The Journey of Motherhood: Returning to Work

Motherhood is a journey. 

This guest post is written by Laura Otton, LCSW, who has a private practice based out of Huntington, NY, specializing in all things motherhood ranging from fertility issues and pregnancy loss, to pregnancy and the postpartum period. She is running The Journey of Motherhood, a series of workshops, at The Nesting Place in West Islip NY. The fourth and final workshop, Returning to Work, is the inspiration for this post and will be held this Saturday, February 8, 2020 from 1:30-3PM. You can learn more about Laura practice and workshops by visiting her website at therapyformotherhood.com

 This is Part 4 of a four-part series


Working mom, working mother, maternity leave, return to work, career mom, lawyer mom, back to work, Mat leave, parental leave, postpartum


What is motherhood if not a feeling of push-pull between your children and everything else? You want a break, yet when you get one you miss them so much it hurts. You want nothing more than to be a mama, yet sometimes you miss your old life. You miss work. You miss home. Is it possible to give 100% to your children and 100% to your job? Are you compromising on both ends and feel guilty? Anxious? Overwhelmed trying to do it all? Have it all? 

Maybe you skipped away from daycare or your house feeling free from the burden of caring for your little one, only 30 minutes later have the homesick feeling of missing your baby hit you. Or perhaps it took you 20 minutes to say goodbye; you went over instructions, schedules, and precautions ten times, anxiously wringing your hands and imagining every scenario of doomand then going to work wasnt so bad.

Work also comes withwell, work. Bottles, packing, cleaning, pumping, formula-buying, outfit arranging, dropping off, picking up, researching the best daycares, navigating the sticky situations of in-law and parental involvement. Long commute? Baby has a cold? Traveling for work? Intrusive co-workers? Unsympathetic bosses? Awkward privacy for pumping and storing? These only add to the burden. This feels hard because it is hard.

Some of us have to go back to work. Some of us want to go back to work. Some work full-time. Others start working from home or cut back on their hours. Some walk away completely. There are endless variations, but absolutely none are free fromwait for itmom guilt. Ugh. Guilt hangs heavy on our shoulders. We often feel it in waves, ebbing and flowing, small, then large. 

Work gives us more than a paycheck. Using your education and experience to be productive at work feels good. We receive validation and praise for a job well done. We usually know what "well done" looks like. You have tasks at a job. You check things off. You accomplish and move forward. What does this notsound like? Caring for a baby, which often feels endless and thankless, uncertain, and frustrating. 
Also, socializing! Chatting with co-workers, talking about something besides your babys lack of sleep and bodily functionsheres a lot of good about work. Theres also a lot of good about being home. Parenthood isnt easy no matter what the work situation looks like for your family. Theres no solution involving work or not working that makes parenthood easy, but there are combinations that look best for you and for your family. I emphasize this because we compare ourselves to others. We get defensive and sensitive because we can doubt and overanalyze our choices. We seek validation that were doing the right thing. But it has to be right for you. If your family has the luxury of being able to choose work or home for you or your partner, then youre left with decisions to make. And its important to make them carefully but with confidence. 

I work with my clients on acknowledging and validating that the push/pull of baby/work is real, normal, and okay. Its called ambivalence, and we all have it. It also is going to look different on different days. One day you may be skipping off to work, and the next youre holding back tears at your desk (or maybe this describes the same day!). But in therapy we work on mindfulnessthat buzz word so popular these days. Basically, when youre at work, you are focused on work, mind and body. And when you leave work, you leave work, mind and body. You appreciate work. You appreciate being home. You care for yourself on those really tough days we all have. But understand that most days arent going to be those super tough days. Most days are okay. Feel proud of your work. Enjoy the benefits of it. And when youre home, cherish it. Enjoy the benefits of it. Feel proud of it. And remember, this is what has to work for you and your family. Comparing your plans to others’ will only bring doubt or hollow pride (youre doing it right, theyre doing it wrong). Therapy focuses on building your confidence so you arent looking to others for validation or letting doubt creep in. Another important component to strengthen is your boundary-setting with supervisors and co-workers, and advocacy so your new needs as a parent are being metperhaps this is a clean and private area to pump, or its having meetings scheduled during the day so you can leave on time. We work on your relationship with your partner so youre on more equal footing and can provide the other with needed support. We weigh pros and cons of career changeswhether thats leaning in to a promotion or taking a step back to part-time, working from home, or taking a break all together.

There is no plan without imperfections and downsides. You are doing the best you can with what you have. In all my experience, Ive never seen the same plan work for different families. Its unique for you. What does this look like for you and for your family? How do you feel about it? How does your partner feel about it? Is it working for your family? Is it working for you? I urge you to carve out a quiet moment with your partner to discuss this in order to get to the root of your feelings, figure out what aspects you have control over and where you can make decisions, and then make plans or changes. Lets see how work can work for you.

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