Going Back to Work After Baby: Get the Job. Ditch the Guilt!

If you’re a new mom who is going back to work, we’re here for you. Read on as we walk you through some job-hunting strategies, how to smooth the transition once you’ve landed a new job and how to deal with ever-present new mom guilt.

Consider All Your Work Experience

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, you may not realize what skills you’ll be bringing to the table. Your first step: Make a list of 20 things you’re good at. “Think about all the experience you’ve accumulated since you’ve been home as well as the work you were doing before you had your baby,” suggests Stacia Pierce, a life coach in Orlando, Fla.

Don’t Undersell Yourself

Just because you’re a working mom doesn’t make you less valuable of an employee or less capable of handling all your responsibilities. In your cover letter, emphasize your strengths and your past accomplishments. “Working mothers are known for their capacity for work, ability to prioritize, productivity and their ability to improve team dynamics,” says Liana Downey, executive director of Liana Downey & Associates, a company that offers strategic advice to large governments and nonprofits -- and a mother of two.

Prep for Your Interview

Once you’ve landed an interview, start prepping -- even if you’re exhausted from those late-night feedings. “During your interview, you want to convey that you’re ready to return to work and that you’re excited to get back into the workforce,” says Pierce. To really impress, always take a few minutes to research the person you’re meeting with. “It’s so easy to Google the person beforehand,” says Pierce. “Look at her social media page to see what she’s working on or what she cares about and see if you can add that to the conversation.”

Map out Your Back-to-Work Strategy

Whether you’ve just accepted a job offer or you’re nearing the end of your maternity leave, it’s time to iron out all the details of your now-complicated schedule. “If it’s at all possible, target your start date for four to eight weeks in the future so that you can line up childcare and figure out breast pumping or formula issues,” suggests Lauren Napolitano, a licensed psychologist in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. If you’re pumping, see if your workplace has a mother’s lounge or another quiet room that you can use regularly.

Try Some Test Runs

Even if you’re looking forward to being back in the office, mom guilt is inevitable. To help ease the transition, chat with as many other mothers as you can. “These moms are a great source of information and can tell you how they managed their guilt and anxiety about going back to work,” says Napolitano. Slowly practice spending time away from your baby to get used to your new arrangement. “Try a day out first,” suggests Napolitano. “This full day -- or a few half days -- can help your baby to transition to this arrangement, and it will ultimately help you to adjust to the idea of leaving your baby in the care of others.”

Focus on Polishing

Before that big first day, do a little image enhancement. “In the days leading up to your first day, prepare your outfit, adding an accessory or fresh blouse that makes you feel good about yourself,” says Pierce. “When you wear something new and fresh, it makes you walk taller and feel different. That energy gets across to a new employer.” Just check for spit-up on that new shirt collar before you head out the door.

Keep That Money in the Bank! Simple Ways to Get a Hold of Your Finances

Everyone wants to be better about managing their money, but between hectic work schedules and long to-do lists, sitting down to figure out your finances can easily fall to the bottom of the priorities pile. Fortunately, we’ve brought the research to you, asking money management pros for their top tips on how to save more, pay down debt and bring in a little cash. Here’s what they recommend:

Know Where Your Money Goes

Before you start planning how to save, it’s essential to track your spending. Take a look at how much it costs to run your household each month, then see how much money you have left for discretionary spending, says Sophia Bera, CFP and founder of Gen Y Planning. If you notice any unnecessary debts or spending, try to pare down those expenses. 

Got a pile of debt? Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP and founder of Workable Wealth, suggests either paying off the debts with the highest interest rate first, or tackling your smallest debts first and then, once they’re paid, moving on to the bigger ones. Websites like Mint and You Need a Budget can help you put together a monthly budget and track your spending.

Start Your Emergency Cushion Now

Storjohann suggests storing up an emergency fund equivalent to three to six months of living expenses that you can draw from in case of an emergency. “Having that cushion protects you from having to take on debt if something goes wrong,” says Storjohann.

Saving 10 percent of your income (if you can) is a good place to start, Storjohann adds. It’ll seem less daunting if you treat your fund like a bill payment, setting aside the money every month.

