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Returning from Maternity Leave: Emotions & Mom Guilt

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There are a lot of emotions associated with returning from work after maternity leave. For some, it is pure mom guilt. For others there is excitement. And for many, myself included, it is mixed emotions.

Do babies suffer when mothers return to work?

I grew up with a working mom. And not only was she a working mom, but she also owned her own company. My mom started an advertising agency when she was 26 (she had me at 30) and ran that company until she sold it recently.

So there wasn’t ever a time in my childhood where my mom didn’t work. She was an amazing businesswoman and an even more phenomenal mother.

Now that I am a working mom, my own mother has shared with me how guilty she felt when she had to travel or when she missed dinner because she was working late.

But I don’t ever remember a dance class that she didn’t attend or a homework assignment she was too busy to help me with. I only remember a mom who loved and supported us more than I ever could have asked for.

I can say from first-hand experience that your kids will not suffer just because you work elsewhere during the day. I never felt neglected or uncared for. And in fact, I don’t even remember being sad when my mom would drop us off at daycare because I had lots of fun memories from that time period (3 years and up – obviously I don’t remember my baby stages).

And I can see with my daughter that she doesn’t seem to have those negative feelings either while I am away at work.

Working Mom Guilt: First Born vs Second Born

I have just wrapped up my maternity leave for our 2nd born. And I have mixed emotions about going back to work.

On one hand, I know that I love working. While I don’t always love my job (who does?), I love being able to help others in my company as well as contribute financially to my family.

I trust that God has given me unique gifts that are a perfect fit for a work environment and I enjoy using them to serve my coworkers.

On the other hand, I don’t take for granted being at home with my kids. It has been such a great bonding time and has also made it clear that they really do grow up so fast and I don’t want to take any of this time for granted.

My first experience with returning to work after maternity leave was much different.

With my daughter, I spent most of my time off with her in and out of doctors visits trying to diagnose the cause of and the treatment plan for a large cyst that had formed during my pregnancy. It was an extremely painful season and it culminated with a very risky surgery (you can read more about that here).

So going back to work after that experience filled me with much more guilt because I already felt like I had missed out on much of the first four months of her life. And it was the first time I was leaving a child.

I didn’t know what to expect.

Would she be ok at daycare? Would she understand why I was leaving her? Would she be mad at me for not staying at home with her?

Now that I know that isn’t really something to worry about and that she has been thriving at daycare, the feeling of guilt with my son is completely different.

I now feel guilty that I am potentially taking the easy way out by going back to work.

Taking care of two small kids is hard work. And there have been days during my maternity leave where work seems like it will be a vacation compared to refereeing toddler tantrums and a hangry infant.

Those days have left me exhausted and stolen every bit of my patience. They have made me realize that I would be the first to crack in a stressful interrogation situation.

And while it isn’t likely that I will ever be interrogated over a crime, being asked why you don’t have baby shark downloaded on your phone for 100 straight times seems like a very similar experience.

I am sure that a year from now I will feel more confident in my ability to parent two children while also staying sane and not repeating the line “LISTEN TO ME PLEASE” 100 times in under a minute.

But that is now where I am right now. It has made me feel inadequate as a mom and made me look at my SAHM friends with increased respect for their mental endurance.

So ending maternity leave this time has not been the question of “Will daycare be enough for her?” but “Will I ever be enough for them?”.

How do I Cope with returning to work after maternity leave? 

It is ok to have all sorts of different emotions about going back to work after maternity leave. I think the best thing to know is that those strong feelings generally do not last.

Don’t Make Any Big Decisions for One Year

My mom – the brilliant businesswoman – told me to never make any major decisions right after having a baby.

She learned this lesson first hand. After having my sister, she sold her business to stay at home. Then had to buy it back after deciding she overreacted.

And then she did it again after she had my youngest sister.

Could have been a much less expensive phase in her life if she didn’t have to buy her business back twice in a 2 year period.

So whether you are looking at moving, changing jobs, or quitting work altogether – if you didn’t make the decision before having the baby, take some serious time to think it through and make sure it isn’t just the hormones or temporary exhaustion talking.

Give Yourself Grace

Nobody does the mom thing perfectly – working or not. And nobody does the work thing perfectly either.

But for some reason, as new moms we seem to put pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly. And that is just impossible.

So if you feel awful because you aren’t meeting your impossibly high standards for what a working mom should be able to do – LOWER YOUR STANDARDS.

Obviously, your goal is to be the best you can be for your child and your company, but they will all survive with even average performance while you work through the transition.

And don’t worry if this transition period takes a year or more to feel like you aren’t treading water.

Babies change so much during the first year and their schedules and routines change just as fast. So the second you think you have things under control, they hit a sleep regression or something that pushes you to start all over again.

Grace upon grace, ladies.

Ease Back Into Work

If you can, schedule your first day back to work after maternity leave for the middle of the week.

You can start your baby in childcare at the start of the week – to get yourself used to it more than your baby. And to be sure that you aren’t going into work with tears in your eyes after dropping off your kid for the first time.

By going back to work mid-week, you get to have a bit of a slow start. Your projects won’t ramp up as fast and you can really ease back into it.

Because on your first day back, your mind really won’t be on work. And everyone will understand that.

I worked in HR and recommended that to all of our new moms when they would ask for tips on scheduling their maternity leave.

It isn’t always an option, but if it is – definitely start mid-week!

Leaving your babies is never easy, but it does get better! You start to see them thrive in their own ways, and you are getting to thrive in your own element as well.

Best of luck to all the working moms going back to work after maternity leave! You got this!

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