tell me something about my baby in the grocery store.

But I didn’t mention this when I was in the grocery store for several reasons. First, I didn’t want to act like a know-it-all about her baby. I personally have enough complicated feelings about how my nanny knows things about my kids before I do, so I could only imagine how it might feel to have an acquaintance tell me something about my baby in the grocery store. Second, for all I knew, the baby spit up all the milk after he drank it, so it just didn’t seem fair to offer up what I’d seen when it was just a tiny snippet of her baby’s life.

But there was more. I also recognized something in her that I see in myself, which is a desire to be vital to my children. As in the most important thing. When she told me that her baby wasn’t eating without her, it was almost as if she needed him to be refusing all other nourishment besides her, and I didn’t want to take that away from her. Because I get that. I get wanting to be a sole source. I get that she needs to work through for herself what it means to be back at work and not her baby’s only means of nourishment, comfort and care.

RELATED: What I Learned From My Working Mom

Sometimes I wonder if I should have told her. By now, I am sure she and her family have worked through the transition. I believe I did the right thing by listening to her and giving her space to talk about one of the biggest transitions of a mother’s life. And not filling her in on her bottle-guzzling babe.

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