Take Advantage of Employer Matches

If your employer matches up to a certain percentage of your 401k or retirement investment, make sure you’re contributing that minimum. “If you’re not, you’re basically leaving free money on the table,” says Storjohann. Don’t have a 401k or employer investment plan? Storjohann suggests saving for retirement by investing in things like a mutual or exchange-traded fund, which will give you greater diversification of assets.

Avoid the “Facebook Trap”

When friends and former coworkers post pictures of their fabulous vacations or new houses, it’s easy to feel as though you’re falling behind both personally and financially. “People are not putting their true selves forward on social media,” says Storjohann. “It’s best to focus on what really matters to you when organizing yourself financially.” Remind yourself of the non-material blessings you have before you go online.

Learn How Much You Should Be Making

Wish you had a bigger paycheck? You could be entitled to one. Do some research at websites like PayScale to determine an accurate salary for your position. If your salary doesn’t match up, talk to your boss. “Women in general are underpaid and should look to increase their income through their employer,” says Storjohann.

Get Creative to Earn Extra Income

Do you make awesome brownies or homemade jewelry? Baking, crafting or any type of “side hustle” can help pad your personal income and create additional investment opportunities, says Storjohann. Ask local stores, consignment shops and flea markets to sell your wares, or try setting up a website for orders. An even easier way to get extra cash a few times a year: Clean out your garage, basement and attic and hold garage or tag sales. You’ll be rewarded both with a neater home and a bigger bank balance.

Isn’t It Time to Stop Judging Yourself?

Bad habits aren’t limited to things like nail biting and procrastination. For women, one of the most common and insidious habits is being overly critical or judgmental of themselves. What’s worse, a pattern of self-criticism can become so ingrained, you might not even notice you’re doing it.

“It’s a huge issue for women,” says Alice Domar, who has a doctorate in health psychology and is the author of Be Happy Without Being Perfect. “We criticize ourselves from morning to night, and all that negative self-talk puts you at risk for depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.”

You can learn to silence your inner critic and become more accepting of yourself, however. Start with these strategies:

1. Listen to yourself.
The first step is to recognize when you’re engaging in negative self-talk. Decide to spend a day tuned into your thoughts about yourself and jot down every comment. That night, count how many are negative.

Seeing in ink how many times you call yourself a bad mother or berate your lack of diet willpower helps you realize just how critical you’re being. “It’s a big wake-up call,” says Domar.

2. Be honest.
Now that you’re better tuned in, when you “hear” criticism, ask yourself four questions, says Domar: "Is this thought logical? Is it true? Does this thought contribute to my stress? Where did it come from?" In most cases, your answers will be, "No, it’s not logical or true. Yes, it stresses me out." And the thought originally came from a former boss, a judgmental relative or a mean teacher you had in high school.

By paying attention to and dissecting the criticism in this way, you can better realize that the criticism isn’t valid. And that’s a crucial first step toward stopping it.

3. Avoid the comparison game.
Comparing yourself to others doesn’t do anything but make you feel bad. It’s unfair and damaging to reprimand yourself because you’re not as thin as one friend or as organized as another. “There will always be someone who will exceed you in some part of life,” says Pauline Wallin, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has written Taming Your Inner Brat.

Instead, focus on what you do right. Recognize, for example, that you’re a great multitasker or can manage a complex project efficiently -- and ignore that you’re not a pro networker like your colleague. You’ll feel better about yourself, which helps you succeed in the long run.

4.
Look at the big picture.
So what if your house isn’t immaculate? Who cares that you lost your keys? Will beating yourself up change anything in the grand scheme of things?

It’s important not to get caught up in minor details. Instead, think about what’s really important: You may not spend time scrubbing your floors, but you do spend time with your kids, and they are healthy, well-adjusted and love you, for example.

5. Get a second opinion.
“People hold themselves to much higher standards than they do others,” says Domar. So when you start getting beat down, talk to a trusted friend to get a needed reality check.

Another’s voice will help you see things from an outsider’s more accepting perspective. She’ll help you realize all the things you’re doing well in your life and that nobody thinks you’re a bad mother, woman, employee -- whatever! Your criticisms will soon seem as silly and unwarranted as they actually are.

6. Decide to stop being negative.

After a while, you will start to recognize when you’re about to be (or are being) too hard on yourself. When you do, stop yourself -- literally, says Domar. Visualize a stop sign, take slow, deep breaths, then consciously make a choice not to be negative. Remember that you control your thoughts. It can be quite empowering to decide not to let them hurt you.

