Pre-pandemic, an estimated 65 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home. Parenting in and of itself is a full-time job, so when you add a “real” full-time job (heck, even a part-time gig) to the mix, things can get hectic. From finding a new normal after maternity leave to dealing with missed milestones, we’ve got the full report on everything you need to know to be successful both at work and at home in our working mom’s handbook.
Prepare to Leave … and Return
The U.S. isn’t known for its stellar maternity leave policies, so most moms will return to work somewhere around six weeks postpartum, although some women may have more time at home with babe (and some new parents might have to get back even sooner). Ideally, a return date will have been discussed prior to your due date. If not, contact your supervisor or Human Resources department as soon as you can to set expectations and determine the date you’ll be expected back in the office.
A couple of weeks before your return, start prepping for the transition. Touch base with your childcare provider to see if you can do a dry run ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the procedures and give your little one a sense of what’s to come. Inventory your closet to make sure you have suitable clothing that fits. Begin adjusting your sleep schedule and your new baby’s, so waking up early in the mornings and going to bed at a reasonable time every night becomes your new routine.
Your first day back might be difficult. Many working moms are emotional and struggle with feeling guilty, so give yourself some extra time to get it together between daycare drop-off and your office debut. Once you’re clocked in, dive immediately into your workday. It’s fine to share some pictures of your infant—of course you’ll want to show her off!—but it’s important to also show everyone that you’re ready to get back to work, too. Besides, working hard not only makes you look good to the rest of the team, but it also keeps your brain off baby. If you can’t resist checking in, call her caregiver during your lunch break or during your pumping session, not while you’re on the clock.
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Embrace the Pumping Lifestyle
For moms planning to continue breastfeeding, pumping becomes a way of life. Baby can still enjoy morning and evening feedings at the breast, but you’ll be counting on bottles of expressed breast milk to stand in when you’re away during the day.
Fortunately, there are laws in place to ensure you have time to maintain your supply. Under the Affordable Care Act, your employer must provide:
- A reasonable amount of break time for you to pump as needed throughout the day until baby is a year old. (Note: You are not required to be compensated during this time.)
- A private space—other than a restroom—that is available when you need it to serve as a lactation room.
If your company has fewer than 50 employees and can show that compliance would create hardship or is not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), these obligations do not apply. However, over half of the 50 states have additional laws in place to protect nursing mothers, so do your research to see if any other accommodations are required.
To successfully pump at work, you’ll need a double electric pump (which should be provided by your insurance company, thanks to the Affordable Care Act) and a fridge or cooler to store the milk. Other good-to-have items include snacks, a bottle of water, some form of entertainment (a book or headphones for your phone) and a sign for the door to let people know you’re pumping inside.
Find Your Work-Life Balance
Let’s be clear: Working parents bring just as much to the table as their kid-free co-workers. There is no reason a woman can’t continue to perform her job with the same level of competence and productivity after returning from parental leave. However, everyone may not recognize that right away, so you may have to do some convincing to show them you’re committed to both your job and your family. The first person you’ll want to reassure is your boss.
“When you talk to your boss about flexible hours, extra time off or having to leave to pick up a sick child, don’t focus on your special situation. Focus on the skills and value you bring to the table,” advises Christy Wright, a certified business coach, speaker and mom in Brentwood, Tennessee. It’s a fact that people with children at home tend to need more days off due to sick little ones, appointments and babysitter snafus. But that doesn’t make you any less valuable as an employee. “Focus on how your work is being accomplished, what problems you’ve solved and the progress you’re making. When you do that, needing extra time to pump or requesting time off for a sick child isn’t an issue because you’re getting your job done,” explains Wright.
If your job allows for it, consider taking your work home on days you can’t be in the office. Clocking some extra time in the evenings or weekends to compensate for missed hours might also be an option. “Most leaders are results-focused,” says Wright. “When you center the conversation around what you’re producing and achieving, you’re speaking their language, as well as reducing any worry they may have about the time off you need.” As long as you’re working hard and doing your job well, a few extra days here and there shouldn’t have a huge impact.
When you’re in the office, maintain a professional attitude, and leave the mama drama at home. You’ll be tired and missing your baby some days, especially in the beginning, but don’t dwell on that around your co-workers. (Text a mom friend if you need to.) You’re there to do your job, so do it, and do it well.
Remember that Life Goes on
Being a working mom has both its trials and its triumphs. Guilt can play a heavy hand, particularly for mothers who don’t necessarily want to be working but don’t have an option due to finances or other factors. Not all moms work out of necessity, though. Many moms, such as Wright, work by choice. “Instead of focusing on what I was missing out on when I decided to go back to work, I focused on how much I love the work that I do,” she says.
Besides, being the child of a working mom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, research shows that working mothers can and do raise children who grow to become hardworking, responsible adults. A study of 50,000 adults in 25 different countries published by Harvard Business School found that children benefit in several ways from having a working mom. Daughters of working mothers were more likely to hold jobs themselves, have supervisory responsibilities at those jobs and earn higher wages. And sons raised by working mothers were more likely to help with household chores and care for family members. Sounds like a positive to us! Working mothers are often a child’s most influential role model. “Growing up, I watched my mom work hard, struggle and overcome,” shares Wright, “… and through that, I learned values, integrity and character.”
Working might require you to be away from your wee ones for many hours each day, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad deal. For many moms, that time away makes them all the better in the hours they’re home. “I know myself, and I am a better wife, mom and friend when I use my talents to live out my passion at work,” says Wright.
Be proud of yourself, knowing that every day you work hard out in the world—or at home—you’re setting a great example for your child. Working, stay-at-home or somewhere in between, we all want to be great mamas to our growing broods. And thankfully, there are many different ways to do just that.
By Lauren Lisle