The first thing I say to all new mums is this: simplify your life as much as possible. We all think everyone else is coping better than us but the reality is that most women struggle to get any balance at all into their lives when they have children, never mind finding the perfect balance.
Before you start to beat yourself up and feel guilty about the decisions you make, know that there is no right or wrong way to live. There is only the way that you want to live and hopefully one that makes you feel content.
When you make a decision to return to work after baby, here are just a few of the things that might occur:
- As a new mum you will probably feel like your confidence has taken a blow
- You might feel unsure as to whether your colleagues will look at you in the same way
- You might feel nervous about your ability to step back into your role
- You might be feeling anxious and guilty about leaving the baby
- You might feel like you are just not good enough
Let’s face it; you’ve spent the past few months gurgling, changing nappies and being covered in sick. Now it’s time to jump into professional mode again. That can be very daunting.
Here are some of my top tips:
Keep in touch with work colleagues and ask them to keep you informed of any major changes at the office. This way you won’t feel completely out of the loop when you return. Meet work friends before you finish maternity leave and refresh yourself with what’s going on.
Create lists and make them your best friend. Whether you have lists on the wall or in your phone they will help your to stay focused. There is nothing more satisfying than checking off a list. Set alarms on your phone if you are busy and tend to forget things (perfectly normal for mums!)
Don’t underestimate the power of preparing the night before, including your own clothes. If I have a lot to bring I pack the car the night before, which means my mornings are less stressful. Leave a spare everything with your childcare of choice (clothes, nappies, wipes, food, toys) – I used to buy inexpensive clothes and leave them there in case of an accident/ emergency.
Pre-plan your meals for the week. Make your baby food in batches and freeze. Do the same for your own dinners. Switch to Internet shopping as it cuts down on time and you can do it from the comfort of your own home when the kids are asleep.
If you are struggling to stay on top of the cleaning and washing, ask for help. If you can afford it get someone in to help for a few hours a week. This will help to ease the pressure. I send my large items to the cleaners sometimes when I am really busy and it is sheer bliss when they come back ironed and folded.
Nearly every day at work people ask me how I do it. When I get to work I switch to professional mode and leave my stresses at home but I struggle to balance it all.
I need to take jobs whenever they come in, which means that one week I’m incredibly busy and the next I have nothing on. For this reason panic mode can set in for financial reasons. There are definitely a few things that can help.
Keep a list and schedule five minutes of me time every day. This can be as simple as sitting down with a cup of tea on your own and taking a few deep breaths. Getting the kids involved in chores from an early age and helping them to understand responsibility is also very important. Children need to realise that there are no magic wands and I also try to make chores fun. We have a race to see who can put the most toys away first. James also helps me to hang out the washing and he loves emptying the dishwasher, which is actually one job I would rather he didn’t do as it’s costing me a fortune in cups and plates.
Make sure you are getting some form of exercise as this will keep your mind clear and help you to cope better. Going for a short walk every day as a family can be great for all of you and you’ll be surprised at how much fun it is. Most of the time we dismiss these ideas, as we “don’t have enough time”. I’m sure we can all find 10 minutes every day – that’s 70 minutes of quality time for the whole family each week. I remember another mum telling me to lower my expectations of myself. I was shocked at the time but now I completely get where she was coming from. This simply means that unless you’re superwoman you can’t have the washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking, school runs done and work full time. Believe me, trying to could actually make you sick.
Choose childcare that suits you and your family. If you have relatives or a grandparent that’s happy to help that’s great or you might decide to choose a child-minder, au pair or a crèche/daycare facility. You need to feel comfortable and confident that your child is being taken care of and is happy while you are at work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, do your research and talk to other parents. I chose James’ crèche based on great referrals, low staff turnover, my instinct and the fresh, nutritious food they serve every day.
Ask your childminder to send you updates and photos in the early days so you don’t feel like you are missing out. Expect both of you to cry; I found this part the hardest to cope with because I used to feel awful driving away. As time went on, if James was upset I used to hang around and check back in. I was always reassured when he was laughing and having fun.
Quit feeling guilty. Of course this is easier said than done but there is no scientific evidence that suggests that children are harmed when their mums go to work. The reality is that most families need two incomes these days just to make ends meet. As long as your kids are in a loving, caring environment the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that they will thrive. Some mums even find that they are better working either full or part time, as they feel more fulfilled.
REBUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE
C- Care for yourself
O- Organise your day
N- No negative thoughts about yourself
F– Free yourself from the judgement of others
I- Identify your needs and goals and work towards them – IDENTIFYING YOU
D- Deal with your emotions
E- Explore your talents and passions
N- Nuture your soul with mindfulness/meditation
C- Completely trust your instincts
E- Easy does it – Rome wasn’t built in a day
It is possible for us all to build up our confidence up at any time. I find journaling helps. Write down all your positives, like the things you were great at in work before you had the baby, because you are still that person. Remind yourself of how capable and amazing you really are.
Try writing down five of your greatest achievements in work pre-baby and then also write down five things you would like to achieve.
MY TOP 5 BACK TO WORK AFFIRMATIONS:
If I did it before I can do it again
I choose progress over perfection
I feel confident in my abilities to return to work
I’m strong and ready and I can do this
I am an inspiring role model for my child/children
Be present: My golden rule, which I picked up from expert Joanna Fortune is ‘presence over presents’. How many of us buy presents and material goods to make up for not being around or as an apology to people? Your time is the most important gift you can give your children. Most memories are of the good times we spent with our parents and not of presents we received. I lost my dad 16 years ago and I remember time, not things. The tumble I used to do on his legs or the twirling in the garden – he used to throw us all up in the air – so if you only have a couple of hours in the evening, make them count.
Put down your phone, have fun and focus on your child.
Alison Canavan is a health and wellness expert, parenting columnist and motivational speaker who has devoted her career to nutrition, health and wellness, with a strong focus on mental health. Her new book Minding Mum is about making the choices that suit you and that make you happy. With chapters on nutrition, exercise, post-natal depression, mindfulness, beauty tips for busy mums and much more. Buy a copy here.