Dear Christine, I am returning to work from maternity leave next month and I am really nervous about being able to handle everything when I get home at night. So I am trying to make a bunch of dinners to freeze and microwave when I get home for hubby and me. Seems like there is other stuff I could be doing now to make things easier for later. Do you have ideas on how to make the transition back to work easier?
Thanks for writing in. Returning to work from maternity leave is so challenging, for reasons both logistical and emotional. Here are some thoughts on managing household matters:
A lot of the chaos of returning to work involves maintaining the chaos once you are back. You've already covered freezing food in advance (which some folks also recommended when I canvassed for ideas on Facebook and Twitter); most of the tips below will revolve around maintaining your household + sanity after you return to work.
Go through your closet in advance. Check what fits, since your body likely has continued to evolve since you delivered your baby. Make sure whatever fits is clean (or clean enough) and ironed (or ironed enough) so you don't get to your first day of work and realize you have nothing to wear. If need be, shop for clothing. A lot of women hesitate buying transition clothes, but you will be more comfortable and much happier if you aren't swimming in or trying to squeeze into clothing.
Start a take-out fund. One piece of advice we received before delivering Laurel was to start a take-out fund. This advice actually was meant to sustain us during the initial crazy months of parenthood, but we were so blessed to have lots of food drop offs that we didn't really need it. Where it really came in handy was when I returned to work and was too exhausted some days to think about cooking. It's remarkable how far $20 (e.g., a pizza and salad) can go to save sanity.
Prep the night before. Mornings are always crazy, particularly if you are factoring in day care drop offs for the first time. We always pack grownup and kid lunches the night before, and if you're sending your child to day care, where things need to be labeled and you'll need to pack breast milk, it will be essential to take care of this stuff the night before so you can start your day off a little more calmly.
Prep over the weekend. One thing I like to do on the weekends is prep food for the week; this could be fresh items to supplement your frozen stock pile of meals. It can be as simple as cutting up a bunch of vegetables so they're ready for snacking or cooking, or prepping food as you have already started to do. Via the Boston Mamas Facebook fan page, Erin also shared: "I've also been going to Dream Dinners to assemble meals. So nice to fill the freezer with yummy meals once a month!"
Take turns. Do not try to do it all yourself. I recommend explicitly splitting up tasks with your husband, and keeping up on household tasks so they don't get onerous (I'm specifically thinking of laundry here...chip away at it through the week instead of being buried in dirty laundry over the weekend).
Outsource if possible. Hire help with cleaning if you can afford it (several readers also chimed in with this as one of their favorite return to work solutions). Also, via the Boston Mamas Facebook fan page, Brooke recommended saving an in-store errand by using diapers.com and also recommended grocery delivery service.
Think about timing. Via Twitter, @jlfmama made the good suggestion of making your first week back a short one; specifically, to avoid starting on Monday. Alternately, see if you can do shorter days your first week back.
Prepare your pumping tools. From the nature of your second question (next post), I know you will continue breastfeeding when you return to work. Get all of your gear lined up and purchase a system that will make it easy to store, rotate, and use stocked milk. Via the Boston Mamas Facebook fan page, Brooke recommended buying two sets of breast pump attachments so you can have one for work and one for home.
Cut yourself some slack. This is probably the most important tip of all. Returning to work as a new mom is so challenging. Returning to work as a nursing new mom is even more challenging. Cut yourself some slack all along the way and ask for help when you need it. Remember, if mama is unhappy, everyone will be unhappy.
I hope these tips are helpful Susan. I'm wishing you the best during this upcoming transition!
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Have a question for Christine? Drop her a line! And of course feel free to comment in if you have recommendations beyond those made above.