“I’m so sorry you have to go back to work.”
I received this sentiment in my email inbox from a well-meaning stay-at-home mama friend when I announced that my maternity leave was ending and I’d be going back to work full-time in just a few short weeks. I thought about it long and hard for a few days before responding.
“Please don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t have to go back to work. I am choosing to go back. I find my work very fulfilling, I love my team and my boss, and I am actually looking forward to going back.”
I re-played my response in my mind a million times over the next few weeks, wondering if I was trying convince myself that what I wrote was true or if I truly was looking forward to going back to work. All of my professional working mama friends warned me that my first day back would most likely be the worst day of my life. They encouraged me to wear waterproof mascara, bring extra tissues, and to be sure my phone was fully charged as I would probably need to call our daycare provider at least ten times to check in …
My first day back in the office came and went, and I actually felt guilty … for not feeling more guilty. I didn’t cry all of my makeup off. I didn’t hide in my car with a box of tissues and sob. I didn’t call the daycare ten times. I did miss my daughter like crazy and couldn’t wait to pick her up at the end of the day, but the minute I walked into my office, I knew I made the right choice to return to work.
Don’t get me wrong: every day hasn’t been a walk in the park … some days are tough (like the Mondays after a family vacation or the occasional days after a night when my daughter goes to bed earlier than normal, crabby-exhausted from daycare), but all in all, I feel like we have fallen into a nice rhythm with me as a professional working mama.
While I am still a relative newbie at this (I have only been back at work full-time for nine months), I thought I’d share a few things that have helped me along the way:
Have Daddy do drop-off. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God that my husband handles daycare drop-off! He has done drop-off from day one, as it just worked better with our schedules and commutes. We had to switch drop-off/pick-up responsibilities for a week this fall and I was so glad to switch back! It’s definitely hard to drop off your babe for the day, especially when they are going through separation anxiety. I know it’s hard for my husband, too, but he handles it with a positive attitude and gets less emotional about it than I do!
Try a new work schedule. When I went back to work, I changed my hours. I work a 6:30 AM-3:30 PM schedule, which means I can pick my daughter up by 4 PM and have a couple more hours with her in the evening. This has worked really well for us, and all it took was a conversation with my manager for approval … and a loud alarm clock! Which brings me to …
Become an early bird. I love sleep. I always have, and someday, I’ll enjoy it again. But for now, I have made the choice to be an early bird. I get up at 4:55 AM every day of the week. On weekdays, I get ready for work and nurse my daughter before I start my day. On the weekends, I go out and run errands, do some laundry, or clean up the house so I can have more time to spend with my family during the day. Even though it takes me a few cups of coffee to make it through the hours before sunrise, it’s been totally worth it!
Follow your daycare provider’s schedule at home. We have found that by following our daycare provider’s schedule at home on the weekends (meal times and nap times, especially), our daughter is much happier and frankly, more fun to be around. When we have gone off her schedule too much (delaying naps for several hours, giving her lunch too late, etc.), she is fussier, more needy and has a harder time going back to daycare on Monday morning.
The freezer is your friend. I couldn’t make it through the week without my freezer meal stockpile! We try to cook dinner at least 2-3 times on weeknights and also on weekends, but it’s SO nice to pull a ready-made meal out of the freezer on Sunday night and have it thawing in the refrigerator for a weeknight when you just need something quick and easy. Our favorites are lasagna, any kind of soup, turkey pumpkin chili, scalloped potatoes and ham, and meatballs (for subs, spaghetti, or stroganoff).
Find a friend. When I first went back to work, I always got a little bitter (and jealous) seeing my stay-at-home mama friends posting on Facebook about their most recent MOPS outing or their play dates at the zoo, pool, or library. So I decided to find other professional working mamas in my office to meet up with for lunch or coffee a couple of times per month. These ladies have saved my sanity and have encouraged me in my role as a professional working mama.
Decide what NOT to do. When our schedules get crazy, we consciously try to give things up. I am normally a “lunch bringer,” but for the last two weeks, I haven’t brought my lunch with me to work. It’s harder on the bank account to buy lunch at work or eat out, but it’s been easier on our sanity to have one less thing to do in the evening. I also no longer go to the gym five days a week and I don’t watch TV on weeknights. I am also trying to unplug, at least until my daughter goes to bed… I’m still working on this one, but it’s strangely liberating to leave my phone in my purse until well after bedtime.
What do our fellow professional working mamas do to help your week run smoothly? What are you still working on?