What To Do When You Expect Too Much

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We signed my son up for soccer this season. Nothing too intense, just a bunch of 4 and 5 year-olds running around after a ball trying to score a few goals. Neither my husband nor I are soccer players but we appreciate the sport and thought that for as much as Henry likes to run, and for the fact that he does enjoy kicking a soccer ball around our yard, that he would have fun. And at the very least enjoy a new t-shirt and the post-game-snack.

Well, it has been pretty painful to watch. At his most recent game, he ended up sitting with me most of the time silently crying. He’s totally my kid, what can I say? But it was his answer to my question “Don’t you like playing soccer?”, that while brutal to hear, made me truly understand what he was feeling as he sat watching the other kids play with tears in his eyes.

He said, “it wasn’t what I thought it would be”.

Now, understanding what a four-year-old thought soccer would be is stretch for me. But having expectations about something where reality turned out to be much different... that I can totally relate to. It always brings about feelings that I don’t enjoy very much - disappointment, sadness, frustration, and anger. Anger at myself for falling into the trap of dreaming about and envisioning a future for something I had no experience with.

So as I help my son try to recover from his high expectations of soccer, I want to tell you how I am slowly practicing on my own expectations as well.

Whether in my own life or the lives of those around me, I see high expectations all the time -

  • Expectations at work surrounding a new project or a new role.

  • Expectations at home for how your evenings or weekends will go.

  • Expectations for vacations, fun family outings, or date nights.

  • Expectations for how much you’ll get done.

When I find myself setting expectations, I find myself focusing too much on the future. Living out of the current moment. Wishing for what’s next to be better, even if where I am right now is pretty dang good.

So how do you manage expectations? Here’s what works for me:

Catch Yourself Red-Handed

They say that awareness or acknowledgment is half the battle, and with managing unrealistic expectations, I think that is so true. My husband is great at pointing out to me when I am fantasizing about how something will be so if you can find someone to be your accountability partner, that is always helpful. If not, put a reminder somewhere you’ll see it. It could just be the word Expectations. Anything that will remind you to be on the lookout for clues that might lead to future heartache. Or, on the flip side, maybe you remind yourself to be here in the present moment with a phrase like be here, now.

What’s Great About Where You Are Right Now?

Having expectations means you’re thinking or have given a lot of thought to a future event or outcome. For me, that often looks like having expectations about how I think our weekend should go. Maybe this sounds familiar…

You come home Friday night and expect that the kids are going to be so excited that you have the next couple days off to be with them that they will behave perfectly, and shower you with love and kisses. You create plans for a family fun day complete with picture perfect moments and a perfectly timed schedule making sure to respect the nap. Speaking of naptime, you’ll expertly use that “free time” to tackle a few small house projects, grocery shop and do your meal-prep for the week while still producing a pinterest-worthy family dinner.

That’s the stuff of fairytales...right?

I don’t need to tell you what the reality sometimes looks like, but even if you’re surrounded by a tantrum-throwing toddler, or struggling from sleep deprivation, or sitting around relaxing instead of doing something from that list of projects, there are likely some pretty great things happening.

The chance to practice your parenting in public skills. Lots of patience and understanding. Some much-needed downtime or time at home. Some delicious take-out.

Notice the good things and let go of what “should have” happened. What if everything is exactly as it should be?

Stop Comparing

Speaking of having expectations of photo-worthy family moments or Pinterest-worthy home-cooked meals, maybe your expectations are coming from doing a little too much social media comparison? Are you constantly perusing perfect Instagram feeds of mothers who only show the good moments? Are you spending too much time on Pinterest trying to create the perfect house or the perfect meal?

Comparison is one of the quickest paths to unrealistic expectations and we would all do ourselves a favor if we took a break from time-to-time and focused on what we have instead of what we think we should have.

How Do You Want to Feel?

Regardless of what actually ends up happening, or the circumstances of whatever you’re creating expectations for, how you feel about it is totally up to you. It’s why two people can experience the exact same event in two completely different ways. One person loving their job, the other person hating their job. The job itself is the same, but how they think about it is what’s different.

