What is it REALLY like to be back at work the first week after your parental leave?  My next door neighbor, Denise Myler, just went back to work after her third maternity leave and agreed to write about the experience while she was in it.  This is the raw, unedited version of what it’s like to head back to work, mamas. Her advice here is both practical and inspiring. 

I’m so grateful to Denise for capturing this moment as it actually happened.  As you’ll be able to tell from her thoughtful and detailed responses, this mama with a VERY full plate really wants to be helpful to those of you preparing for a similar transition

Mindful Return: This is baby #3 for you – how does this return feel compared to the others?

Denise: This return after baby #3 has been the toughest yet: emotionally, logistically, mentally. My girlfriend put it perfectly: “Your life just feels so full with three kids, schedules, school activities, dailygrind. And then the oldest starts to get to a fun stage that you want to be a part of, especially when they enter real school.”  The return from my last two maternity leaves were difficult for what seemed like only that first day or two. I returned to work two weeks ago and still feel like I am struggling to find my footing.

One thing to note is that my maternity leave round 3 was itself amazing. Probably the best yet. Whether it was because I knew what to expect, or that I was not as shell shocked with the newborn phase, or with how to juggle multiple kids, I’m not sure.  But overall, we just had a blast for the five months I was home.

Don’t get me wrong: it absolutely had highs and lows.  But through all of them, I grew a lot as a mom. Soon into my maternity leave, our long-term nanny had a bad accident.  She took a medical leave of absence, which she is still on even as I am writing this. During the time of her accident, we also had a tough illness in our family that continues to impact everyone. Additionally, and peppered throughout my leave, my husband would go on work travel for extended periods, so it would just be us girls.

All these events forced me to put life into a sharp perspective: I suddenly had this strong need to create as many memories as possible with the people I love the most.  And there was a fearlessness in getting out of the house that does not always come easy to moms of newborns.

Mindful Return: What have been your biggest sources of support this week? In general?

Denise:  I have had three main sources of support

My Boss has been wonderful in her support and overall guidance. It helps that she also has young kids and can empathize with the crazy. On my first day back, we went to lunch and had a candid conversation about the concerns, challenges, and overall emotions of being back. When it comes to tasks and responsibilities, she fully empowers me to make decisions and fosters trust. But she is also a source of support when needed and easily accessible.

My Friends have been present and thoughtful. One friend and I have a message we always send each other on the first day back that goes: I just wanted to send a virtual hug on account of this, as I KNOW it is the hardest thing you likely will ever have to do. But I also know that you are setting an amazing example for your beautiful daughter of how women are capable of just about anything… And just think of all of the wonderful memories you are going to be able to make because you are working and helping to provide for your child and children in the future!!! Xoxoxo you can do it and each day will get easier I promise!!”

My Husband has been a rock. He has gone out of his way to help keep home life in check so I can focus on work. He has been on leave these past few weeks, and he has been taking over tasks that I typically do –without being asked! He also always has a new bottle of wine waiting for me and a gourmet dinner ready to eat when I get home. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Mindful Return: Any life / home / work systems or hacks you put into place to make the transition easier?

DeniseMy friends make fun of my thousand hacks. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Back to Work Manual: Before each of my maternity leaves, I would spend time leading up to it putting together a “back to work cheat sheet” for myself. It has been a critical point of reference – things like passwords and log ins, protocols, etc.
  • Child Care Manual: Having a detailed schedule and guidebook for our current caregiver. This go-to reference is very helpful to others, to assume some of the home and kids management tasks.
  • Time Management: GTD: My team and I use a time management system called GTD (Getting Things Done) that has been effective, coupled with an app called “Things”. (The latter is basically a glorified to-do list, organized by location and time of tackling.  And you can set up reminders and deadlines.)
  • PM Prep: The night before, I spend time preparing lunches, breakfasts, coffees, clothes out, bottles prepared. Anything to put a few minutes back into the morning.
  • Marie Kando Inspo: During maternity leave, I konmaried the entire house and got ourselves organized. This not only clears the mind but really comes in handy on those mornings when trying to get out the door and looking for tiny shoes.
  • Alexa – with the Echo Show: We were so hesitant to bring AI into our home. But it has been a big time and brain space saver. We will say things like “Alexa, remind in an hour to switch the laundry.”  Or, “Alexa, set a time-out timer for four minutes.” Or “Alexa, play princess music” (cue instant dance party to stave off a meltdown).
  • AM Routine: Each morning before school, we turn the music on remotely in the girls’ room to signal it’s time to get up. The green light goes on their alarm clock and tells them they can get out of bed and get dressed. We then have milk ready and food out. While eating breakfast, we do their hair and get their shoes on and bags out.
  • Apple Watch: I use the watch to set timers and alarms as reminders. And I love having a calendar on my wrist. I also love that I do not need to have my phone glued to my hand, and my eyes can stay focused on on my kids when they talk to me.  I set up my key contacts (my boss, team, husband, etc) as VIPs, so if an email comes from them only, I will see it. Otherwise, all other emails I will see when it’s time to check email.
  • Roomba: Aside from the amazing hands free vacuuming job we need because we have a dog who sheds, it’s also an incentive tool. “If you don’t pick up your toys, I’m going to turn on Roomba and he’s going to eat them all.” (Is this mean?)
  • Audible: I pour through books thanks to this app. While commuting home, cleaning dishes, folding laundry, you name it, I will listen to books on tape (listened at 1.5x). Audible also has wonderful quick yoga classes for both the morning and evening. (15 minutes if only to stretch.)
  • Podcasts:Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations are my morning’s pick me up.
  • Shifted Workouts: Returning to a desk job after being on my feet for 5 months, on the go, with trips and adventures for the kids, I always felt physically exercised. Pushing three in a stroller up hilly sidewalks is a pretty good workout! Since returning, I’m still experimenting. But I have started going for quick runs in the evening after the kids are down.

