When I went back to work after my maternity leave, I had no idea what I was in for. Coming back full-time to the office after being home for 12 weeks was a gigantic adjustment, just like everything else that came along with becoming a mom. But as difficult as the post-baby back-to-work transition was, it was also educational. In fact, I would go so far as to say there are things you can only learn about yourself when you go back to work after having a baby. So while I don't advise ditching the baby books and postpartum online blogs entirely, I do suggest cutting yourself some slack. I mean, I didn't know it at the time, but going back to work postpartum brought some huge life lessons that I might never have learned otherwise.
There was only one other working mom in my department when I returned to work after having my first child. When I came back, she rushed over to me and said, “Finally! Another mother here, who gets it.” I quickly got to know what her desperate tone signified: being a mom is weird and scary and trying to care about a job at the same time can provide you with some next level anxiety.
But for as challenging as going back to work was, it galvanized a change in me, and for the better. I learned how to prioritize, and to not sweat the small stuff. I became a lot more empathetic to my colleagues, recognizing that we are all struggling with things outside the office, be it kids or relationships or health issues or pets. And I learned a lot about myself, not just as a mom but as a human being. Sure, every single one of us moms are different, as are our experiences, but I have a feeling becoming a working mom will teach you a few things about yourself, too, including the following:
You Placed Too Much Importance On Tasks At Work…
Quick deadlines, shrinking budgets, and poor communication at work used to stress me out before I had kids. My perspective changed in that when I returned to work, though. I could not believe the importance I would put on who to invite to a brainstorming session. Now that I had a tiny human at home, being cared for by a stranger (though a perfectly nice, very qualified one), I realized that worrying so much about many of the details of my job was a time, and energy, suck.
… And Not Enough On The Big Picture
In the early stage of being a working parent, I learned that I had to zero in on what my goals were on the job. I couldn’t get mired in the day-to-day tasks, because I would really start resenting my time away from my kid if I spent so much time on the part of my job I didn’t love. If I was going to be away from my child all day, I had to really make that time count, and identify what about my job was going to serve me, and my family, in ways that fulfilled us beyond the paycheck.
You Hate Small Talk
Being a working mom means stepping up my time management game because if I need to pick up my kid from daycare by 6:00 p.m. I can’t waste a minute. Once I returned to work, I stopped lingering at people’s desks to catch up. I did fear appearing cold and disinterested in my co-workers’ lives, but I figured out a way to be approachable without falling down the rabbit hole of water cooler chitchat.
You Don't Need To Be In The Office For Eight Hours
When I returned from maternity leave I became more efficient than I had ever been at my job. Since I pumped at work twice a day, and wanted to be home to see my kid before her bedtime, I had fewer hours to get my work done that I had when before becoming a mom.
At first, I worried I couldn’t get it all done. Then I realized I totally could accomplish my daily tasks, especially if I kept laser-focused and didn’t get distracted by every email as soon as it arrived. It helped that my supervisor emphasized quality over quantity, assuring me that he wasn’t keeping tabs of how long my butt was in my chair, but only that I was meeting deadlines and the quality of my work was kept up. All working parents should have bosses like that.
You're Not That Great At Multitasking
Before kids, I thought I was a fantastic multitasker. I’d actually get excited when I’d see a job posting that required being superior at multitasking. Only after becoming a mom did I realize that multitasking kills productivity. Yes, I have a lot to keep track of as a working parent, but if I tried to simultaneously schedule pediatrician check-ups and review style frames, I would not be doing either one of those things well at all.
When my kids started school, I taught them the “one thing at a time” mantra. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane with all we have going on in terms of homework, after-school activities, picking up groceries, doing laundry, and trying to remember one another’s birthdays.
You Spend Too Much Time Agonizing Over Decisions
In the rush to adjust to being a working mom, I had no time to waste. I couldn’t take my time deciding what was best, I had to go with my gut, count on my experience, and move on.
You Need To Eat Breakfast
Since I was getting by on so little sleep with a kid in the mix, I was hungrier. And I was up earlier than I had been before the baby was born. Eating before I left the house for work was key, otherwise I would never have made it through that morning staff meeting.
A Corner Office Isn't As Motivating...
Before I had kids, I had big plans of continuing my climb up the corporate ladder. I was having a good run so far, and I didn’t see becoming a mom as an obstacle to reaching higher and higher goals. Except, as it turns out, those goals were actually not what I wanted. It took having kids, and the motivation to make all my working days count, to realize that it’s not about my title or my standing desk or any other perks that come with being an executive. What makes me happy is doing terrific work… and being hands-on.
... As Making Your Kids Proud
When I stay hands-on — writing and producing content, and not moving so far up the chain that I’m supervising the supervisors of the work — I am truly in my element. So I changed my trajectory a bit, in the sense that I’m not chasing titles and a seat among the protected corporate class. While it would be nice to have an office with windows, for me, it’s more about feeling good about what I’m doing. And if I’m excited about the work, my kids are excited for me. Being able to show them my videos — ”Look, guys, Mommy made this” — has been the most satisfying aspect about working motherhood.
You Can Have It All...
Careers and motherhood are not mutually exclusive. Though I never planned to quit working once having a baby, I did worry how I was going “balance” work and life. I quickly learned there will never be balance, I just have prioritize, on an ongoing basis, and stay fluid in that sense. I work hard at work to avoid it spilling over into my evenings when I want to fully focus on my family. It took me many years to convince myself this wasn’t selfish, it was just necessary to avoid burning out as an employee and a parent.
… Just Not All At Once
The key to not burning out was to identify the most important things at that moment. If it’s work and I’m on a deadline, then my partner has to take the lead with the kids at home (like I do for him when he has an intense work period). But if I need to come in late to attend my children’s dance festival, then work takes a backseat.
I no longer fret about not climbing higher in my career when I put my family first most times, because I really do think American work culture needs to change. We can’t put work first all the time and feel satisfied in the long run. I don’t want my legacy to be, “She worked really hard and made a company a lot of money.” I want my children to look at my choice, and necessity, to work as something that made all our lives better. And if that means playing the long game, and not having it all right now, but feeling that, by the end of my life I will have raised a happy family and done at least a few projects I’m totally proud of, then I’m all in.
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