The first week back to work following maternity leave is...let's be honest, simply about getting from point A to point B.
It's about learning what to pack for daycare and how early you have to get up to get everyone dressed and out the door.
It's about remembering the best route to work and what the heck your network password is.
And it's about finding the motivation and resolve to stay focused at work while saving enough energy to play with and care for your baby when you get home.
Many new working moms are surprised though at how quickly they fall into new routines. Work quickly picks up right where it left off and your little one adjusts to their new childcare schedule. Days fly by in a flurry of activity. You're exhausted, yes, but you're doing it.
The Bigger Picture
Then at some point, once you've ironed out the smaller, more tactical issues, you start thinking about the bigger picture. You start thinking about your career goals again and your parenting philosophies. You think about the constant push and pull that you feel between your career and motherhood. You think about balance.
How do I commit to my work without sacrificing time with my baby? How do I find enough time to work and parent and maintain all the little details that go with raising a family and a home?
The truth is there is no secret formula or one-size-fits-all solution and a lot of it depends on your job, your schedule, and your support system both at home and at work. Some would argue that there is no such thing as balance. That the scales are always tipped one way or the other - work versus family - and it's a constant back and forth for which takes priority.
Having been a working mom for several years now, it's true. I've never found perfect balance for more than a week at a time. What keeps me sane is knowing that while this week it may feel like my job is taking the backseat to my kids, I know that will soon change and my job will have its turn.
Maintain Sanity and Happiness
So while balance may not be the ultimate goal or ever truly achievable, I have found several things to help me maintain a sense of sanity and happiness in both of my worlds, at work and at home:
Build Routines and Reduce Decisions
Getting into a groove those first few months back to work is all about setting up routines that eliminate decisions. Babies are always changing in that first year, so the more you can decide things in advance, the less you have to spontaneously react to.
For me, that's things like having a very limited professional wardrobe (that fits!) so I don't spend time thinking about what to wear to work in the morning when the baby is crying and I'm pressed for time. Bonus tip - wear a robe over your clothes until you get to the door because...spit up and drool!
Transitions (home to daycare, daycare to work, etc.) are critical times where you should eliminate decisions. Think through your day and ask yourself where you can reduce your options or make a decision in advance.
Meal Prep on the Weekends
I am always willing to sacrifice a few hours on Saturday or Sunday to gain some sanity and a little one-on-one time with my kids during the week. I do all my meal planning and prepping on the weekend so that I'm not deciding what to make for dinner when I've already had a long, full day at work. I simply assemble and heat what I've already prepped and I do that WITH my kids - toddler helping and baby on my hip or in the high chair. This easily gives me an extra half hour just to be/play rather than frantically cooking.
I'll admit that I don't LOVE spending my time on the weekend in the kitchen, but I HATE crazy weeknights more, so to me the time is well worth it.
Do Whatever It Takes to Make Life Easier
This could mean all kinds of things, but I've learned over the years that when I have high career ambitions but still want to be available and present with my kids, it's worth it to get the thing or hire the service that makes my life easier.
For me, those are things like paying for great childcare that allows me to focus on work rather than worrying about whether my kids are happy. It's paying for a housekeeper to help with basic cleaning every other week so I don't have to scrub bathtubs. It's getting the nice pumping bag that holds all my parts and backup parts so my daily routine is more enjoyable because it's EASIER.
These things can be big or small, and you have to do what makes sense for you, but I never regret spending a little extra on something that buys me more time and less stress!
This is a work in progress for me, but I am learning to let go of things that don't truly matter. I value relaxed time with my family, a growing professional career, my coaching work and living a healthy lifestyle. Not too much else matters to me in this stage of my life. As kids get older, I will absolutely add back in some of the things that I love, but for now, these are my focus.
I find that giving myself permission relieves a lot of the guilt when I have to say no to things that don't fit on my priority list. And the more I do it, the easier it gets.
Remember, You Are Doing It
I live by these words. It's hard work to work full-time outside the home and keep up with everything around the house, AND be a great mom. But everyday you just do it. Remember to be proud of yourself for ALL that you do every single day. It might look like normal, routine stuff, but your every day is what makes up your whole life and it's pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.
This article is part of a series where I answer reader questions about working motherhood. I'm an open book and happy to answer any and all questions I receive, no matter how small. Have a question you'd like to see answered here? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other Q&A articles in this series: