I haven’t always been a crier. But now I cry all the time. 

After five months of transitioning to life as a mother and getting to know my son, I returned to work. Although it was difficult to end my maternity leave, I understand how fortunate I’ve been with the parental time I was granted.

Despite a record number of working mothers today, I haven’t always believed that I was capable of “doing it all”, i.e. dedicating myself fully to both my career and my family. Honestly, I had been hesitant to start a family considering my fierce focus on my career, and let’s face it, having a ton of fun! I’ve always loved what I do and I enjoy the freedom to do the things I love. A little one changes all of that.

Pew research identified that the number of children with two working parents is up 30% since 1970. I am officially a guilty parent going back to work, leaving her child in the care of others.

The Death of the 9 – 5 Schedule, Rejoice in Flexibility

The 2017 Motherhood in America report showed that 34% of women do not return to work after having a baby and 77% of the women that do return need flexibility from their employer. I live in Los Angeles, where a standard commute is 45 minutes (on a good day!). When I returned from maternity leave, I would go from being at home with my sweet baby boy every single day to getting myself ready for work in a rush, feeding him, packing his bag, driving him to daycare and unwillingly leaving him behind, likely not seeing him awake again until the next day.

Yes, that’s right. I would see my baby awake for 1-2 hours a day. Sorry, but, no way.

There is one thing that helped with my transition. Before returning to work, I scheduled a meeting to review re-entry with my boss, and while I knew she would understand, my anxieties persisted. How could I possibly ask for anything more after all the work she had covered for me? The truth is: I was still getting to know who I was as a new parent, and honestly, I didn’t possess the confidence I now realize was taken for granted.

Reaching out, asking for help, and yes, being vulnerable with my boss was probably the hardest part. But as soon as we met for dinner, our relationship immediately resumed. I felt like myself in many ways – and dare I say, I almost forgot that little nugget at home waiting to smile at me. Which reminded me, I still had one more topic to discuss… requesting more flexibility in my schedule to work from home.

When I breached the subject, she replied, “I’m glad you brought this up.”

“We are updating our parental leave program and you will be eligible for all the updated benefits. This includes 14 weeks paid leave, one week pre-return access to clear out emails and look at calendars before getting back (thank YOU, I was stressing about email and meeting overload), 100% paid days for doctor and pediatrician visits, and mandatory 50% work from home for the first eight weeks upon returning from leave.”

My worries evaporated and my heart fluttered, knowing I could spend less time in the car, and more time with my son. I knew I loved Cornerstone, the company I work for, and that they have always been great to their employees. In that moment, what my boss and our company had offered me eliminated the majority of my stress, guilt and sadness.

As I walked to my car, I was feeling much different than I expected to feel. I finally didn’t cry, because I didn’t have to. With a flexible work schedule, I can “do it all”. I can show up at work as my best self and be an involved parent! And one of the best parts is that all the other sweet, hardworking moms and dads I work with can do the same. The policy is not limited to those with the most tenure or those who live in California or because anyone receives special treatment, but because we are people working hard to be great at our jobs and also take care of an amazing new little person.

So, what is my advice? How do you return to work after becoming a parent?

  1. Enjoy every moment. In the last weeks or months before I returned, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do with my son before re-entry. From dancing in the mirror together, holding him in my arms during naps, meeting dad after work for a drink, and having lunch at our favorite restaurant, I made sure I enjoyed every little moment I could.
  2. Meet with a co-worker. I didn’t realize how helpful it would be to see a co-worker and talk about work. Reach out to someone and get caught up if you can. Even if it’s high-level, it’s good to have some familiarity of changes and prepare for what you are getting back into.
  3. Leverage social and online media. Re-immerse yourself in company activities and updates by referencing social and online media resources for articles and office happenings.
  4. Prepare the night before. Do everything you can to make it easy to do and not easy to forget. Honestly, life as a new parent makes it easy to forget simple things like bringing lunch or putting on deodorant – and you certainly don’t want to forget your breast pump.
  5. Embrace change. I feel different and so I want people to see me that way. I cut my hair, enhanced my business attire, and most importantly, now engage with people in a new way. I allow myself to be more vulnerable and honest. It’s helped me to reconnect faster with the team and gave me a way to be open about not knowing something and needing help to reacclimate to changes in the organization.

This journey of becoming a parent is not a new or unknown phenomenon. In fact, the well-known Nigerian Igbo proverb claims, “it takes a village” to raise children. How wonderful it is when you feel that your company, a place you spend the majority of your time – your work family – is part of your village.