So the next time you catch yourself feeling disappointed because something didn’t turn out the way you expected it to, decide how you want to feel instead. How can you change what you’re thinking to help you feel satisfied with something as opposed to disappointed?


Hoping and dreaming are a part of life. It’s how you envision a better life for yourself or push yourself to do something different. You have expectations. And used effectively and within reason, expectations are a tremendous way to achieve some pretty big goals. To expect more from yourself.

Expectations only become a problem when you continually find yourself in a state of disappointment. When your reality feels so sad compared to what you thought life would be. That is no way to live.

Your happiness is not dependent on some expectation of how your life should be. Your happiness is dependent on you. On where you are and what your life is right now. How powerful is that? To be so in control of something as big as your happiness? It’s a lot of responsibility, but one I know you can own.

So stop expecting something or someone to make you happy or to be a certain way. Life is the way it is, and it’s up to us to choose how we want to feel about it.

And for my 4-year-old son, I hope he can come to terms with the reality of soccer and find a way to have fun with it anyway. Even if that means he just runs up and down the field and never once touches the ball. If it makes him happy, that’s all that matters.

Do These 7 Things the Next Time You Start Spinning in Overwhelm

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When was the last time you felt overwhelmed? Last week, yesterday, earlier today? My guess is, it probably wasn’t that long ago. If your triggers are anything like the moms I work with, overwhelm can hit you at any point and in any situation. 

Sometimes it’s in the middle of the workday when the responsibilities and stresses of the job get to be so much that you think there’s no way you’ll ever climb out of this hole, let alone your inbox.

Sometimes it’s in the evenings when you come home to a messy house, a pile of laundry, and no certain plan for dinner that you feel like you’ve let your family down and what you should really do is quit your job so you could actually stay on top of all of it.

Sometimes overwhelm shows up when you’re surrounded by two children who are wallowing in their own overwhelm of emotions, crying and whining, that you think life will be this way forever. And you’re overwhelmed by the fact that YOU are the adult here!

Or sometimes, overwhelm waits to hit you until the craziness of the day has ended and you have your first quiet moment to yourself. When you finally sit down, exhale a big sigh of relief, and think about doing it all over again tomorrow, the crushing weight of overwhelm sits on you making it hard to breathe.

Can you relate? Whether it shows up at work, at home, with your kids, or when you’re by yourself, overwhelm feels heavy. It creates the feeling of being out of control of practically everything you can think of. And like the temper tantrums we often witness in our children, it can be hard to snap out of.

Trust me - we have all been there and some of us probably more frequently than we would like to admit. 

But just like we’re taught how to approach and calm a toddler who is stuck in emotional overwhelm that looks like a screaming fit, there are things that we can do to help ourselves snap out of it. Things that can help us stop spiraling in that feeling of being out of control, and ground us in the present moment and the realities of the situation, which are -

  • you will get through it,
  • everything is not lost, and
  • this is only temporary.

You’ve got this.

So the next time you feel that feeling, you know how it goes, your breath becomes short, your head starts to feel heavy, you can’t see past your own nose, and you might just break into tears if anyone asks you if you’re ok, try one, or try all of these things to catch your breath, and reset.
 

1. Close Your Eyes and Breathe

One of the signature symptoms of overwhelm is a loss of control - having more than you can handle, whether that’s work, chores, or emotions. One of the quickest ways to prove to yourself that you have more control than you are feeling in this moment is to take control of your breath. My go-to is the Headspace app. If you’ve not tried it, I highly recommend it. They have a 3 minute overwhelm meditation that I use all the time, even in public. I pop my earbuds in and let Andy’s voice calm me down.

But if you don’t have that, you can just as easily close your eyes and take 10 deep belly breaths. Count each inhale and exhale as you go and try to think of nothing else except your breathing and counting. Do another 10 and another, until you feel like you can open your eyes without freaking out again. 