Mindful Return: What are the top 3 emotions you’re feeling this week?

DeniseIt is difficult to choose only three but here goes:

  • Indifference about my job has been surprising. For the past twelve years I have always shared how much I LOVE my job, love my day-to-day, my team, my boss, the firm I work for. I would easily put in 50+ hours a week, and it never felt like work. I still can’t imagine working for anyone else. And I am also very aware that I am still mourning the loss of my maternity leave and the role that has brought me an unmatched joy for the past five months.
  • Unsettled, because of our childcare situation. Right now we anticipate our long-term nanny will return to work next week. Yay!
  • Feeling sedentary. I went from being constantly on the move and on my feet to now suddenly SITTING for an hour at a time. I feel like a blob on my chair. Don’t know how else to describe it.

Mindful Return: What’s stressing you out most about being back?

DeniseI would say that the biggest source of stress is the FOMO: feeling like I am missing out on the moments with my children while they are this small. I could say things too, like the volume of work. A condensed schedule. (I returned to a new schedule of working 4 days a week instead of 5.) Childcare in limbo. Racing the clock. Or struggling to remember basic English in conversations. But these things will improve. I truly hate that I am missing moments with my young children.

Mindful Return: What’s exciting you most about being back?

Denise: As much as I love my Lululemon uniform, it is nice to put on a dress, wave my hair, and feel presentable. I also enjoy the strategic thinking of my role and exercising my brain again. This strategic thinking is slightly different than how to get kids safely from point A to point B without a major meltdown. Also very important.

Mindful Return: Any products that have been super helpful?

“Things” app. Alexa with Echo Show. And the Apple Watch. OneNote for work notebook. And Evernote for a personal workbook.

Mindful Return: How has your manager / team reacted to your transition? Anything they’ve done to ease the process?

Denise: My entire team has been incredibly supportive. As mentioned above, my boss and I grabbed lunch one-on-one on my first day back. We have maintained an open line of communication. There were also many “how are you doing” “how are the kids” etc., which is nice to hear. They will entertain my need to share silly photos from the morning or night before.

Mindful Return: Your husband is taking leave for the next few weeks. How did you navigate and plan for that arrangement as a couple?

Denise: My husband’s taking leave was somewhat by default – unfortunately our long-time nanny had an accident and has been on medical leave ever since. We started exploring our plan B, which meant interviewing other wonderful caregivers and also trying to find an interim solution so she could come back to work.

Luckily, my husband had vacation days that he would lose if not used (I used all of mine up for maternity leave). He decided to take them now. We also have a family friend, a former nanny, who graciously agreed to come over and help take care of our kids and home as I returned to work. Now, thankfully, we anticipate our nanny will return to us next week.

Mindful Return: Any other advice to new mamas doing a similar return?

 Denise: Sheesh. Returning to work whether with your first, second, third or eighth child is never easy, by design. It can be excruciating at best. You will run the gauntlet of emotions: highs, lows, and mehs.

I would advise that before you head back, set an intention. What is your deepest intention, the end goal, for you, your kids, and your family? My intention for our family is that everyone feels loved, cared for, and seen, but also that they each know a healthy independence. I think that this independence is important in a family unit. And it might just mean them seeing mom going back to a job she loves. Setting an intention will help everything else falls into place and decisions will become less heavily weighted.

Denise Myler is mom to Addison (4 yr), Quinn (2 yr) and Emma (5 mo) and wife to Devin (30-something). She is the Regional Director of Business Development, an Associate, and a WELL AP at a commercial architecture firm where she has worked for 12 years. Her husband is a Civil Service Senior Program Analyst in the Department of the Navy and a Marine Corps Reserve officer. They work, reside, and play in Washington, DC. 

Back to Work After BabyIf 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

First Week Back at Work after Maternity Leave

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