Help! I'm Approaching The End Of My Maternity Leave And I'm Having Conflicting Emotions About Returning To The Office
Many people have extremely strong feelings about why moms work outside the home – but that discussion is a different topic for a different time. Their opinions on the inner workings of your household don’t apply to you. What is applicable to most new moms is that even in the midst of basking in the glow of motherhood, you might find yourself dreading your return to work.
This was me. I was considered one of the “lucky” ones, in that I got six weeks of paid maternity leave from my employer last year (I ended up taking 12). But as I stared down the barrel of going back to work, I faced a number of incontrovertible truths, which all started when I was hit with the realization: I’m approaching the end of my maternity leave, and I’m having conflicting emotions about returning to the office. Here’s what I learned, and what you need to know.
Accept the Hard Truths
The number one thing I had to grapple with after having my baby and thinking about going back to work was that everything had changed. I thought I could retain some semblance of my professional life before my daughter, but trying to hold on to that was like being stranded in water and refusing a life raft. It was a futile act, but once I realized that I had to embrace it, I was better off.
Your life has changed forever, and it will never be the same. That’s not a bad thing; it has changed for the best possible reason – your baby – and that means every other part of your life will have to work around him or her. Having to adjust to a new schedule and a new routine in the middle of returning to work is one of the most stressful things new moms have to endure, but it can be done, as long as you’re honest about how you’re feeling and cognizant of the fact that you won’t be able to control everything.
If you’re feeling conflicted about going back to work, the time will eventually come for you and your husband to re-evaluate your job and how important it is to you. Inevitably, you have different priorities now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You might have been able to come into work early or stay late before a baby, but that’s not realistic now (and others should understand that as well as you). The decision to stay home full-time following your maternity leave might not have any financial ramifications on your household – but for many of us, it does.
If you can’t find it within yourself to go back to an office but need the income, look into remote or WFH positions.
If there’s one good thing to come out of Covid, it’s the emergence of work-from-home jobs. If you can’t find it within yourself to go back to an office but need the income, look into remote or WFH positions. Look into part-time hybrids, freelance, or contract positions. Discuss in-person work in the office for a few days and WFH the other days with your boss. With some flexibility, you can find what works best for your family.
Know Your Rights
My own experience has instilled this in me, and now it’s perhaps my biggest piece of advice to working moms: know your rights, specifically about workplace discrimination and pumping in the workplace. Returning to work can mean that you’re grappling with the decision of whether or not to wean your baby early and start on formula, or continue breastfeeding, and all of that may mean added stress on you.
I’ve exclusively breastfed my daughter for close to a year now, all while working full-time. Many don’t have this opportunity, and I certainly never had any kind of encouragement to do so from my employer. But I’ve been able to do it by being well aware of the protections that I have as a working mom who breastfeeds, namely, that I’m allowed to pump in the workplace and that, under federal law, I’m guaranteed a clean, private place to pump at work that is not a bathroom (read that again).
Researching these rights was important to me because I initially got pushback from a supervisor about pumping during working hours or leaving meetings to pump. Most employers, especially if they haven’t breastfed or don’t have kids, aren’t being intentionally malicious or cruel when they push back on pumping. They just don’t understand. You don’t have to quit breastfeeding when you go back to work, and you shouldn’t feel that you have to. Though I wouldn’t have thought it a year ago, it can definitely be done. Educate yourself and others (kindly, but firmly) if necessary.
Talk to the Right People
If you feel conflicted about going back to work or even conflicted about the prospect of becoming a stay-at-home mom, you’ll probably be tempted to turn to your Twitter circle or Facebook mommy group for advice. But as many women know, moms can be some of the most judgmental folks on the planet. In many ways, that comes down to the primal instincts moms have within themselves and how they fine-tune them to rear their children – when they observe another mom doing things differently, in a way it feels threatening to those instincts.
Other online moms will only be too happy to offer up advice and, namely, criticism, but only a very small percentage of this will actually be applicable to your situation. If you ask for advice on how to feel better about going back to work, you might very well have people telling you to quit outright or to suck it up and get over it. It goes without saying that neither of these is helpful. If you’re seeking a kind word or a listening ear, or even just wanting to talk to someone who understands, make sure that it’s the right person, like your counselor, faith leader, husband, mom, or a close friend who’s experienced the same transition.
Make Your Game Plan Sooner Rather Than Later
Don’t wait until your time is up to make a plan. If you’re committed to going back to work, make sure that you’ve researched and decided on your childcare options. My situation isn’t everyone’s, but I felt better about returning to work because my baby was being cared for by family members. I felt comfortable at work every day knowing she was with someone I could trust completely, and that made things easier for me.
If something feels off about a place or a person, don’t feel pressured to leave your newborn with them.
If you don’t have family near you and you aren’t sure about childcare, get creative with it. Look into nanny-sharing or using FMLA. If something feels off in your gut about a place or a person, don’t feel pressured to leave your newborn with them because your time is almost up. If you have paid time off, vacation days, or sick days, no one can penalize you for using them. Look into remote options, or have your husband step in on certain days. Have a game plan prepared, and have it ready before you need it. You’ll thank yourself later.
Be Brutally Honest
There’s nothing wrong with having mixed emotions about trying to return to your pre-pregnancy routine once your baby arrives. Self-examination will be crucial during this time, and it’s equally important to make sure you’re not misleading yourself for the wrong reasons. If you misguide and mislead yourself, you’ll only find that you’re more stressed and, oftentimes, more at a loss as to what to do. Given that the postpartum time is a tenuous one mentally and emotionally, and even physically, the best thing that will aid your recovery in all those aspects is not lying to yourself or thinking “everything’s fine” when it really isn’t.
You might have a fulfilling career that you love but feel torn about wanting to leave to spend time with your little one. You might also know firsthand from maternity leave that staying home full-time is not for you. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. We are complex human beings, and our introspection can be further complicated by evolving hormones or even by postpartum anxiety and depression.
The best thing you can do during this time is to be fully present with yourself and your emotions before you have to go back to work. Does the prospect of going back fill you with relief or trepidation? Where do your concerns come from? How would you feel about staying home full-time? These are all questions we have to ask ourselves at one point or another, but the answers we provide will dictate how fully we commit to being a working mom. If you dread going back to an office and are only looking for a paycheck, be honest about it. If you love your job but it doesn’t give you the same satisfaction, look for other alternatives. Be honest with your spouse, your employer, and yourself.
Know That It’s Not the End
Staying home full-time is not the end of your professional career, just like working full-time doesn’t mean you’re not a mom anymore when you go back to work. In either sense, you might feel like you’re losing a part of your identity. Just know that you can return to the job force at really any age – but the same can’t be said for having kids. The end of your maternity leave isn’t the end of your life as a mom, and quitting (which the majority of women do after their first child) isn’t the end of your career. There are seasons within our lives, and just like the pregnancy and postpartum stages are a season, working might be one as well.
It is possible to be a working mom, but not without honesty from yourself, first and foremost. If you’re miserable going back to work, you’ll be no help to yourself, your family, or even your boss and your co-workers. But that doesn’t mean you have to reject earning an income altogether. We’re fortunate today that we have a wide variety of options to get the best of both worlds: working and staying home, if you find that’s what’s right for you.
You aren’t the first mom to feel conflicted about this transition, and you certainly won’t be the last. Whatever path you take, make sure it’s the best path for your family – not your boss, online mommy bloggers, or anyone else!
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