Try changing the subject in your head by shifting to something positive, such as an upcoming party or vacation. Changing the subject helps short-circuit negative thoughts immediately, says Wallin.

7. Keep a bravo journal.

Getting in the habit of recognizing success can help overtake negativity. So at the end of each day, take stock of what you did well and write it in a journal or share it with your partner. “A lot of us have been brought up to think bragging is bad,” says Domar. “But if you’ve accomplished something, recognize and share the good news.”

Whether you gave a stellar presentation at work or helped your daughter create an A-plus art project, seeing accomplishments in writing or hearing them in your own voice helps you think of yourself more positively every day. This will evict the inner critic, and a kinder commentator will move in -- one who treats you with the respect you’re so good at giving others.

Secrets to Sneaking in More Sleep

These days, more and more people are sleeping fewer and fewer hours. But we don’t need to tell you that. Keeping up with your kids, household and the rest of your life has likely made you a living, breathing -- and exhausted -- example of today’s sleep-deprived woman.

But a sleep deficit can be a lot more problematic than just making you feel tired. It can also negatively impact your health. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to be overweight, because the body may create less leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite. Sleep deprivation can also increase levels of C-reactive protein, a substance that puts you at a greater risk for inflammation that leads to heart disease. What’s more, shaving off hours from your rest can leave you feeling extra stressed and make your skin duller and more tired-looking. (Skin goes to work shedding dead cells and repairing itself while you snooze.)

To avoid the pitfalls, most adults need seven or eight hours, says Phyllis Zee, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Not hitting the magic number? Here are some innovative ways to squeeze in an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep each day.

1. Ban the snooze button
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re actually more awake the first time your eyes open than after a string of 10 snooze naps. “Continuing to fall back asleep after each alarm buzz makes you feel groggier in the end,” says Dr. Zee. So either set your alarm for the time you must wake up or get up on the first buzz and save those snooze minutes for an early-afternoon nap.

2. Become a champion multitasker
You’ve already mastered the art of doing two things at once (sometimes more!), so these ideas should be a breeze. Count the extra minutes you save throughout the day and go to bed that much earlier.

  • Drive and talk Get a hands-free device for your cell phone and catch up with your friends on your way home from work instead of after dinner. 
  • Email anywhere Don’t have a BlackBerry or iPhone? Think about getting one. You may cluck at those people constantly glued to their mini-screens, but the occasional check-in while waiting for soccer practice to end, for example, lets you stay on top of your inbox and Facebook account. Doing this means less time getting bleary-eyed at the computer and more time getting shut-eye.
  • Have a working lunch Instead of going out with co-workers, pack a lunch once or twice a week and pay bills or tackle your online to-do list during the noon hour.
  • Plot a course Think about all your errands and ask yourself if there’s a way to spend less time behind the wheel. For example, can you use the grocery store’s pharmacy instead of the one a mile away? Is your current dry cleaner really better than the one next to your son’s school? Make all your stops as convenient and as close as possible.

3. Limit caffeine after 4 p.m.
You need that cup of coffee or tea in the morning, but think twice before making a Starbucks run or downing a Diet Coke in the afternoon. Depending on how much caffeine is in that venti latte, it could take 24 hours for it to flush out of your system. That means you could still feel the perky effects of your pick-me-up at, say, 10 p.m., and instead of winding down, you’d be gearing up to start the next item on your to-do list.

4. Nap the right way
Four to 7 p.m. is the nap danger zone -- when you feel most sleepy but also when you should most avoid dozing off. Why? Snoozing in the late afternoon or early evening can keep you awake later at night, says Dr. Zee. If you can, nap only between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and limit actual sleep time to 15 minutes, she suggests. That’s all you really need to feel invigorated, she says. Nap any longer, and you could feel groggy.

5. Make the most of your evenings
Try to prepare for the next day’s activities on the night before. You’ll be able to sleep in a bit longer and rest easier knowing things are in order and ready to go.

