Mastering the return to work

Return to work

Aaaand we’re back after a long break. Trust me, it’s been necessary. It’s been a month since my comeback to full-time employment, and time seems to have both crept slowly and flown by. I’m still getting used to a very different schedule (10-hour work days for most of the week, with half of Fridays off), but I’m fully enjoying being creative and collaborating with other creative minds.

The weekend before my return to work was a busy one, so I didn’t have much time to feel anxious. Saturdays are Sofia’s activity days, and in addition to ballet and swimming we were hosting Rikki’s aunt and cousin who were visiting from the Philippines. On Sunday we took a day trip down to the Monterey Coast for our annual pilgrimage to the Moss Landing Antique Faire. We didn’t find anything big this year, though I scored on a vintage purse with woven detailing and plexiglass handles. That night, I prepared as much as I could for the next day and was so thoroughly exhausted that I fell immediately asleep.

I was surprisingly up and at ’em the next morning, packing up Sofia’s lunch box and managing to get us out the door early enough to miss most traffic. I arrived at work at 8am sharp and went through the motions of HR forms, meeting and greeting everyone (and sadly forgetting most names by lunchtime), and getting IT tutorials.

But in the last four weeks, I seem to have found my stride much quicker than I did the first time. Much of it can be chalked up to experience, but a good amount also comes from the support I’ve found from my coworkers, many of whom are parents—and newer parents at that—who understand exactly what I’m going through and are more than accommodating. Still, there’s been a lot about the past month that’s surprised me. So, for those moms who are thinking about a return to work or even going back to school, here’s a few things I’ve learned to make that return a success:

1. Don’t start on a Monday

I completely failed to do this both times so, please, take it from one who knows. Do. Not. Start. On. A. Monday. Whether due to Mommy Brain or some brief moment of insanity, when my new employers asked when I would be ready to start work, the words “August 1st” somehow fell out of my mouth. That meant that I had to go through an entire week adjusting to waking up at the crack of dawn again without the comfort of being able to sleep during the day while the baby slept. Therefore, don’t follow my example and set up your first day for a Wednesday if you can.

2. Switch off with Dad

Just as we did with Sofia, Mr D timed his paternity leave to start on my return to work date. Thankfully California gives parents and caregivers 6 weeks of Paid Family Leave, and Mr D was able to supplement this with his vacation time. It’s always heartwarming to see the bond created between my kids and their dad during this time, which may seem brief but makes a huge difference. Before I went back to work, there were days when the little man didn’t even want to be held by dad. It was all about Mommy. Now, I see his face really light up in the mornings when he opens his eyes and sees Mr D. It also meant I got lots of pics throughout the day if I was missing my little’s face. Right now, Mr D is going through baby withdrawals already as he gears up to return to work. If this is something you and your partner can do, I highly recommend it.

3. Take your allotted breaks

As a nursing mom, California employers are required to give you break time and private space (other than a toilet stall) to express breastmilk. Many workplaces have a “Wellness” or “Mothers'” room, with a comfy chair and sometimes a small fridge or sink. Take your 15-20 minutes every 3-4 hours, like you would if you were feeding your baby to keep up your milk supply. Because I work remotely on Fridays, I can take my laptop with me into the Wellness Room if I don’t want to interrupt my work flow, but most days I take a bit of light reading with me. Lack of sleep can take its toll on you, both in terms of work and milk production, so whether you choose to take a snooze or catch up on your social media, relax and let that milk flow.

4. Find unexpected quality time

Mom guilt is always present for any working mom, but I found that dropping Sofia off in the morning and picking her up to go home gave us some built-in mother-daughter time. I thought that the earlier wakeup time would render her virtually zombie-like in the mornings, but a little Gogurt and she is happily chattering away in the back seat as we make the drive to her daycare. In the afternoon I can hear her running for the door, yelling “Mommy!” as soon as I ring the doorbell. We started a ritual of sharing four (because she’s four) best things about her day. Three of them are complete fiction (I saw a baby cheetah today), but it’s a great way to get her to think positively about what happened. Today she admitted that she felt sad that we will no longer have our one-on-one time, since Mr D will be doing drop-off and little brother will be coming with us from now on. In a way, I’m glad that she looks forward to our time in the car, even if it’s sitting in traffic. It reminds me of when my dad used to take me to school and pick me up, and I’d give him the daily download of whatever teenage drama I was going through at the time. I’m hoping that I can sneak little pockets of time here and there to get some more one-on-one time with my mini me.

5. Treat yourself

That’s right, you’re a full-time employee on top of being a full-time mom. You deserve a little something! It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, anything to make you pause and remember to be good to yourself. A pedicure on your lunch hour, that tube of new lipstick—whatever makes you feel happy and able to take on the rest of the week. For me, I love going to the nearby downtown area, grabbing lunch, and getting a nice tall cup of iced milk tea with boba. (If you follow us on Instagram, you know how obsessed I am with that stuff.) It’s the simple things in life that make you smile.

Going back to work after any length of time off can be daunting, but can be an opportunity to really learn about yourself and stretch your limits. Finding that perfect balance between the different parts of your life is a constant challenge, but it forces you to really prioritize find creative ways to solve problems. Whether you’re starting a new job or returning to a previous one, don’t forget that, at the end of the day, the most important things you’ll ever produce in life are right there at home.

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