The return to work...

Image by Horia Varlan,  used under a Creative Commons License

Image by Horia Varlan,  used under a Creative Commons License

Goodness, time flies. Maternity leave is over and work beckons.

For some, the return to work can't come soon enough and there is a sense of relief. 

For others it's a time of sadness at the the end of this stage. Or anxiety about changing career or deciding to put paid work on hold. 

For those who go back to work, however, there is a fresh set of new processes to be mastered, including navigating childcare drop offs, figuring out who is the 'responsible adult' should your child need to be picked up early from childcare, working out routes to work and how early everyone needs to go to bed and get up in the morning...

I'm not making light of these parts - they are very important, and need to be attended to - however there are already lots of other articles discussing these issues. However, what I'm interested in here is the emotional impact of going back to work.

How can you navigate that?

Firstly, one of the most prevalent emotions that mothers returning to work describe is GUILT.

Guilt at leaving their baby with someone else. Guilt that they might want to return to work, rather than spending all their time with their child. Guilt at not being able to pay as much attention to the job as they used to do.

Another common emotion is SADNESS.

Sadness that you will miss some of what your baby will be learning and experiencing. Sadness that the time with your child is changing and moving on. Sadness that you might never experience that part of motherhood again.


There is no definitive list, but all these emotions are normal.

It's really easy to judge yourself or expect that you should feel a certain way and so be surprised if you don't. For example, many women tell me in hushed tones of how relieved they are to return to work and be able to have a conversation without being interrupted, but they would never dare tell their friends as they think that they shouldn't be so keen to have time for their baby.

So I wanted to point out a few truths to help you if you could do with a different perspective:

1. Returning to work is NOT just returning to work. It is taking on another job  - practically, emotionally and cognitively...

Many mothers don't realise how much time they used to spend thinking about work when they weren't actually at work.

When you're in the shower now, rather than thinking about what you need to prepare for that big meeting tomorrow, you'll be mentally checking off that you've got everything ready for your child to go to nursery.

When your child goes to bed in the evening, rather than relaxing and letting your brain wander over the events of your work day, you might be doing the chores that you can't get done when your baby is awake. You have less time to process your work, and that has an impact.

For many people, this can be upsetting, as they feel as though they're doing neither job as well as they would like. However, if you recognise that you are not only doing two jobs, but also sharing this crucial THINKING SPACE that helps you do your job, then it might help you start looking at what you do more compassionately...

2. There is a common myth that wanting to have time away from your baby makes you a 'bad mother'.

And it can be confusing, because part of you might be really sad to leave your baby to go to work (or maybe not). However you feel about leaving your baby, many people get a lot of personal satisfaction out of  working life and the relationships they have there, and are looking forward to using different parts of themselves again.

This is normal!

The guilt might be hard to shake, after all there is so much judgement out there, but it can be kept in check if you can realise that you're not the only one, and that for many people, male or female, doing paid work is good for them mentally and emotionally.

You might even call it 'self-care'!

3. If you are someone who gets anxious normally, you might find the transition easier if you pay a lot of attention to your choice of childcare provider.

This is especially true if you find that your anxiety means that you tend to shut your eyes, put your fingers in your ears and try not to think about it.

You can help allay some of this anxiety if you put effort into getting this bit as 'right' as you can make it. You will feel more able to counter feelings such as anxiety or guilt if you feel that your baby is gaining something from childcare.

And you will feel less anxious if you feel that your baby has a secure attachment to the person or people looking after your child. In some cases, this will come easily and for others this is much more fraught.

If you are the latter then don't try to pretend that it's fine. Make time for the transition, for you and your baby.

If your baby is going to nursery, make time to meet the childcare staff who will have contact with your child. YOU are the expert on your child, whereas they are the experts on children and helping them settle into nursery - this is a collaboration between you to support your child.

I wish I could say that it will all go swimmingly, but there will be ups and downs. However, putting care and thought into the process will pay dividends and help you on days when it doesn't feel so good.

Whatever point you are in the process (even if that's deciding that you're not going back to work), I wish you very well. The fact that you're reading this shows that you're trying to do the best you can. x


If this was helpful, and you'd like to know more about how to manage the highs and lows of motherhood, you might be interested in this article I wrote about why overwhelm happens, and what you can do to prevent it. And if you'd like to receive my monthly email, with thoughts and resources to support mothers, please click here

And if you're finding things a bit hard right now, and would like to talk to someone about it, I provide counselling to mothers at all stages - sometimes it can help to just talk things through with someone who isn't involved.