  • Prep while you cook Make tomorrow’s lunches while waiting for the pasta to boil or the casserole to bake, or while cleaning up leftovers. Food and condiments are already out, saving you a few minutes in the end.
  • Ditch the blow-dryer Shower and shampoo hair at night and let it dry while you sleep. Better yet, only wash it every few days. A spritz or sprinkle of dry shampoo soaks up oil and revives your style.
  • Set it and forget it Pick out everything you need for tomorrow’s outfit the night before, including shoes and accessories. Double-check that all your essentials -- wallet, keys, letters for the post office -- are in your handbag and place it by the door. Also, keep your daily skin care and makeup products out and ready so you don’t waste time rifling through a bag full of stuff you never use.

6. Establish a bedtime
What time must you wake up to get the kids to school on time and yourself to the office? Now work backward seven or eight hours to figure out when you must hit the hay to get a full night’s sleep. About an hour or two before, take a warm shower or bath, then put on socks to keep your feet warm. Warming up and then keeping your feet toasty allows your core body temperature to fall slightly, helping you relax and fall asleep easier, says Dr. Zee. The scheduled downtime also prevents you from losing track of time while reading, watching the evening news or surfing Facebook.

Photo: Corbis Images

6 Ways to Get What You Want

When you ask your kids for more help around the house, do your requests fall on deaf ears? Do some people find it easy to say no to you at times? 

Women, and especially mothers, excel at taking care of the needs of everyone around us. But when it comes to persuading someone to do something for us, it can feel awkward or be difficult, says Laurie Puhn, a lawyer and author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life.

Well, not anymore! You can learn to be persuasive -- and do so without being bullish. The path to getting what you need is filled with obstacles, but if you present your case the right way, you will find success. Here’s how:

1. Remember that rules can be broken.
Don’t let a policy prevent you from asking for what you need or want. “Just because something is always done a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t be the exception,” says Puhn.

For example, if you want to return something after 35 days, but a store policy states 30 days is the limit, ask anyway. Simply be polite and apologetic. (Remember the saying “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”)

2. Give a good reason.
To be successful, you must state your case -- all of it. Utilize what Puhn calls “The Because Clause.” “Research shows you’re more likely to get what you want if you use the word ‘because’ and give a reason for making the request,” she asserts. Helping people understand why you’re asking makes them more sympathetic to your cause.

So, the next time you want to change tables at a crowded restaurant, don’t announce, “We want to move to that booth, please.” Try, “I’d like to move because this area is so loud I can’t hear my friend speak.”

If it’s a raise you’re after, tell your boss you deserve it because of specific contributions you have made -- and name them. 

3. Be results-oriented.
Only presenting a problem (e.g., “I haven’t gotten a raise in two years!”) puts the other person on the defense right away. And if someone feels attacked, they are less likely to come up with a solution, says Puhn.

Likewise, if you place blame or waste time disagreeing over who is right and who is wrong (“No, the cable has been out since yesterday!”), it may only lead to a full-blown argument, not results.

Instead, summarize the problem without blaming anyone, then immediately suggest a few solutions. Proposing a resolution from the get-go makes it easier for the other person to simply say OK, recommends Puhn.

4. Ask for the moon. Get the stars.
Not sure what to propose? Whether you ultimately want more help around the house or retribution from the cable company, start by asking for something big, then negotiate. “When the person feels like they’re getting you to back down, they feel better about giving in to a compromise,” says Puhn.

Fed up with gathering dirty clothes off your teenager’s bedroom floor, for instance? Calmly propose she start doing her own laundry. When she balks, negotiate the smaller task of her bringing clothes to the laundry room and sorting them herself.

5. Acknowledge the other side.
When trying to persuade someone, it’s important to listen to and address his or her objections. “If you listen first, you can adjust your request based on the new information,” says Puhn.

If you meet with resistance (which is likely when asking for a raise or something else substantial), try turning the tables. Ask your boss: “What do I need to do to get a raise?” Then, come back three or six months later and show that you’ve met those requirements, suggests Puhn.

6. Don’t take no for an answer.
If you can’t get exactly what you want, keep negotiating, and you may at least get something, advises Puhn.

Your boss can’t afford to give you a raise? Acknowledge her position by saying, “I understand there’s no budget for a $10,000 salary hike, but I would like a sign from the company that it values me as an employee.” See what she says but be ready to put to use tricks No. 3 or 4: Propose they give you more vacation days or allow a more flexible schedule.

No matter the situation, if you approach it with confidence and use these tricks, over time you will develop the powers of persuasion. You may not always get exactly what you want, but you will gain satisfaction in trying.