I find this counting to 10 method particularly helpful when I am in the presence of a toddler meltdown. It allows me to not get emotionally tied up in their drama and to create a sense of calm that I can then demonstrate and try to transfer to my little one. It doesn’t always work, but I at least get a short meditation in the midst of chaos.

2. Move Your Body

Last week when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by the amount of work and responsibilities on my plate, I shut my laptop, stood up and walked away.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is to stand up, move your body and remove yourself from the situation. 

Even if you can’t literally walk away, you can roll your shoulders or your neck, do a quick stretch, or if I’m at the office I will walk a few flights of stairs or take a quick lap around the parking lot. Anything the get the blood flowing again and to clear my head, which an elevated heart rate and some movement always do. 
 

3. Drink a Full Glass of Water

Dehydration can be a trigger for so many out-of-control emotions. On days when I’ve not been drinking enough water, I am quick to snap at those around me, quick to fall into despair about anything that’s not going my way, and quick to feel overwhelmed. So if you can, fill up your glass and drink a lot of water. Drink it purposefully and drink if mindfully. For the next few seconds, your thoughts should only be about that glass of water and how you’re going to drink it. Then exhale.

4. Look Around and Name 5 Things You Are Grateful For

Quick, don’t overthink it, just look around the room or think about your day so far, and quickly list to yourself 5 things for which you are grateful. It could be as big as the opportunities that your job creates for you, the health insurance that you have for when you are sick, or the health that your family is experiencing right now, to small things like the amazing lipstick you are wearing today or the fact that you have access to clean drinking water (see previous tip). 

Giving yourself a quick break to realize all the good that you have in your life is a sure-fire way to snap out of despair. And besides, it’s proven that gratitude increases happiness. So if you’re in for some drastic changes in your life, you could always turn this into a longer-term practice!
 

5. Eliminate Something From Your To-Do List

If thinking about all you have to do in life triggered your overwhelm, try challenging your list. There is probably a lot on there that HAS to get done. We all have weeks like that. But what is absolutely necessary and what is not? Can you have cereal for dinner so you can eliminate cooking from your to-do list for today? Can calling to schedule that appointment wait until next week when you’re not feeling so crazy? Can you be up-front with your client that you are not going to be able to get them that thing you promised for a few more days?

So often we tell ourselves that we HAVE to do certain things when in reality, the deadline is flexible. Most people understand a busy schedule and I think slowing down for a day or so might actually make you more productive in the end. Whereas powering through often means missed details and tasks completed with little effort.
 

6. Write Down Your Ta-Da List

Speaking of lists, I want you to do the opposite of crossing something off. I want you to create a list… of EVERYTHING you’ve done so far today. I bet you got up, brushed your teeth, made breakfast, dropped the kids off at daycare, listened to a podcast, crossed some to-do’s off your work list, ran an errand, returned a phone call, filled out some paperwork… you get the idea. 

We never give ourselves enough credit for all the things that we do each day. Even if the only things we did were take a shower and feed and keep our kids alive, that’s actually pretty incredible. The fact that ON TOP of that, we’re working, doing laundry, and taking care of business is pretty dang impressive. So take a second to look at that big long list of things that you DID do today, and just say a little “ta-da!” to yourself. Don’t smile, someone might be watching.
 

7. Schedule Some Downtime

When you’ve got a lot going on, it can be particularly hard to give yourself a break. We keep thinking that this is just a “season” or that “work is really busy right now” and we put off a date night, an outing, or anything fun until things slow down. Well, what if they don’t slow down? What if you wait and wait for that opportunity to breathe and it never comes? What if this is the new normal?

You have got to schedule some downtime. You have got to give yourself something to look forward to. Make it quick, make it small, make it easy. Whatever works for you right now to just remind yourself of how good it feels to have a break and to have something to look forward to. And then you’ll probably be more motivated to schedule the next one and the next.

