Reclaiming self and maintaining peace for new mamas
A Q&A with Laura Kline-Taylor, Life & Leadership Coach
Mama Q: What are the biggest challenges going back to work as a new mom?
LKT says: I'll preface my response by saying, it won't be the same for every new mom, but most women find that their experience of themselves as new mothers is different than they thought it'd be - so it can be challenging to return to work after a period of little to no communication with colleagues when the mother knows the changes she's experienced are way more than adding a small human to her family. It's easy (and common) for people in our lives to be distracted by the super cute baby now in tow and completely disregard the internal shifts a woman is going through. Who a woman knows herself to be and how she identifies with her goals and her relationships is often completely transformed on the other side of giving birth and spending time on maternity leave. Some of the most prepared pregnant mamas are often surprised that what they thought new parenthood would be is not what they are faced with. She can find herself asking questions such as, "why didn't anyone prepare me for..."
Even the most compassionate work colleagues aren't always attuned to this and will relate to the new mom upon her return the way the she communicated about her return while pregnant and before she left. In other words, setting new expectations at work can be really challenging when a mom is not only navigating less sleep and new levels of partnership with a co-parent at home, but also has a new set of priorities and understands them based on reality versus what she thought would be true prior to going on leave. Additional challenges can come based on an office environment's comfort level with a mother who wants to pump breastmilk, and the time and space requirements for the mom to feel she can be at her best as a worker and still prioritize the method she chooses for nourishing the child.
Mama Q: It was very challenging for me the first time and now I will be returning after baby number 2 in a couple of months. Do you have any advice on returning to work after 2 kids?
LKT says: Again, there's no one size fits all here, but I'm a huge advocate for support. YOU, mama, cannot do it all. In the early months your body and baby need one another, but after you're ready to return to work, there are new dimensions to address and setting up sufficient support structures is crucial. Some places to look for support may be with caregivers - some who can come to your home, some who have a space you can drop off one or two kids. Also, again - with managing expectations at work ("hey everyone, it's going to be a little messy for a little while!") so that you and your colleagues trust you'll get the work done and are reliable, even though you're also figuring out what it's like to be a working mom of two, and with your partner.
What does your primary co-parent plan to do differently? How will s/he support you and show up for the household in additional ways? These are all areas to look at before going back to work and ongoingly once you have returned. The stress is something that can be anticipated (it's normal! You've never been a mom of 2 before!) and knowing you have support options can alleviate a lot of the stress.
Mama Q: I don’t even feel like the same person anymore. I just had my first baby. Didn’t love being pregnant but I love my baby more than anything. How do I make time for my partner, my baby and for myself? And, of course, sleeping!
LKT says: Congratulations mama, you're not the same person! Your body has carried and birthed a baby. Your emotions and hormones and brain chemistry - EVERYTHING - is different. With each baby born, a mother is born as well, and that mother has never existed. In a way, you're as new as your little one. I'm a big fan of these articles on the subject:
As for time, it's going to lean a little bit in favor of the majority of your time given to the baby and to your body's recovery at first. It can be a shock if you're used to using your brain and having energized intellectual conversations to be in the repetitiveness of life with new baby (sleep, diaper, feed, sleep diaper, feed, etc!) but if you can give yourself permission to slow way down - and let your partner and other communities know you're just working through the newness of it all and to have patience, much of it will settle into place after the first three months. I like to encourage moms to make time for AT LEAST 15 minutes of awake body autonomy every day (no holding baby) - to get a shower in - a brief, slow walk in the fresh air, to read something inspiring or chat with a loved one.
Mama Q: After having my son home with me for 3 years, how can I make the transition to day care easier on both of us?
LKT says: I’m always grateful when I’m reminded how resilient our children are. Even when they have specific needs a caregiver should be mindful of, often the transition is hardest for the grownups because we’re the ones with well-established comfort zones, habits, and fears, and we morph the fear that “this will be hard for me” into believing “and it will be hard for my child." A week or two is usually the difference between an anxiety ridden transition and a new routine, but Mama you can set aside some extra special quality time with your child in the afternoon/evening/weekend so you both can revel in each other’s company. Also, lean into your relationships with other mothers. Wise women who have been there and can empathize with what you’re experiencing through the adjustment (versus the ones with opinions for how you should/shouldn’t be doing it) can be super supportive.
Don’t forget to ask ALL your questions of the caregiver, whenever they arise, and share the little routines you know your child is accustomed to - ask that they be repeated and love names/terms be used with your child. You may discover in time that you are more sourced than depleted by the extended community of people who your child will be loved by!
Mama Q: I am high up in my company and I fear I won’t be able to take on as much as I used to when I return. Do I go in there and pretend everything is as it was before I left? I have agreed to go back sooner than I'd like to because being off longer in my role just wasn’t ideal.
LKT says: This in my opinion, is a great conversation for leadership coaching. Your abilities to perform and approach your tasks won’t have changed, but your priorities may have. Many new moms want to have some predictability or flexibility to their schedules in a way that wasn’t so important before baby arrived. Pretending everything is as it was before you left might work for a while, but it will likely create additional work and stress for you because it’s simply not the same. Especially at first.
The conversations with direct reports or senior managers are often something moms dread, because those colleagues’ lives haven’t transformed as yours have, and the project goals are likely the same. As a new mama, however, you're now a little more aware of your humanity (you’re a mother, a working woman, a partner, so much more than simply an employee!) and moms must make room for imperfections and last-minute changes to plans due to the ever-changing needs of a growing family.
Through leadership coaching you might explore and design the win-win so that you, the family, and your company and colleagues are all confident that needs are being met.