It’s the moment of truth. The bliss (or boredom) of maternity leave is over and it’s time to return to work. Or perhaps you’re reentering the labor force after years at home with small children. Here’s a primer on how to survive the first week back from maternity leave.
Do a Trial Run
I trust you’ve already lined up child care, whether it’s a relative, babysitter, or daycare center. If possible, have your child begin a day or two before your maternity leave ends.
Without the pressure of a work day, you’ll have the flexibility to linger and help your child adjust to a new caregiver. You’ll also have time for those errands that get you ready for work: professional clothes that fit your post-partum figure, a haircut, or extra supplies for your child’s caregiver.
Write a Packing List
If you weren’t a list-maker before you had a baby, you’ll probably become one. I can’t count the number of times we were halfway to daycare before we realized the baby’s bottles were still in the fridge. Now we have post-it reminders on the bathroom mirror, front door, and even the car’s windshield.
Pack everything you and your child need for the next day before you go to bed. My list was breast pump, empty bottles, purse and subway pass; the baby’s was four full bottles with caps, diapers, wipes, and extra clothes. If your children are older, make lunches the night before and pack anything special -- from sunblock or snow boots to field trip permission slips.
Plan the Morning Schedule
Think realistically about how long it will take you and your child to get ready in the morning. How long do you need to shower and dress? Do you have to get yourself together before your child wakes? Or can he amuse himself in a playpen?
Brainstorm with your husband or partner. Make sure you both have time to get personal chores done and be on time to work. Be explicit about who will dress, feed and amuse your child. You may prefer to divide up tasks, or take turns each day.
Write down the exact time you need to be up, dressed, fed, and out the door. Work backwards from when you’re due at work, leaving plenty of room for traffic or a lingering goodbye with your child. Set your alarm accordingly, and get out of bed when it rings!
Consolidate Work and Home Calendars
Even the greatest babysitter or child care center will be unavailable sometimes. Whether it’s a snow day or unexpected fever, you never know when you’ll wake up to a totally different day than you’d planned.
That’s why it’s important to have a single calendar with key work obligations as well as family appointments. While you’re scrambling to get a sick kid to the pediatrician, you will know which meetings you need to cancel or find a colleague to cover. Or you’ll know when you have to get coverage from your husband or backup caregiver, because you can’t miss work.
Get Lots of Sleep
Your first week back will probably be draining no matter how prepared you are. Go to bed as soon as possible each evening. Sleep with earplugs and ask your husband to handle any night wakings.
It may also be energizing to be back at work. When you’re filled with new ideas, you’ll want the stamina to follow through.
Working moms are brutally efficient -- we have to be. Identify the few key tasks that must be completed to get you up to speed at work. Everything else you’ll get to in time.
Also, tackle the most important things early in your work day. That will leave fewer loose ends when you get called to pick up a sick kid at school. And brace yourself: the first few months of group child care are usually punctuated by colds, fevers and ear infections. The only silver lining is that minor illnesses strengthen your child’s immune system.
You never know for sure how you’ll feel about returning to work until you do it. But don’t make any hasty decisions about your future the first week. It’s a very emotional time of transition.
Instead, notice how you feel, what you like or dislike it. Store these observations for later reflection. If uneasy feelings persist after a few weeks, you may want to change your work or care situation then.
After all this planning and transition, you deserve a treat. Plan a reward that will help you get through the first week back at work.
Maybe it’s a 3 pm pedicure appointment or coffee with your best work friend. Or even a Saturday morning snuggle in bed with your baby, to reconnect after being apart all week. You deserve it, and it will help refresh you for the second week back at work.