 

Don't feel bad about feeling overwhelmed. It happens to the best of us. Yes, it even happens to me. And because I know what that feels like, and I'm guessing you agree with me when I say it's not an enjoyable feeling, I want to make sure that you have the tools to stop yourself from spinning too far out of control. Because it's true what I said earlier - this feeling is only temporary. You've got this.

5 Ways To Get More Help Around the House

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There is a lot of encouragement from postpartum and mental health experts for new moms to ask for help. As a new mom, you should be focused on resting, on bonding, and on adjusting to your new role as a mom. Amen, right?

But what about as you come out of those first 40 days? What about the moms who are a couple years into this whole motherhood thing who feel like they are drowning in the sheer volume of work that has to get done? Because let’s be honest, it all can feel like work after a while. The constant routine of getting everyone out the door in the morning, accomplishing your job and then some at the office, coming home to prepare dinner, clean up from dinner, play with the kids, get them ready for bed, take care of the laundry, pick-up and as you have time or energy, tackling a few other projects around the house that you’ve been meaning to do for far too long.

You are a high achieving woman. You always have been. You can certainly handle it.

Sure, you might have a meltdown every now and then as you crack from the pressure of all of it, but on the whole, you know what needs to be done and you just do it. You vent to your girlfriends and emphatically like those silly memes that a little too accurately describe the sad state of affairs in your life as a mom, but you don’t usually ask for help. You can do it.

Have you ever stopped to think about what it would feel like to have one of those chores eliminated from your responsibility list?

Would you feel relieved, grateful, happy, a little lighter and less stressed? What does that even look like?

You’ve probably dreamed of having a full-time housekeeper, a nanny who takes care of much more than the kids, or a chef who prepares your weekly meals each Sunday so all you have to do is heat and enjoy. Heck - you’d take all three if you could! But I don’t know anyone with that arrangement, and I’m guessing you probably don’t either.

So what could you do now to eliminate one or two chores from your list? How can you get creative and get more help at home?

Because with even one or two fewer chores on your list, that’s time that you could do something fun - whether that’s for you or for the kids. That’s 5 or so minutes of relaxation that could make you feel like a totally different person at the end of the day.

This week, try one of these 5 ideas for getting more help around the house and challenge yourself to get at least 5 minutes back in your day...for YOU!
 

#1 Outsource (the obvious answer)

Outsourcing is the obvious idea here, but ask any mom who has outsourced one item from her life and she'll more than likely tell you it's worth every penny. If it's in the budget, or if you can re-work your budget to accommodate hiring out, here are some ideas:

  • Find someone to clean for you, even if they come just once a month for a deep clean so all you have to do is maintenance work. 
  • Hire a virtual assistant (I've used this one) to help with making appointments, getting pricing, or placing orders. 
  • Outsourcing your weekly cooking to a meal-delivery service is another easy one. Not quite a personal chef, but if it takes even a couple of meals off your plate (no pun intended), that is a huge relief.
  • Yard work is another big one that can take time depending on how much you have to maintain. What high-schooler in your neighborhood is looking to make extra money by mowing your lawn?
     

#2 Hire a Mother's Helper

Maybe you don’t have the resources to outsource all of your chores. But maybe instead you can get help entertaining the kids while YOU take care of the chores. You will no doubt get them done much faster than if you had to constantly fulfill requests for snacks and water and “play with me”. Mother’s Helpers do still exist and really are a win-win for you and for the kid who wants experience with childcare before going out on their own for full-blown babysitting.

#3 Get Creative With Other Mom Friends

Maybe hiring anyone, even a mother’s helper, is not in the picture for you. That’s the case for many working moms with the cost of childcare being what it is. But surely you know other working moms, other mom friends, who feel the same as you - like they never have enough time or energy to do all the housework. 

  • Can you do a childcare swap on the weekend, again to buy you dedicated, interruption-free time to clean and take care of things while she watches your kids, and then you do the same for her?
  • Can you get together and batch cook some dinners or put together freezer meals for the upcoming weeks making it more fun over a glass of wine and some conversation?
  • How can you leverage your community to get more help and in turn help them?
     

