For new parents lucky enough to spend a chunk of time at home with their brand-new babies (even if “luck” isn’t the word you might use when spit-up is raining on your shirt) the thought of returning to work may bring up mixed emotions. You might be excited to use a different part of your brain; gutted at the idea of leaving your baby with another caregiver; overwhelmed at the thought of balancing it all; and thrilled for a quiet commute with a podcast or book.
Whatever you may be feeling—all of it okay—it’s worth recognizing the new path in front of you: navigating what will be your new day-to-day. As you plan a return back to work, ace your arrival as a working parent by following these nine tips.
1. Contact your manager about your new scheduling needs
There will come a moment in your leave when you realize your return is imminent. In that moment, take hold of the fear (or excitement) and consider your schedule. Based on childcare logistics, commute length, and your own wants and needs, would you ideally have a different setup?
As soon as you can, touch base with your manager about the kind of schedule you are looking to have, be it earlier or later arrivals or departures, work-from-home days, or temporarily going part-time as you ease back into work life. A conversation about your needs will put everyone on the same page.
2. Lock down that pumping room
For breastfeeding parents, pumping can be a headache: racing from meetings to pump, spilling milk while transferring containers, or forgetting to bring just! that! one! part! While inconveniences are unavoidable, future planning can be a huge weight off of your cognitive load. Ideally before you return to work, you’ll schedule blocks of time to pump that mirrors how often you feed your baby at home.
In the United States, most employers are required to provide time for parents to pump in a space that’s not a bathroom (though some towns, cities, and states sometimes require more stringent standards). While room options can vary wildly, touch base with your manager, operations team, or other logistics stakeholder to ensure there’s a space ready for you on Day One with a chair, table, and anything else you need.
3. Return mid-week
Not all schedules and budgets will allow, but try to return to work on a Wednesday or Thursday. It gives you the opportunity to wrangle logistics earlier in the week, then ease into the transition before the break of a weekend.
4. Don’t worry: the build-up is the worst part
Having been there, and spoken to other parents who returned to work, the concept of returning is worse than the act itself.
If you’re dreading leaving your baby, know that it won’t be as bad as you’ve envisioned once they’re in the capable hands of another caregiver, and you’re out the door on your way to work. Might there be tears and anxiety? Sure. But this is one of those times when the anticipation is the hardest bit.
5. Whatever you feel is okay
Everyone returns to work in different shape, at different times, and in different emotional states. Some are euphoric to get back to their work. Others struggle to find the balance. Some parents are devastated to leave their child. Whatever camp you fall into is okay.
This moment, like almost all with small children, is one of transition. However you feel now may not be how you feel in six months—and even if you’re doing well, there will be up and down days in the mix. Give yourself permission to take a deep breath and be exactly where you are.
6. Take control of your calendar
With that deep breath in your chest, allow for another beat of self-care and review your calendar. Are there meetings that need shifting to accommodate your new schedule? Are there recurring calendar holds now obsolete since your time away? Will back-to-back team check-ins no longer work? Bust out some burning sage and cleanse your calendar so that it fits your needs.
7. Advocate for future parents
And speaking of your calendar: if you’re a pumping parent, consider labeling these sessions accurately instead of being discreet. If someone tries to book a meeting with you during one of these times, or when you need to leave early to relieve a caregiver, be protective of your needs. Advocate for yourself, and you’ll set a good example in your workplace of how to balance work and family—now and in the future.
8. Be patient with and kind to yourself
Not every day is going to be a thrill ride. A crucial diaper change may make you late for work. The report you’re writing might require an extra hour of attention. These pushes and pulls in your new life may be challenging, but you should do your best to be patient.
You’re likely a few months into this new parent gig, and as with any job it takes time to get into a groove. Try not to beat yourself up over the small things you forget, or the times when you don’t mean to be frustrated with your partner or family. (Did I mention taking a deep breath? Do it again— maybe even twice.)
9. Take stock a few months in
Once you’ve been back at work for a few months, make time to check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you’re feeling, both at work, at home, and at the interplay of the two. If you’ve reconfigured your work schedule, check in with your manager about how they’re viewing your work. If all is feeling good, hooray! If not, consider making tweaks to schedules, processes, or workload so that you feel empowered and energetic toward what’s next.
You’ve got this.
I remember coming back to work four months after my baby was born, feeling dazed, like I had been gone far longer, and as if my world had tilted—which it had. But with an organized calendar and continued conversation with myself in these phases of transition, my work days apart from my child are worthwhile, mostly full of balance and purpose. And if I could handle it, with a messy mind and even messier postpartum emotions, you can too.
For more on your return to work, check out resources from The Fifth Trimester author Lauren Smith Brody.
What tips did you find helpful when returning to work after your parental leave?