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The Emotional Toll of Returning to Work Outside the Home
Work-Life Wellbeing

The Emotional Toll of Returning to Work Outside the Home

Heading back to work. Maybe you’re excited. Maybe it’s filling your new mom self with guilt or anxiety. Maybe it is a little of both. No matter what you’re feeling, you’re feeling something. From separation anxiety (we all suffer) to a lack of support while transitioning, to breastfeeding on the job, it’s a veritable landmine of ups and downs. You got this. With a little help and “I’ve been there” advice from our Mommy's Bliss 360 expert and Licensed Mental Health Counselor & Certified Perinatal Mental Health Pro, Kate McReynolds. Re-entry here we come

Whether you’re looking forward to getting back into your career or wishing you could be a stay-at-home-mom, it’s safe to say that returning to paid work after becoming a mother comes with an emotional toll. Below are some common challenges moms face as they return to paid work, and a few tips to help you cope with the transition:

Insufficient Workplace Support

For many moms, there’s a lack of tangible and emotional support in the workplace. Finding work that provides what parents need – like flexible hours, hybrid schedules, time off to care for sick children, pumping/lactation considerations, child-care assistance, etc. – could be compared to finding a unicorn. Without sufficient support from your workplace, returning to paid work can feel extremely isolating and overwhelming as you try to create a sense of balance between work life and home life.

How to Cope: Get familiar with your company’s policies and know your rights regarding time off, paid leave, and other arrangements you might need. Talk to your boss or teammates about what you need to continue being productive at your job and give yourself permission to state the facts without feeling guilty: While you’re committed to your job, you also have a new workload to consider at home. Advocating for yourself and setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable, but saying no to unrealistic expectations is crucial for moms in the workplace.

The Pressure to Do it All

You might feel pressured to perform in your career at the same level you did before becoming a parent, even though you’re taking on a whole new workload with your ​domestic and care work at home. There’s often a sense of obligation to give 100% to your motherhood and 100% to your career, which can lead to burnout, anger, and a sense of failure when that ultimately doesn’t happen. You might also feel frustrated towards society for celebrating some aspects of your paid work (like being praised for getting a promotion) but criticizing the adjacent components (like being judged for putting your newborn in daycare).

How to Cope: Remind yourself that you only have 100% to give. That means sometimes you’ll give and take from different areas, but it doesn’t mean you view one thing as “less important” than the other – you’re simply shifting your focus back and forth. Allow yourself to change what your 100% looks like on any given day – some days your 100% might look more like 60%, and that’s okay.

Leaving Your Baby In Someone Else’s Care

Trusting someone else with the responsibility of caring for your baby can feel daunting, especially when you’re already in a vulnerable season of life at the end of maternity leave. Anxiety can spike as you adjust to the unfamiliar experience of being physically separated from your baby, as can guilt over delegating some of your caregiver responsibilities (on the flip side, it’s also common to feel guilty if you’re excited about someone else taking over childcare so you can start focusing on your career again). Regardless of where you land here, ​leaving your baby to return to paid work can elicit a lot of complicated emotions.

How to Cope: Since you’re not doing anything bad or wrong by providing financially for your family, reframe feelings of guilt about being away from them into something more neutral or positive – like excitement about being with them after work. Consider how even though you’re delegating some of your childcare tasks to someone else, you’re still overseeing and managing your baby’s care by communicating with the daycare/nanny, which means you are still their primary caregiver.

Missing Milestones

A common source of distress for moms who return to paid work is the fear of missing some of their baby’s first milestones – like rolling over, crawling, saying mama, walking, etc. You might feel a deep sense of grief or sadness if you aren’t able to witness these firsts, as well as guilt for not being the caregiver who was with your baby when it happened.

How to Cope: If you do happen to miss something, consider this mindset shift: When your baby does it again, the second or third or fourth time, in your presence, that’s their first time with you, which will always be a special and memorable moment for both of you.

Pumping at Work

While breastfeeding can be an amazing experience for both you and baby, it’s still a very physically and emotionally demanding one, especially at work. Not being able to pump when you want or need to because of scheduling limitations can lead to increased stress, decreased supply, and a sense of failure for not pumping “enough.” You might feel confused or overwhelmed about how to supplement with formula if you’ve never done it, and the pressure to build a freezer stash of breastmilk is enough to make any mom feel worried. It’s also common to struggle with anger and grief while pumping at work, as you might wish you could be with your baby to nurse them instead.

How to Cope: Know your breastfeeding and pumping rights in the workplace and normalize your need to pump by communicating when you plan to be unavailable throughout the day. Invest in an extra/travel set of pumping supplies if you can, to prevent unnecessary stress from forgetting things. You might find that looking through photos and videos of your baby while you pump at work helps you feel more relaxed and grounded.

Loss of Quality Time

Like most parents, you probably feel like there’s not enough time in your day to do all the things you want or need to do. The mental gymnastics involved in coordinating schedules as an employed mom is a lot to manage, and with everything on your to-do list, you might feel robbed of precious quality time with your baby. Noticing the passage of time every day with your growing baby can lead to a sense of grief over lost moments together, and even anxiety about not being able to soak it all up.

How to Cope: Don’t worry about soaking up or enjoying every single moment (like the chaotic moments during your morning rush), just soak up the moments that are easy to soak up (like when they give you big smile at daycare pick up, when they’re being extra cute and giggly during their dinner time feed, or when they fall asleep in your arms at bedtime).

Always remember that you are enough just as you are, and you are not doing anything wrong by focusing on your other job outside of motherhood.

This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.

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