#4 Have Clear and Even Division of Labor

I realize not everyone may have the luxury of having a co-parent or partner to share in the workload, or that some may have a partner whose schedule absolutely does not lend itself to helping out around the house. But, if your co-parent is working a similar job to yours or with similar hours, you should absolutely be able to split the household responsibilities. Make sure you are doing that and not falling victim to the old “I’ll just do it myself” mentality because you think you do it better. Having a chore done is better than having it done your way. 
If you’ve not had this conversation before, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Trust me. You just need to be open to compromise and make sure that you’re each assigned the chores that are easiest for you to do. And then you have to trust each other to get them done. That last part is key. No nagging allowed! 
 

#5 Include Your Kids

Are you one of those moms who thinks that chores have to wait until the kids are either asleep or otherwise entertained? Have you ever tried involving them in the chores, even if it takes a little longer than when you just do it yourself?
Teaching your kids how to take care of things and that you’re all a part of a team is GREAT learning development. Try starting young, by wearing the baby around in a carrier while you vacuum or load the dishwasher or sort laundry. And then as they are old enough, have them start putting their clothes into the wash, wipe down their chair after meals, or put clothes, groceries, etc. away. Kids are capable of so much, and doing chores together is so much more fun. And if they see you having fun with it, rather than complaining about it, they’ll be even more eager to get in on that!
Plus, bonus, doing the chores while they’re awake means less that you have to do after they go to bed, which could mean a few minutes to yourself (gasp, I know!).

If you're tired of complaining about how much you have to do around the house, and how little time you have, it's time to get creative. It's time to do something different than what you're doing.

Life is too short to be miserable working around the house. It takes a team to maintain daily life and you should start building yours.

7 Reasons Why You're Not Taking Care of Yourself

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You know it’s important. You hear phrases like “you cannot pour from an empty cup” or “put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others” and you nod in agreement. It’s true. Deep down you know it. But for some reason, you just aren’t doing it.

You set out each week with plans to take some time for yourself. You get lost in daydreams thinking about an afternoon pedicure with girlfriends or a day reading the latest novel by the pool and you get excited. You start thinking about how to make those things happen.

You’ll just ask your husband to cover the kids one of these Saturdays. You can trade him for the next weekend! Or you’ll finally hire that babysitting service you’ve been wanting to try out. You’ll call your girlfriend and magically find a weekend where no one has travel planned, or soccer practice, or a birthday party...oh and when everyone is healthy. Yes, you’ll do that!

But...you never do. Something always comes up. Finding childcare feels hard. Swapping with your husband isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s just easier to do what you’ve always done. To fill your free time with family, chores, and “vegging”. 

But I’m guessing none of that makes you feel energized. That your life starts to feel like groundhog day after a while, and that you start feeling upset. You’re upset at yourself. For never doing anything for you.

What if you could figure out the root of the issue. The real reason you’re not making the time to take care of you. Because as cliche as the phrase “Self-care” has become, it’s still really, really important. 

1. Not Enough Time

This is probably the #1 reason most moms don’t take time for themselves. They argue that every second of their day is already filled with commutes, drop-offs, pick-ups, work, cooking, bath time, playing, laundry, and chores and they’re lucky at the end of the day to have a few spare minutes to catch a tv show or scroll facebook. With everything we have to do, how can we possibly find time for something fun or something focused on us?

What if you changed your vision of what self-care could look like? Have you tried any self-care activities and set a timer to really know how long it takes? What if self-care looked like dancing to your favorite song, listening to a podcast on your drive to work, writing one page in a journal, or sitting down for a minute in the morning to drink your cup of coffee and stare out the window? 

If it’s something that you enjoy, something that makes you feel good, or feel grateful to be alive, then that is self-care. Nothing more. The key is to just start and then to recognize that what you’re doing is taking care of you. It’s not lucky that you have these 5 minutes, it’s deliberate, and it’s necessary.

