You’re going back to work after maternity leave. Your childcare is lined up, dates/hours with your employer are agreed, and a masterplan to tackle household duties might even be in the cards. But the one thing that mothers tend to forget is a plan to help them cope with the sometimes contradictory emotions they feel.
Let me share my personal experience. On the one hand, I was excited at the prospect of feeling intellectually stimulated, you know, surrounded by adults. As much as I loved being with my little girl, as I neared the end of my maternity leave, I started to realise that a part of me missed my work identity, i.e. who I was when I wasn’t physically looking after a little human who depended on me for everything. On the other hand, I felt ridden with guilt and apprehension. I remember looking at my baby before I was even due to start and feeling a wave of sadness unfurling within me.
I remember thinking “But she looks so tiny, she looks like she needs to be with me”. But these types of thoughts rarely stop at the end of the personal remit, they have a way of spilling over to other areas, like your professional competence: “Am I going to be able to keep up? I feel slow and rusty. I’m not on top of my game anymore, everyone will notice…” Hello self-doubt, you old friend!
If any variation of this sounds familiar, you are so not alone! And the good news is that there are ways to ease into this transition to lessen the emotional turmoil, so many of us come face to face with.
Start with an audit
Yes, you read that right. The fact that you are now a mother means that you have evolved as a human being. Your priorities have changed. Your routines have changed. The way you approach life has probably changed too. And that’s a good thing. But so many women desperately try to recreate the same life they used to have pre-baby only to find out that it is nearly impossible. And that’s a good thing! Let me give you a tangible example. Most of us strive to maintain a certain level of fun and entertainment in our life, cultivating youthful qualities. But does that mean that to do that we need to act the same way we used to when we were 20? Erm, I certainly hope not. It would make for a very chaotic and stressful life! You get the idea. You are still you, the essence is the same, but your lifestyle is different. And the same lifestyle will change as you enter each new phase of your family life. And that’s exciting!
Get comfortable with trade-offs.
I don’t like using the term ‘sacrifices’ because that always implies that one person is losing something for something good to happen. I prefer the idea of trade-offs. Because even before you became a parent, you used to make trade-offs all the time and it probably never even crossed your mind. If you were having a drink with your girlfriends, that meant you weren’t having dinner with your romantic partner. If you were staying late at work, you couldn’t make it to the gym. If you were going away for a Christmas holiday that meant you weren’t spending it with your parents. That’s just everyday life stuff. So in that sense, nothing has changed. You’re going home to be with your family instead of having drinks with your colleagues after work. Or the other way around if you’ve agreed that someone else was taking care of your baby. It’s all good, as long as you accept the obvious fact that you can’t be everywhere at once.
Every parent goes through the same journey.
No matter how much you read and how much you think you can prepare, it’s going to take some trial and error to find a work/life formula that works for you.
Above all, practice self-compassion, every child is different, and so are our parenting experiences. It might look like everyone else has it all figured out but trust me, for every person who’s nailed their perfect sleep routine, there are ten more of us who are still trying to figure it out.
You’ve got this.
Fadela Hilali is a coach, speaker. Her coaching and training focus on helping people overcome the mental patterns and habits that leave them feeling empty. She is the founder of The Confidence Bootcamp and is obsessed with the idea that when people feel good, they do good. Fadela is also an author of “STUFFED: how to feel so good about yourself you won’t have room for cake”.