I have rarely been so excited to walk through the doors of my office building as I was this past Monday morning. After a week of chaos, I was back at my quiet desk, thinking through my clients’ legal problems. This, instead of being at home, navigating a mystery medical issue my oldest son was grappling with last week. (He’s fine now, but I’ll note that some childhood ailments – like a knee mysteriously locking – are just weird.)
There are some days it really just feels good to be at work. To be solving other people’s problems. Be making progress toward goals. Have conversations with grown-ups. And to be putting the non-caregiving parts of my brain to use. Does acknowledging this make me a bad mom now that my kids are in grade school? No. Did feeling this way make me a bad mom when my boys were babies? Nope. Not then, either.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a therapist who specializes in helping women navigate the postpartum period. When I asked her about the biggest issues her clients were facing in returning to work after maternity leave, and she mentioned “guilt at being excited to go back to work” being near the top of the list.
We live in a culture where the dominant – and expected – feeling for new mothers heading back to work is dread. Sadness to be missing milestones. Fear of not pumping enough. Terror of being replaced as the most important person in baby’s life. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t happen.)
But we don’t often expect a new mama to feel – or give her permission to feel – excited. Happy. And anticipating something good.
In one of the lessons in the Mindful Return course, we focus specifically on overwhelm in new parenthood, and the new mamas discuss what three feelings are coming up for them in preparing to return to work. Here’s a sampling of the words they use to describe how they’re feeling:
- Missing Out
Note that these words were written in the protected space of a private community of moms who were sharing honestly and being vulnerable. Also note that these words represent a mixed bag of positive and negative emotions. Some moms listed 3 negative words. Some moms listed 3 positive words. And some listed a combination of positive and negative.
What’s my message here? However you are feeling about going to work on a given day – good, bad, or a bit of both – it is completely normal. Today, you might feel excited and empowered. And tomorrow, you might be stressed and afraid. I certainly still grapple with the full spectrum of these feelings, even 7 years into working parenthood. As excited as I am to be here at work today, I’m sad that a work trip will cause me to miss my son’s upcoming zoo field trip.
If you’re feeling some of that excitement as you approach your return, and you discover that others are judging you for that joy, find a community that will support you and allow you the full range of feelings on this topic.
And if you’re judging yourself for that joy, mama, please don’t. You are human. You have a brain you want to use. Passions you want to pursue. And you are a committed, loving, and wonderful parent. I promise.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
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.