2. You Feel Guilty

When you’re a working mom and you have so many chores on top of the hours that you put in at your job, there is this common feeling that any time that you have to spare outside of what you “have” to do, should be spent with your little one. That because you’re not with them all day like you would be if you stayed at home, you need to make up for that by giving them every minute of your day otherwise. And besides that, you probably do just love being with them. 

By taking some time for yourself, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t still want to spend time with your baby. But I believe that in order to truly enjoy that time, and truly be present in that time, you need to feel happy and cared for yourself. So if you decide that self-care for you right now is an entire afternoon away at the spa or on a shopping trip with your mom, that’s ok. You can miss your baby while you’re away during time that you would normally be spending with him. But you shouldn’t feel guilty. We all deserve and need, a little time for ourselves. And maybe you’ll decide that for now, self-care will be something that you do while your little one sleeps, either early in the morning, during afternoon naps on the weekends, or in the evening after he’s gone to bed. You can get the time that you need for you, while not missing the time that you so love at home. Either way, you will notice, if you haven’t already, that you appreciate the time with your family even more after you’ve been away or spent some time on you.

3. But I Watch TV Every Night...That's Just For Me

Catching up on your latest Netflix binge or competition show can be a good thing. Some nights you just need that time to put your feet up, check-out and let your mind focus on something other than daily life. And for a lot of moms, this is time that you connect with your partner too. Date nights may be few and far between for this stage of life, but at least you can share the experience of watching a show you both love at the end of a long day.

When I advocate for taking some time for yourself, I’m not asking you to give up your shows. But I may ask you to consider whether zoning out in front of the TV every single night is really leaving you feeling energized and empowered to do life again tomorrow. Compromise is definitely at play here. Could you experiment with giving up one evening of TV watching for something else that challenges you, that taps into an interest you’ve maybe forgotten, or allows you to fully relax in a way that an exciting show does not? Or could you use that time to work toward a goal you keep telling yourself is important to you, or perhaps do something fun with your partner that allows you to talk about something other than household logistics and kids? One night. And see how different that feels from your normal routine.

4. It's Too Hard to Find Childcare

This is a challenging one and unique to each household situation. True, if your self-care options only include activities that will take you away from home this will be a requirement. But you could approach a solution from two angles:

  1. Get creative with childcare. Find a mother’s helper that will allow you a little bit of peace and quiet within your own home while this sitter-in-training plays with your kids in another room. Swap time away with your spouse - maybe you each get one evening or one weekend morning a week to yourself and you trade. Or swap time with another mom! Especially when kids are out of the baby phase, it’s often not any harder to supervise a group of playing kids than it is to watch just your own. Challenge each other to take this time for yourselves and make it fun! And if all other options fail, build your babysitter directory. It’s so important to have sitters you like and trust. You just never know when you’ll need one.
  2. Rethink your self-care options. Opt for activities that are short, can be done at home, and can be squeezed into early mornings, naptimes, or evenings after the kids go to bed. Childcare issue solved because you won’t need childcare!

5. I Have Too Much To Do Around the House

True! We all have a million things that need to get done. There are regular chores that just keep our house running smoothly and then there are the projects that we create for ourselves to make life easier in the long run (as if we don’t have enough to do already). But let me ask you this. What if this never changes? Because it’s highly probable that you will be able to use this excuse for years to come. So are you really going to put off doing something fun, something relaxing, something just for you because you have stuff you should be doing around the house? 

As with time, as with childcare, you will have to make compromises. What can you delay doing,  what can you finish faster than you thought, or what can you complete that’s “good enough”, not perfect, that will allow you to move on to doing something for you? Doing chores, taking care of household projects will always be there unless you make drastic changes (like moving to a tiny house or getting rid of all your belongings), so you might as well start figuring out how to fit in some self-care or it will never happen.

