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.

Have a Case of the Motherhood Blues?

Motherhood is supposed to be a joy-filled journey -- or so the ads and Facebook memes tell us. So why does it seem as though our days are largely about nagging, supervising homework, changing diapers and shuttling kids to and from their activities? What’s wrong with this picture?

“Today’s mothers are stressed out, overworked and pulled in so many directions that it can be hard to find the pleasure in parenting,” says Barbara Siergiewicz, a certified parent coach and child development specialist based in Rockport, Mass. “But if you remember how happy you were when you got pregnant and what you appreciate about your children, instead of the challenges of parenting, you’re making a choice to be joyful.”

Follow this roadmap to restore the pleasure of parenting:

Make a Heart Connection

Set aside time every day to have a meaningful conversation with your child -- one that’s focused on feelings, not homework or chores. “Ask open-ended questions to find out what’s going on in your child’s life,” advises Siergiewicz. “For example, ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’ or ‘What was the funniest thing that happened?’” No matter where the conversation takes place -- whether over dinner or in the car -- stay in the moment by listening intently. This will create a more relaxed, closer parent-child relationship and will foster what Siergiewicz calls the “heart connection.”

Stop the Gripe Sessions

Sure, it feels good to vent to your BFFs about your kids’ picky eating or to send a Twitter feed about your mom meltdown. But making it a habit is a big mistake -- and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you concentrate on the negative of parenting, it’s like pouring kerosene on the fire,” says Siergiewicz. “Negativity begets negativity -- and that will keep you from rediscovering the joy of being a mom.” Try sharing the good things -- photos of your child playing in the snow or news of a school concert -- and you’ll be rewarded with a glow of pride.

Catch Them Being Good

“Many parents expect adult-level performance from their kids, and they’re not capable of delivering it,” says Siergiewicz. This sets up a lose-lose situation, with the child falling short and the parents feeling perpetually disappointed. Rather than focusing on what your 10-year-old does wrong and nagging him about it (which isn’t very joyful), accept that he’ll make mistakes and praise him for what he does right. Saying “Thanks for putting away your toys” or “Thanks for clearing your plate without being asked” reinforces good behavior. As Siergiewicz notes, “Positive feedback will boost your child’s self esteem and lead to more of the positive behavior you want to see.” And the better the behavior, the less nagging you’ll need to do.

Clear the Calendar

Jam-packed schedules are a recipe for cranky kids and exhausted parents. Limit your child to just two extracurricular activities each week -- say, basketball and guitar lessons -- so everyone will have a chance to relax, recharge and reconnect. The less time you spend racing from one activity to another, the more time you’ll have to be in the moment with your children and simply enjoy their company. 

Create Family Rituals

Families need regular fun time, whether it’s watching a movie together on Friday night or going out for breakfast on Saturday morning. Having something that everyone can look forward to helps increase the joy. “Family rituals that are positive, loving and nurturing -- where parents and children are focused on each other -- create lasting memories that sustain us through hard times,” says Siergiewicz. (Like those days when you’re busy carpooling!)