That statement might sound devastating, and like she’s knocking working parents back a bit. (We come back just as we were! We’re working double time! Kids? What kids?) But she’s got a point: She didn’t have the “patience with myself to kind of say it’s okay if I have to leave at 4 my first couple days back. Or I shouldn’t have jumped in on all these projects that were going well without me. Jump in on the next one.”
There it is. Moms returning to work — and yes, dads too — aren’t the same as when they left. But that doesn’t mean they’re not as good as they once were. Quite the opposite, in fact. (Now how can we get employers to realize that?)
Bugbee is the senior managing editor for Care.com. What she’s found is people are expecting you to ramp back up, not come in at full force. “They’re so glad you’re back, the intellectual talent you bring, they know you’re an asset,” she says. “We do our own damage by trying to prove [everything] to them and ourselves.”
It may sound like a utopia she’s talking about that perhaps you missed out on. But take what you can, based on your own situation, from her good advice about how to transition back.
1. Organize your day. Figure out with your partner the drop-off and pick-up routine. Then when you get to the office, there’s a to-do list and a time that you actually have to leave the office, stat. “This is a huge realization that suddenly a clock stops for you. It takes even more organization than you were ready for,” she says. In other words, no more alt-tabbing to check Twitter one last time or comment on your friend’s newest Facebook photo. You are a new, efficient working machine because you have to get home.
2. Talk to your boss on your first day. Sit down, go through projects you missed while you were out. Get up to speed on some of them and talk about your role now that you’ve returned to this world. Someone’s been handling this while you were out. Ask if you should let him or her run with it, or whether you should jump right in. By talking about it, that might help you transition in rather than dive (or perhaps awkwardly belly flop) in. You can suggest that this person finish up that project and you’ll manage that next one. Makes sense, right?
3. Know your limits. You might have to say no to a project or two. Try to figure out what your new life can allow. And that can be a sign of strength. Rather than taking something on and not doing a good job, have a conversation about how to do it effectively.
4. Stay connected at home through caregiver’s texts. It’s hard, emotionally, to leave this baby, and often you have to come back after too short of a time with your child. Ask whether the daycare center or nanny can give updates to you along the way and know that a lot of people have gone through this, too. You might feel like a good day means that you showered and got to work. And it might seem as if every other working parent has their stuff together so much more than you do. “But I think many people are faking it until they’re making it,” Bugbee says. “If you stopped a working mom and said “How are you doing this all?” They’ll probably turn to you and say “Am I?”
5. Find support. Start a working parent support group in your company. “There’s one in ours now and I jokingly joined it because I thought they wouldn’t want a third-time mom in there,” Bugbee says. “But it was so nice to talk about things … and to kind of vent about things.” You may be able to help each other, those who have been through it can help those coming, and if there is ever an issue, you can talk to management together to get it taken care of.
6. Talk to HR about how to make it better. Your company doesn’t want to lose you, Bugbee says. You’re expensive to replace. Think about what other services they could offer to make life easier for everyone. Grocery delivery or dry cleaning pick-up on site? That could help you find a little ease in your new situation, and it won’t cost the company much while becoming a great benefit for employees.