6. I'm Too Exhausted

In those early years of parenthood especially, this is a common state of being. If you aren’t already in the habit and routine of taking care of yourself, it can be hard to get started when you’re tired, exhausted and run-down. So start small. Maybe taking care of yourself is having a smoothie for breakfast, trying a new supplement, or getting a physical. Maybe it’s a 10-minute walk around the parking lot at lunch, or a quick stretch in between meetings, something to get your body moving. Then maybe you move to a little break on the weekends where you spend a few minutes doing something fun, just for you. Or maybe you jump-start some self-care by scheduling a girls’ night out and diving in head-first for a much-needed change in routine and change in scenery. 

It’s going to be hard to get started, I’m not going to lie. But having a plan, setting aside and scheduling the time, and then following through on that commitment to yourself could be just what you need to get out of this stage of exhaustion.

7. I Don't Know What 'Fills Me Up'

To this, I say, experiment! Pinterest is filled with lists of ideas of self-care activities, big and small. Print one of those and start crossing them off as you try them. Be sure to keep notes as to how you felt and whether it’s something you would do again.

Another good idea is to think back to the activities you did as a kid. Did you take lessons, play on a team, doodle or craft, spend time outdoors? Go back to some of those things that used to make you happy before you had adult responsibilities. And if you’re still stuck on what to do, send me an email! Let’s brainstorm together.

Which excuse have you been using? Are you ready to do one small thing to take care of yourself? If you need someone to help hold you accountable, reach out. That's what I'm here for. Until then, may we fill up our own cups and put on our own oxygen masks so that we can show up and be amazing mothers and kick-ass women!

8 Tips for a Successful Transition Back from Maternity Leave

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I like to prepare. To have a plan. It helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious about something to be able to at least know, loosely, how I’m going to get through it. 

That’s exactly how I felt going back to work after my first maternity leave. With so much unknown, I wanted to put together the steps that would help me get to the office, make it through the day, and transition back home without missing or forgetting anything. The only problem was, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. 

So I did things like pack my work bag, lay out all my parts for pumping and I even did a practice run with our sitter to make sure my son got a chance to “test the waters” and I got a chance to make sure I was sending all the right supplies with him for a day away from home. 

Those things were all important, and you’ll notice that they are still included in my list of tips because I did them again after returning from my second leave. But there were a few other things that I learned from my first go-round that made my second return even easier and so together, my hope is this is everything that you need to be successful.

And so I’ve included practical tips - some that are just plain obvious planning and others that are the things I hadn’t thought about or expected on that first return. I hope that this list will serve as an a la carte offering of preparation plans you should consider and then ultimately you pick the ones that are relevant for you, your childcare situation, and your work environment.

Heading back to work can be stressful and overwhelming, not to even mention emotional. But having a plan in place and being able to check some things off a list as you countdown those final days at home with your little one, can help give you a sense of control. Control can give you a boost of confidence, and that confidence can help you make it through if you’re having a tough time transitioning. 

1. Set Expectations with Your Boss

If you can and if it’s comfortable, be in communication with your boss in the weeks leading up to your return. Check in to see how things are at the office, school, hospital or wherever it is you work. Talk through your transition plan back into your normal groove. Will your job and responsibilities look the same? Should you anticipate any changes? Is there an opportunity to phase back into your normal work-load, especially that first week as you adjust to a new schedule with childcare drop-offs, pumping (if that’s your thing), etc.?

Having breakfast with my boss 2 weeks before returning to work put all my fears to rest. We worked out a transition plan to ease me back into my normal workload and I openly shared with her the logistics behind my new schedule with childcare so that she would have realistic expectations. It made me feel a part of the team again and helped to know that we were on the same page from the minute I came back and that no explaining was necessary.

2. Have Everything Prepped the Night Before

Don’t ruin your first morning back to work by running around like a frantic person trying to find your keys, or your work badge or your baby’s favorite travel blanket. Make sure that your work bag is packed, that it includes everything you’ll need for the entire day (including spares), that the coffee is set, your lunch/snacks are packed, the bottles are prepped and your outfit is laid out. You are going to be distracted enough with everything else that leaving your baby will entail. Don’t add to the stress by not having the basics ready to go the night (or the week) before.

