The Rollercoaster of Emotions When Returning to Work!
You have been home with your new baby for the last few months. Your primary job has been that of a caretaker; changing diapers, warming bottles, doing laundry, and so much more. The time has come to return to your previous job and you may wonder how you are supposed to make room for both of these positions: parent and professional. Some people may feel ready and even excited to return to work, while others may be feeling anxious and upset about it. There is a range of experiences that can occur and not one of them is more appropriate than the others. They are all valid emotions. In all likelihood, you will have many of these feelings at one moment or another.
An important question to ask yourself is how to most gracefully get through this transitional period, and how to be kind and compassionate towards yourself while you do it. Lets talk about that!
Four Do's & Don'ts
When Trying to Return to Work with Self-Compassion!
1. Keep in Mind that You may Be a More Present Parent After Spending the Day at Work:
For some parents returning to work can feel like torture and parents may find themselves beating themselves up for it. Parents may worry about being away from their baby for so many hours and potentially missing out on some of the baby's firsts. Others may worry about the baby experiencing distress because of their absence. There could also be concern about whether or not the baby's caretaker is adhering to your wishes around how to care for the baby. Whether someone thinks about one or all of these thoughts, none of this is comforting. One may be wondering how it can be possible to find compassion towards oneself when returning to work if one is plagued with any of these concerns.
After a long day at work, coming home to one's baby can feel like a slice of heaven. A parent will likely be in the moment with their baby in a manner that comes with an entirely new experience of presence and gratitude. Being home with your baby all day, you are likely to fluctuate between instances of presence and then situations filled with frustration or of needing a break. Returning to work does not ease the many worries that come with it nor does it eliminate the frustrations of parenthood, but it can at times allow for a parent to focus more on the moments of joy and connection with one's child, and result in an appreciation of being with your child that you may have not tapped into before.
2. Don't Expect Yourself to Be Fully Present at Work Right Away:
Sometimes parents can also engage in self-deprecating thoughts around their work performance. Parents may find themselves preoccupied with their baby while at work. They may find that their attention is divided between their professional task at hand and what their baby is doing. Some parents me feel conflicted about having to leave the office at a particular time in order to be home on time to relieve the nanny.
British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott wrote about what he called the primary maternal preoccupation (Winnicott, 1960). This is basically a mental state that occurs in the mother (and at times in fathers) in which the parent is completely oriented towards the infant. Basically, all that the parent thinks about is their baby, which likely serves an evolutionary function in order to attend to the baby's needs, and this is not in the parent's control. The parent cannot help but be preoccupied with their baby. So when parents find themselves feeling like they are not performing at 100% at their jobs, it is important to keep in mind that they are experiencing a very natural preoccupation with their baby. The good news is that even though the parents will continue to love and attend to their children's needs, this overwhelming preoccupation will dissipate and they will eventually be able to concentrate in a way that was similar to pre-parental leave.
3. Make Space for Self-Care:
Part of self-compassion during this challenging time is making space for oneself. The parent who has just returned to work is now being pulled in two directions; that of parenthood and that of the professional world. The parent's responsibilities have just doubled and in an effort to feel that all is being attended to, the parent may lose touch with taking care of themselves. Self-care can be anything that is pleasurable for that person. It can be anything from a long bath, to dinner with good friends, a long run, or a massage. The important part is that there is space for it on a weekly basis. It can feel tempting to say that there isn't any time for this now that one has to work and parent. The truth is that time probably is limited but there are creative ways to work around this, and it is necessary.
4. Stay Away From Comparisons:
Some of the things that you have read so far in this newsletter may not apply to your feelings at all. That is ok. The previous three points are some a small pick of the vast amount of experiences a person may have when returning to work. It is in no way exhaustive of what parents may feel. Some parents may actually be thrilled to go back to work. Other parents may feel more present when home with their child all day. The important thing is to acknowledge and validate your feelings, and to stay away from comparing yourself with other parents returning to work. You may find some friends who feel similarly and others who do not. It does not make their experience less valid then yours. Recognize what you are feeling and try and find ways to manage your own emotions rather than trying to force yourself to feel what someone else is feeling. The sooner you accept yourself in this way, the sooner you can work on how to most smoothly get through this transitional moment.
Winnicott D.W. (1960). The theory of the parent-infant relationship. The International Journal of
Psychoanalysis, 41, 585-595.