Being a working mama is hard. I went back to work full-time after seven months on maternity leave, and the month that followed was one of the hardest of my life. I was nervous about leaving GG, getting my brain back into work mode was hell, I was racked with guilt, and exhausted to boot.
Now, one-and-a-half years later, I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on it. I’m sure in a few years time I’ll have loads more insight to share – it’s a skill after all, and this is all just practice – but this is what I’ve learned so far:
1. Choose Your Job Wisely
Being an awesome mama and having a thriving career aren’t mutually exclusive – but not every working situation is a good match for the gig. Especially not in the first few years. I had a high-pressure job that required insane hours and dedication a few years back and I loved it – but I recognize that right now is not the time for such a position.
Similarly, two of my close friends are currently in the process of getting themselves out of work situations that are negatively effecting their personal lives. Two part-time jobs instead of one full-time job sounded like a great idea in theory – lots of flexibility and variety – but it turns out there’s no such thing as a part-time job. Instead, these two awesome mamas are neither seeing their kids as much as they want nor paying the bills, so they’re realizing that it’s time to reel it in.
A full-time job can sound daunting right after maternity leave – especially if you’re off work for more than a few months, but if you choose a family friendly workplace and set some boundaries it’s actually a lot less work.
2. Choose Your Childcare Wisely, Too
This is crucial. If you have an uneasy feeling in your gut about how your baby is being treated, you’re gonna feel guilty about leaving them and going to work. If you feel 100% comfortable about the daycare situation, you’re more likely to feel like you’ve made the right choice. For me, it was even bigger than that. I went back to work when GG was seven months old, and he’s been in a small family daycare ever since. From the first month I realized that not only was this okay – it was great for him. While we all had to adjust to eight hours apart five days a week, the clear reality was that GG was blossoming. He gained so much from making friends, learning how to go to sleep by himself, eating in group and making close relationships with other adults that now I wouldn’t have it other way.
3. Be Where You Are
Once you know that you’ve got a job that fits the life you want to lead and childcare that works for your family, it’s all about being where you are. If you’re thinking about work when you’re at home and home when you’re at work, you’re not being the best of yourself. Your work will suffer and so will your parenting. This is where you need to switch on your mindful attention.
Here’s what works for me: as much as possible, I use the Pomodoro Technique to maximize my efficiency at work. I write detailed, prioritized to-do lists for the next day before I leave the office each day, and then I work in 25-minute time slots to get through the tasks. This is the kicker: I turn my phone onto airplane mode for 25 minutes at a pop, during which time I’m totally focused on the task at hand. I check texts, emails, Facebook etc. in short breaks in between.
When I leave the office – I leave the office. When necessary I get in a few more hours at night once GG’s asleep, but from when I pick him up in the afternoon until he’s asleep, I’m in mama mode. I don’t answer phone calls, I don’t play with my phone except to take photos of him doing ridiculously cute things and I don’t check my emails. I enjoy every moment we have together – and I’m sure I’m a better mother for it.
When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home. Leave the exceptions for real emergencies.
4. Take a Mini Meditation Break
I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a lifesaver for me. I have an alarm set on my phone for 11:45am every day. If I’m not in a meeting or involved in an urgent task when it goes off, I shut my office door and meditate for 10 minutes. Ultimately I’d like to be meditating every morning/night too, but it’s not happening right now and these mini meditation breaks help me keep a base level of mindful attention throughout the day. Give it a go and see if it works for you.
5. Reconnect at the End of the Day
I find mindfulness really important to ease into the transition from work to mothering. I make a point of pausing before I knock on the door at daycare or walk in the door at home if GG is already home with his father or grandmother: I take a deep breath, and ground myself. I make sure I’m fully present for that moment when we reunite at the end of our days.
Up until recently nursing was our reconnection ritual – now it’s finding a new place. Sometimes I join him in whatever he’s doing, sometimes it’s a long hug, sometimes a conversation. Making that conscious effort to really be with him for those first moments flicks the switch, and I’m home.