3. Do a Dry Run with the Sitter or Daycare

Speaking of laying things out and preparing in advance, I know many moms who do a couple of practice days with their childcare provider in the week leading up to returning to work. It gives you a chance to see what the baby needs you to send with him/her, it gives you a level of comfort with how things will work on that first morning, and it even gives you a couple of hours to run errands, pick up some new clothes that fit, or do the preparation stuff that you want to have ready when the real day arrives. 

4. Bring Pictures - But Don't Be Too Plugged In

I always try to bring a baby picture to my desk and updated pictures of my kids in general when I head back to work. It gives me something to do when I first settle in at the office that makes me feel connected to my babies while still present at work. Whether that’s a framed photo, a new digital wallpaper on your work computer, or a special coffee mug that you make with their photo on it, take a small reminder with you to the office. Just be cautious that you don’t get too sucked into scrolling through pictures on your phone all day or checking in obsessively with the sitter. This is a big day for both of you and you need to honor that and give yourselves both a little space to figure out how you’re going to make it work.

5. Focus On Work, But Don't Hide the Fact That You Just Had a Baby

Finding that balance between acknowledging that you’re in a major transition stage while not dwelling on it is tough. I remember swinging back and forth between wanting to push thoughts of my baby at a sitter’s house from my mind completely for fear of tears running down my face, to that being all I wanted to talk about with coworkers who would ask a simple question about how my maternity leave was.

You have to find the right balance for you. I know that for me, acknowledging the fact that I was just back from maternity leave was always appropriate. Saying a few words about that time or about my new baby - also appropriate. I find people do care and are genuinely interested. But at the end of the day you are back at work with a job to do and focusing on that is going to take some practice. Just be sure that you are showing up, doing the work, and demonstrating your commitment to what you do as a professional, in addition now to being a great mom.

6. Have Responses Prepared for Colleagues Who Ask How You're Doing

To piggy-back off of tip #5, you may find it easier to have some responses prepared. What do you want to share? How honest do you want to be with colleagues or clients who ask how you’re doing transitioning back to work? 

I remember fighting back tears, HARD, when asked that question returning after my first leave. I had had such a tough physical recovery, I had a colicky baby and I was not sleeping much at all. That simple question was like a landmine when asked. The next time I returned from leave, I made sure to think about the type of response I wanted to share and yes, I practiced it. I felt so much more in control when talking with colleagues that second time around, and that gave me confidence.

7. Have a Killer Outfit that FITS!

Nothing ruins your self-confidence like trying on an old work outfit only to find that your hips haven’t closed, your belly is still mushy and big or your bust size just isn’t the same. Be sure you’ve got something that fits, is functional (especially if you’re pumping), and makes you feel good. Pick it out ahead of time and don’t give it a second thought that first morning. I find having a new wardrobe uniform for those first few months is super helpful. For me, it was slacks or jeans (in a new, larger size) and button-up shirts that looked smart and polished but still gave flexibility for my changing mid-section and were easy for daily pumping at the office.

8. Fuel Your Body. Find Alternate Sources of Energy

Remember that article about what to do when you’re not getting enough sleep? Well, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who has a baby already sleeping through the night, chances are you’re going to have to make it through your workday on much less sleep than you’re used to. Now is the time to make sure you’re eating fruits and veggies, drinking water, taking a walk or doing some stretches, basically doing whatever will work for you to get you a little extra energy when sleep is just not an option.

You Are a Different Person and That Can Be Amazing Too!

Your knee-jerk reaction will be to expect to return to everything as it was before your leave. To the same old routines, to the same old you. But you know that certain things will change and how you feel about your work may also change. All of that is ok. It's a period of transformation, of new routines, and of new normals. You'll make it through, and my guess is you'll like who you are on the other side even better.