Returning to Work

By Jill Smokler

There are two camps of working moms: Those who savor maternity leave and begrudgingly head back to the office, and those who count down the days until they are able to get back to work and resume an identity of their own.

Whether you found yourself happy to leave behind the world of commuting and business suits for nursery rhymes and one-on-one time with your baby or you found yourself craving water fountain gossip and yearning for spreadsheets, one thing is for sure: Going back to work is never a seamless transition. Did you really think it would be? You're a mother now, after all, and nothing is ever easy again! (I'm sorry, but it's true.)

Nothing being easy pretty much sums up my early days of motherhood. Instead of being the natural breast feeder I imagined I'd be, I struggled from the very first feeding. I tried position after position and supplement after supplement to no avail. As my daughter's weight decreased and my stress and unhappiness increased, I turned to formula at the urging of her pediatrician. Suddenly, my hungry baby wasn't so hungry! Or cranky! Or demonic! She began thriving, finally. I, on the other hand, was wracked with guilt.

If I wasn't the sole one responsible for nourishing my precious child, what would set me apart from everyone else in her life? I may as well be the teenage neighbor from down the street or the nurse from the hospital or my mother-in-law. I was just another female presence, doing something that anyone and everyone could do. How would she ever connect with me in a special way? She wouldn't. A mother for only a mere couple weeks and I was already a total failure.

Looking back on the whole experience, it saddens me how much time I wasted on such silly thoughts. Of course my daughter knew the difference between me and the neighborhood babysitter -- that girl had washboard abs! But, really, I slowly learned that how I fed my daughter (and later my two sons) meant nothing in the long run of how attached to me they would be or how strong a bond we would share. I rocked them during feedings and studied their eyelashes and sang to them, and those moments were filled with joy and peace. I realized that the mother-child bond is strong; infinitely stronger than what kind of nipple a baby sucks from.

If you choose to formula feed, know that store brand formula options for your family, like Walmart’s Parent’s Choice Infant Formula, can save you up $600 a year in comparison to name brand formulas like Enfamil® and Similac®. Feel confident in knowing that the FDA strictly regulates formula to keep your baby safe, and that all baby formula. (store brand and name brand) are nutritionally comparable.

Another common fear I hear from moms going back to work is that their baby will forget them while they're gone; That their son or daughter will form a bond - a bigger bond - with their grandparent or nanny or daycare provider; That they'll miss every milestone and each one will drive them farther and farther away from their baby; That they'll be... forgotten. It's a fear I can completely relate to, but I can also say, with absolute confidence, that the fear is completely ungrounded.

The magic in motherhood comes, not from the total hours a day you spend with your baby or child, but from the quality of the time you spend together; The half hour you spend telling stories and giggling before bed; The weekend tradition of pancakes and classic cartoons; The way their eyes like up when they spot you in the audience of their school play; Hearing about what they learned at school; Family vacations; Sunday night dinners; Even sick days. Those things become the fabric on the quilt of their childhoods; wrapping them in comfort, in love...in motherhood.

And don't forget all of the perks to working outside of the home. Even if you aren't the mother who wanted to go back to work, there are benefits: The fact that you can eat a meal without a child in your arms, that you can drive with both hands on the wheel instead of one holding a pacifier in a screaming baby's mouth, or that you can use a part of your brain that's gotten a little fuzzy after being home for a while. Enjoy these things!

On airplanes, we're told to secure our own oxygen mask before securing those belonging to small children and that instruction is really a metaphor for life: If we aren’t breathing on our own, we're useless to the ones who depend on us. We're stronger, better people for taking care of ourselves. Work is, of course, work, but it's also you-time: a place and an identity outside motherhood. You'll be a better mother, away from work, once you embrace being at work.

So, dear mothers, drop your baby off at daycare, or with family, or wherever you do, and take a deep breath. He or she will be absolutely fine, and so will you. I promise.

Then, blast some music in the car, without having to worry about blowing your baby's tiny eardrums, and let your inner rock star out…because you are a rock star.


About the Author

Jill Smokler is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of A Scary Mommy (April 2012) and Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies) (April 2013) as well as the owner all things Scary Mommy.

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