Essays, Happiness, Personal Development, Working Mom

Tips for Transitioning Back to Work after Maternity Leave.

As Maternity Leave #3 came to an end last week I was struck with the bittersweet nature of it.  Any change and transition is wonderful, but also can be hard. This is my third time going back to work after a full year of maternity leave.

What people don’t mention is that the whole end of maternity leave // back to work experience is very fluid. What do I mean by that?  Two things:

First, you can experience happiness and sadness at the same time.  Maternity leave has taught me this.  You can simultaneously experience 3 different emotions.  Before children, I operated in a very binary mode, good or bad, happy or sad.  To say that my emotional range has expanded and become more complex is an understatement, but it’s an amazing gift I wouldn’t take back.  It came wrapped in a bow with the birth of my first born.

Second, your transition back to work from mat leave really, truly depends on the day, and the state you are in.  I am a huge advocate of being aware of your physical and emotional shape, because it shapes the conversation your brain has with you.

Your brain is a toddler.  If it is hungry, tired, or unstimulated it will stomp around with a pout and say “I don’t like you!”

If it is satisfied, engaged, well rested, the same situation will be interpreted totally differently.  Your toddler brain will run around with a smile and say “I wuv you!” and be a little angel and fill you with love and happiness.

With mat leave ending, some days you wake up, the sun is shining, you feel good! Life is good! I’m pumped to go back to work! I don’t midn this traffic! I love this podcast!  This is such a nice balance for me!

Other days you wake up, the kids are off, you’re tired, and your filter shifts.  Your mind ruminates on the things you’ll miss and how weird and quiet your office is.  Traffic sucks, people suck, fml.

This transition back to work has been the best one so far.  First up, because unlike last time I’m not taking any family members off of life support (dark humour, sorry) but because I have taken the two lessons from above and created some strategies.

I wanted to share them because if you, too, are returning to work, you may find these help ease the transition.  

When my brain is in the sub-optimal state and is filtering everything through a sad lens, I need perspective and to remind myself it’s a temporary state, and it’s not really me, or how I want to be.  The first thing I did was make a list in my journal (and iphone) of great things about going back to work. It is a list of all of the reasons going back to work is the right decision for me, and why it will be great to be a working Mum.

This is my list of things that make me feel great about going back to maternity leave

I come home so engaged and excited to see my kids at the end of the day.  I do think distance makes the heart grow fonder when it comes to members of a family.

A job I truly like!  The variety of enjoying work and then coming home and enjoying family is such a good combination for me!

Feeling like I am making an impact in the world (outside of my home – which I do honour as making an impact too but in a different sense.)

This sounds silly but walking or driving and listening to podcasts is AWESOME. I love podcasts.

Morning is my best time, I don’ t have to leave for work until 8 and the kids are up at 6, so we can still squeeze in quality time, all I have to do is shift my mindset around that.

I need the space to write and create and just be, and coming back to work and having that space between 9-5 has boosted my happiness immeasurably.

There are lots of long weekends, which means every month I get to spend 4 days back to back with my family.  And there’s vacation time. If I have a week where I really particularly miss my kids, simple, take it as a vacation day.

I have negotiated Fridays off for the best quality time with my family.

There are so many fun things to do on campus!  So many fitness classes at lunchtime 🙂 Taking courses, learning! All the things that energize me.

I am away from the home more, which means it is less messy (I am messy) and less cleaning.

Being at work gives me the physical space and time on my breaks, to organize our lives – things like updating the calendar, balancing the budget, figuring out dayhome / kindergarten / date night logistics are once again possible (it was impossible to find those windows of time for deep thinking while I was at home.)

I am able to have deep and interesting conversations with coworkers and members of the University community.

Umm, having a paycheque again?  Benefits? Getting massage and physio and chiro?

The week is only half over at lunchtime on Thursday, so technically I have almost half the week with my family and half the week at work, save for 4 hours.

We desperately need to replenish our savings and pay off debt after 3 mat leaves and launching our coffee company!  We can finally do this. I do stress about money and to relieve that stressor will be good.


The next thing I did was design a morning routine to help shift my state to a more optimal one, even if I’m tired.  There are a few things I know get me in a good groove.

*Coffee before anyone is awake – this is really hard to do, but to sit and have coffee, wake up and get mobile and dressed is so much better before everyone else is up.  It prevents me from being late, rushing and I am more present with the family. It is so hard getting woken up by a toddler and jumping to action right away, I find my state shifts into panic / busy parent mode if I do that.

*Uplifting music.  This has been something I’ve done for years but I make sure to do it on the regular in my car, and even in the bathroom getting ready and putting makeup on. I have a playlist called “uplifting” and another called “saturday morning” that I love – I truly believe that music has different energetic states to it, and by playing it, our body shifts to the state of that music.

*Nature in the morning.  Not a full hour workout, as I’m usually quite stiff and in a lot of pain but even just walking in the fresh air. I’ve added 20 minutes to my commute time and half way into my commute, I stop at the resevoir on the way, and get in 20 minutes of whatever – running some days, walking others.  Other days I’ve pulled up beside the bow river just before ascending the road up to campus, and simply walked and taken photos of a few wildflowers.  There’s something about nature that is grounding.

For everyone, these special little “state setting” activities are different.  Do you have any?  What was particularly important for you during that first month back at work? Would love to hear. xo

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