I went back to work after being a full-time mom. Here's what I did wrong.

I went back to work after being a full-time mom. Here's what I did wrong.
Hot tip: Don't work in bed unless you are a professional napper. (photo credit: Mikayla Mallek)

For blog updates and cute puppy pics, follow @natcmatthews on Instagram.

I returned to full-time work (from home) last week for the first time since April, after taking more than a month off and working part-time for the month of June. I’m very lucky that my company allowed me the time off and that I got to go back to work – I know many don’t have that option.

As much of the country has opened up (for better or worse), many parents I’ve been talking to are at least starting to return to some form of regular childcare – many daycares are now open, and others have turned to hiring a nanny or utilizing family to help out. While there are still some risks tied to childcare, especially outside the home, the good news is many parents are able to get back to work, knowing that their kids are taken care of.

Now, I know there are a LOT of resources on how to be productive while working from home – some good ones are here and here. But for people who are transitioning back into full-time work (whether they took time off to watch the kids or were laid off), it can feel particularly jarring. I experienced many what-not-to-do moments this past week, and so I’ve shared my thoughts below so that others might be able to have a smoother transition than I did.

My tips for returning to full-time work:

Prep your environment. This is the one thing I actually got right from the beginning. I started with a clean slate on my desk and found some trinkets around the house that could liven it up a bit (think: fake plant, candle, metallic pineapple). I don’t have a big lavish office right now, so adding some greenery and a little reflective light makes the space feel fresh and new.

Reach out to your colleagues. If you’ve been away from work for a while or just haven’t had the time to connect with co-workers, now is the time to start setting up those Zoom coffee catch-ups. Not only might this help smooth your transition back into the team culture, but with childcare in place you might find yourself with a little more time to dedicate to nurturing your work friendships. Plus, I missed all the best happy hours while I was working part-time, and I need to make up for those FOMO moments.

Take mindful breaks. Do your breaks entail going downstairs to see what everyone (partner/kids/nanny/grandparents/dog) is up to, and then you end up making a snack and chatting for 20 minutes? Oh that’s just me? Ok cool. Well, if you do find yourself in this position, try to better structure your breaks and give them purpose. Maybe you take two quick breaks in the morning to refill your coffee, and a longer early afternoon break for lunch and to move around a bit. Now that I’m no longer taking two-mile stroller walks every day, I’m finding that proactively getting up to move around is key to be able to focus throughout the day.

Hide your phone. Like, legit hide it. Research shows that just having your phone nearby can impair your ability to think and concentrate. The science says that because of the great benefits our phones provide, i.e. connection with others, an endless source of knowledge and information, etc., they are constantly calling to us like a gravitational pull. Sure enough, my first couple of days back I left my phone out on my little desk and I had the constant urge to check it. I noticed that when I hid it out of sight (not just face down) I was much less likely to reach for it and actually forgot it was there.

Set your expectations. Things might have changed a lot since you left or they might not have changed at all. Whether you were on vacation for a week or you didn’t work for three months, you’ll need to get your groove back. Allow yourself the freedom to re-learn your job and, where you need to, reinvent yourself and your role. I myself went back to work excited to jump back in, but knowing that it might take a little time to settle back into the flow.

Whatever work situation you’re facing, change is hard. Adapting well is harder. Going “back to” your old life is not an option. Whether you’re a working parent, taking care of your kids full-time, a homeschooling parent, or physically going to work every day, the pandemic upended life for everyone in different ways.

I know there are still many families trying to figure it all out. I worry about the women who are being pushed out of the workforce because, when it comes to choosing between work and our children, we will always choose our children. We know that working moms are disproportionately affected by covid-19 and that they are the ones more likely to take time off or have to leave their jobs entirely to provide childcare. While it may be a tremendous opportunity to spend more time with your children, being forced to give up work isn’t exactly a heartwarming feeling. My heart goes out to those moms, and all of the parents trying to figure it out right now.

And while I realize it’s not much in the way of consolation, all I can think is that it’s not forever. And that’s the one thing that we can all be sure of. I’ll be sending all the love to the moms and dads trying to making it work, albeit a little differently these days.

Leave a comment