Going back to work after a maternity leave is full of mixed emotions - excitement, dread, overwhelm, guilt, sadness, nervousness - you name it and we've probably experienced it.
While you're trying to process, deal with, or ignore (I was one of those) your feelings about going back to work, there's also a lot to do. Your time at home is coming to an end. There are meals to prep, bottle and baby gear to get ready for the sitter, practice drop-offs, emails to catch up on, and a host of things that you busy yourself with before that first day back to work.
It's a lot to think about and worry about. I know. I've done it twice.
So when it comes to giving you a list to help you prepare for going back to work, there are so many things I could include. Of course, there's the pump bag, or the daycare bag, or the "spare/just-in-case" bag of things (hello nursing pads or back-up shirt) that you need to think about putting together.
Those things are all important. I've created, checked, and double-checked those lists each time I've gone back to work. But when I think about the things that I did differently the second time around. The things that helped me feel better on that first day and in that first week, they weren't things that I had seen on any list before. They were things that I knew would help ME. Things that would help me when I was feeling overwhelmed, scattered, sad, or guilty.
So here it is. My recommendations for the things you need when going back to work to help you FEEL better:
1. Good Podcast or Audiobook
I'm all for listening to music and picking songs that fit your mood, but I often find myself getting lost in thought when I'm listening to music. Not that that's bad, but when my thoughts are about feeling sad or guilty for just having dropped my baby off at daycare, it's not exactly a great way to set myself up for the workday.
I have found that an engaging and interesting podcast or audiobook is a great way to focus on a topic, wake your mind up and get it working, and distract yourself from feeling sad or guilty. So on my way to work each morning, I am instead learning and feeling inspired by whatever podcast I'm listening to.
I highly encourage you to do the same and pick your episode or audiobook out in advance so you don't have to decide in the moment and you have something to look forward to!
2. Functional Bag or Purse
As much as I've tried to minimize the number of things I carry around with me each day, especially to work, I still have a fair amount of stuff. From the lunch that I try to bring with me each day, to the laptop and personal items, and not to mention the pump bag or diaper bag that also has to come along. It's a lot!
Before I went back to work my second time, I made sure that I did my research and came up with a bag solution that was going to work. For me, that ended up being a professional bookbag that allowed me to be hands-free for the other things that I needed to carry. For you, it might be a large tote with smaller bags inside to organize the little things. Whatever it is, make sure it works for your things and how you're going to be carrying it around. Starting your day off angry at a bag you have to schlepp around that doesn't hold what you need is no fun. It sounds trivial, but it really does make a difference.
3. Planner or Notebook for your Thoughts
I'm not here to tell you what planner you should use or if you should use a paper version or something on your phone. That is so personal! But I do know that there are a lot of things that go on in that working mom mind of yours and having a consistent place to jot down thoughts and to-do items and commitments is huge in keeping you sane. I wish I had had a better process when I went back to work the first time, and I think that's partly why I felt so scattered.
With my second return to work, I was using the Get To Work Book consistently and it helped so much with getting things out of my head and onto paper for a later time when I could tackle them or process them. (I've since moved on to the Passion Planner, but I'm still a huge advocate for the Get To Work Book.) The trick here is to get the items down on paper and then decide when you will do them. Don't constantly stare at a long list. Nothing good comes from that either!
4. Visual Reminder
If you want to remember something or change your thinking, you have to remind yourself constantly. It's why my business cards have some of my favorite quotes on the back. I want moms to hang them somewhere where they will see them every day so that the thought becomes natural. Mine right now, and has been for awhile, is CHOOSE JOY. I have a reminder in my wallet, as my computer background, and as a note in my planner. And when I went back to work with my first, my son, my thought was NO ONE CAN REPLACE YOU, MAMA.
You need that encouragement and that reminder because your mind wants to tell you something different. So however it is you want to feel in those first few months back to work, write it down, and put it somewhere where you can see it.
5. Big Ass Water Bottle
When I like my water bottle, I drink more water. Crazy and silly, right? But one thing I know is that when I'm feeling overwhelmed, stressed, irritable, etc., if I take a big drink of water, I start to feel better. Everything feels worse when you're dehydrated.`My recommendation? Especially if you are low on sleep or energy or focus, find a way to drink more water. If that means getting yourself a cute water bottle or adding some fruit or lemon to it, do it. Find what works for you, and make it something you look forward to using and filling up. Handling heading back to work is so much more manageable when you're hydrated.
None of these things replace the work of managing your mind or establishing your routines as a working mom. Those things take time and effort, and sometimes they take help. That's what I'm here for. But if you're looking for the small and easy things you can do to make the transition back to work a little easier, try some or all of these.