Returning to Work After Parental Leave: More Than An Event, It’s a Process.
How do you feel about going back to work? Anxiety? Sad resignation? Hopeful optimism? Some combination of those and more?
Transitions are hard. Every new parent’s situation is unique - how you feel, the job you’re going back to, when you’re going back, how you are adjusting as a parent and how your baby is doing.
Most people march along with a “Back at Work” date on the calendar and make the best of it as they go.
But you are not most people.
You want a confident, easier transition back.
At Popins, we offer personalized preparation for transitioning back-to-work and support over your first months back. We believe that you can’t separate your work life and your home life - it’s just YOUR LIFE. In this post, I’ll highlight key strategies we work through with our clients.
Getting Prepped at Home
What’s your Childcare Plan?
First, take a deep breath and reflect on how you are feeling in reaction to this question. Let’s acknowledge that even with a detailed, practical action plan, many parents feel sad or nervous to leave their baby with someone else.
At the same time, you can avoid a lot of chaos & frustration by checking that you’re on the same page with your grown-up team at home & your caregiver. Go deeper than “where will your baby be?” and consider questions like: When will they be there? Which days for which hours? Are there planned closures over the next 1-2 months? Which grown-up is responsible for beginning and end-of-day transitions? What expectations do you have of your caregiver? What supplies do they need?
Did you know women in leadership are over four times more likely to be responsible for their family’s housework & caregiving, compared to men in leadership? Adding a baby introduces to-dos that didn’t exist before - and often the parent with the longer parental leave picks them up.
So who should do what? There’s no one right answer, but knowing the answer in your household (and being on the same page with other grown-ups on your team) makes a difference. The answer does not need to be “you or me”. This is a TOUGH phase of life; consider ANYTHING that might make life at home easier. I recommend thinking through:
What can be eliminated? (re-organizing your basement, taking down holiday decorations…really, who cares if you continue celebrating Christmas in April?)
What can be automated? (groceries, diaper orders, pet food)
What can be outsourced? (cleaning, laundry, pet care, lawn maintenance)
Who can you ask for help (and on what)? (walking the dog once/week, shoveling your sidewalk)
Discussing who is responsible for what tasks is a habit worth starting early and revisiting frequently.
If money is a concern (young kids are expensive!!), ask for services as gifts for birthdays and holidays. You can use a platform like BeHerVillage, or send a direct “I’d like this meal service” link to your mother-in-law. And on that note…
“What’s for dinner tonight?” is commonly considered the WORST QUESTION EVER. Especially when you’re tired from work, have exactly 43 minutes before your baby needs to go to bed, and 21 minutes before everyone lashes out in a hangry fit of emotion.
Getting ahead of this can make an enormous difference in how your week feels. Some specific tips:
Have a workday plan. Assume you'll have less time than expected. Plan easy, familiar meals. Use routine to your sleep-deprived advantage (Pasta Thursday!)
Consider if some meals can be prepped & frozen, host a “meal prep party” on Sunday, or sign up for a service.
Take a friend up on their offer to drop off food next week.
Make groceries easier. Use a shared list system. Consider delivery or curbside pickup so that you can leave the baby in the car seat.
Adapt. When you make a last-minute switch to takeout or mac & cheese, do it and feel good that things that make life easier exist.
Your relationship matters!
Being back at work with a baby is tough on most relationships; 3 in 4 women report fighting more with their partners in the first 3 months back at work than they had previously. The good news: couples who find just 1 hour per week together report being happier. This doesn’t have to require a babysitter! Just a bit of time focused on each other outside the constant logistics management of your household.
The Work Stuff
Your colleagues will be excited to have you back at work; you may feel all sorts of ways. Whether you frolic into an office, high-fiving everyone by the coffee machine or cry before every zoom call, there are a few tactics that can ease the initial transition.
Walk an Incline instead of Climbing a Cliff
I recommend new parents work with their supervisors to build an intentional ramp back into work. Not all options are possible for all roles, but some strategies include:
Go back part-time for a few weeks (partial days or partial weeks).
Start back on a Thursday instead of Monday.
Block your first few hours as admin time to reset passwords, be reactivated in IT systems, clear out emails, and review what is on your calendar for the week.
Take a week to catch up before telling everyone “I’m back!”
Stagger & prioritize taking back responsibilities or engaging in new projects.
Do a Dress Rehearsal
For birth parents, I mean this literally: go through your closet and make sure you have 6-7 outfits that you feel ok in, are appropriate for your work, and are pumping functional (if applicable). Bonus points for easy cleaning for when you spill milk or discover mystery gunk halfway through your workday. The goal is to avoid needing to do laundry mid-week! Other tips:
Consider renting. Birth parent’s bodies change a lot over the first year. Having the right wardrobe can provide a confidence boost; renting clothes can be fun and save you from investing time and money on a wardrobe that you don't intend to keep for long.
Freshen up. Give yourself a pre-work confidence boost with an outing that helps you feel good - get a haircut or manicure, buy new makeup or a new shirt.
Transitions are Hard.
The first several months back at work is a transition for your whole family! You are managing changes at home as your baby grows (teething, crawling, eating), and adjusting to your new role (working mom, dad of two, first on-call parent from daycare, sleep-deprived boss).
New parents experience a spectrum of treatment at work. Some feel tiptoed-around, overly accommodated for, or isolated (“I didn’t want to bother you since you have a baby now”). Others go back to “how it was”, with not enough accommodations for their new life needs (“Thank goodness you’re back—here’s all your work again!”).
You can’t control how others act; but you can decide what is sacred to you (in this phase of life) and over-communicate your needs & expectations. For instance, you may find that your day feels better if you do one extra nursing session at home and start your workday at 9:00 instead of 8:00. Or that you need to leave at 4:30 to avoid traffic at daycare and get 30 minutes of play-time with your baby. Or that there’s a work project you are really excited about which requires you to work late on Tuesday and you need your partner to cover things at home that evening.
Finally, you will have ups and downs even with the best laid plans. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small successes - at work and at home.
Plan to Thrive: Popins helps busy professionals save time & stress less on the journey into parenthood. Learn more about our services at https://www.popinsfam.com/
Schedule a call today to create a customized plan based on your goals.