When people ask why I created Mindful Return in the first place, I often answer, “out of sheer desperation.” Returning to work after my first child had its challenges. And then returning after my second drove me off the rails. There were plenty of baby-focused resources out there. But none I could find that focused on helping the *parent* through the personal challenges and professional identity transition that happens when you become a working mom.
I also often get asked, “what do you think are the main challenges new parents face when they go back to work after having a baby?” I have a list that’s 17 miles long. But given that my own returns were a number of years ago, I’d prefer you not take that list from me. Instead, listen to the perspectives of the mamas who are currently in the trenches.
Today’s blog post is written by one of those mamas. Maria Chen, a PhD engineer and working mama, shared her back-to-work story on her own blog, Move, Fit, Love, to help other new parents who are struggling with this transition. She has since given me permission to include her post here, so that you can hear about these challenges in her own voice.
Now, here is Maria, with her own story!
“Returning to work” after giving birth is usually a challenging process, especially for but not limited to, first-time moms. In addition to learning about your new baby, you are also nursing, recovering, taking care of the family, finding the new norm, and/or just trying to have time to “sleep.” Adding “work” back into your life in the first chaotic year is indeed challenging.
My husband found out a cool entrepreneurial business called Mindful Return during my pregnancy. After taking care of our newborn the first month, my husband went back to work. Although he works from home most of the time due to the pandemic, it was a challenging return-to-work process for him. Seeing him figuring out his new role as a working dad, I felt the urge to take the online course offered to working moms from Mindful Return.
The way I have developed to deal with the unknown (usually my fears as well) is to face it directly. Learn about it. And then work on it. Taking the course turned out to be one of the most awesome decisions I’ve made as a mom.
The Mindful Return course is structured similar to an in-person workshop that’s set up virtually. The course content is released each week, with the instructor guiding the weekly discussion. You will also have other momma peers who register for the same session as you, to share experiences and process with. Discussions, supports, and sharing from fellow mommas make taking the course a special postpartum and mothering experience.
The course is designed with useful, thoughtful, and insightful content, while it’s not too much to overwhelm busy moms. Unlike a typical online course that has many videos for you to watch, the Mindful Return course (when I took it in July 2020) provided mostly reading materials of a manageable length. This is very suitable for parents especially with infants, whose times are typically chopped into small pieces.
Mindful Return also offers online courses for working dads, mums in the UK, and parents of special needs children, etc. You may pay for the course out of your pocket. You can also bring up the benefits of this course to your manager and have your employer sponsor (reimburse) for this course.
The benefits of this course are beyond the mother herself. It helps mothers to equip themselves the right mindset and resources to be a confident and even more valuable working mom employee.
With the skills and knowledge I learned from this course, I still held zero expectation to what my return to work would look like. I just focused on the thing I needed and I wanted to do. However, it wasn’t without challenges. The main challenges were in the three main categories: (1) Baby’s continuing growth, (2) daycare challenges, and (3) work schedule/priority.
Here is more about each of these 3 challenges:
- Baby’s Continuing Growth: Since baby is still growing, I have to myself to remain flexible in my approach to taking care of the baby. I also need to be mindful about baby’s growth at each stage. Keeping a fixed mindset can create impractical expectations for parenthood. Reaching out to ask for fellow momma’s experiences can be helpful!
- Daycare Challenges: Returning to work also means the start of sending the baby to daycare. Keep observing your baby’s behavior at school and returning home when he or she is sent to a new environment.
We were told that crying is normal. But our son cried and lost his voice badly the first day, and the following 4 weeks. We tried to work with the teacher to understand when and how he cried. We also helped provide the baby’s favorite soothing method to the teachers. But the teachers were defensive when we attempted to provide our support. And they were vague in answering my questions about when and how long did our baby cry.
We also noticed that the teachers were not on top of the baby’s temperament and needs. For example, they didn’t know that he could sit up independently, and they had been giving him “sitting up” as an activity on some days of the week.
My instinct told me this daycare wasn’t a good fit for our son, while I was also doubting myself about whether I was being too sensitive and protective. I finally decided to remove our son from this daycare, after I observed that the babies in the daycare just took turns crying all day!
After switching my son to another daycare, he never had that crying issue at school. He quickly bonded with the teacher there. Figuring out why the baby is not adjusting to a new environment is stressful, but definitely worth it.
Some people will tell you that “it’s normal” “it takes time.” Others will tell you they have decades of experience. But, please don’t forget about your common sense and your judgement. Trust your instincts!
3. Work Schedule / Prioritizing: With baby’s appointments, evolving schedule, and unexpected sickness, our work schedule can be impacted. If your work allows you to be flexible with your schedule, it’s a great opportunity to be flexible with your work hours. You can use this flexibility to work with your baby’s evolving schedule. If you have a strict work schedule, remind yourself to keep your mindset flexible and find creativity when you can. 🙂
Maria Chen obtained her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 2016. She is a Quality and Reliability Engineer at Intel. She is passionate about connecting technology to products that customers appreciate. In her free time, she exercises and makes healthy and delicious food. She also loves bringing her problem solving skills to real estate investing.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave