Juggling the responsibilities of a job and your brand-new baby may seem impossible. But these helpful hints will help you establish that delicate — and important — balance.
Like many working moms, you may be surprised by the flood of emotions that hits as the end of your maternity leave approaches.
While you might be excited to get back to spending more time on your job (either at the office or remotely since many working parents have yet to go back during the COVID-19 pandemic), you might also feel sadness and guilt about leaving your brand-new baby in someone else's care, as well as stress about being needed at work and at home. After all, juggling the responsibilities of a job and a family is no easy feat.
But there is comforting news: Many, many working parents before you have not only experienced these concerns and frustrations but have also learned how to navigate the difficult post-baby return to work. It’s challenging, absolutely, but that’s where a little (or maybe a lot!) of planning and persistence can be helpful.
Here are some smart and simple strategies for balancing work and a new baby — and keep your sanity in the process.
SET UP A FAMILY CALENDAR
Having one place where every family member’s work schedules, appointments, commitments and other comings and goings are recorded is key for managing the chaos of work and family life. You’ll know at a glance what you need to do that week, plus it’s an easy way to keep your caregiver up to date on your family’s schedule — including baby’s. Create a shared calendar on Google or via family organizer apps that you can access on your phone. You can also use a regular wall calendar hanging in the kitchen. The calendar should make clear who’s picking up your little one when if applicable, noting any changes, as well as any doctor’s appointments, other commitments, day care closings, work obligations and other family activities.
FIND GOOD CHILD CARE AND HAVE A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CAREGIVER
One way to alleviate much of the guilt and sadness about going back to work is to find good child care, whether you choose a nanny, a big day care center or a home day care. No matter what you decide, make sure you do your research. Get recommendations, interview day care centers or nannies, do a walk-through if you're able to, check references, ask about immunization records, drop by unannounced if you can and have a backup sitter in place.
It’s also important to communicate often and extensively with your nanny, babysitter and/or day care teachers and administrators. This way you’ll be on top of your little one's safety and well-being, and still actively involved in his daily life — which in turn may help alleviate any guilty feelings you might have about working. If you've decided to hire a nanny or sitter, you might ask her to keep a daily journal of the baby’s schedules and development. That way you won’t miss anything! Even if you're working from home, you won't always be able to be "right there" for everything.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Sharing responsibilities can make all the difference if you have a partner in the picture. Make sure you both are on the same page before your first day back at work. Coordinate your schedules and child care arrangements, and divide up household chores. Don’t forget to make a sick day plan too. If your baby gets sick and/or needs to go to the doctor, figure out how to divvy up who will handle baby's care. That way, when it happens, you’ll be ready.
HAVE A BACKUP BABYSITTER IN PLACE
Even the most carefully laid plans can fall through. That’s why it’s smart to have a backup sitter, family member or close friend who can babysit in case your caregiver cancels, the day care is closed or there’s another emergency.
Another idea: Try to find a fellow mom in the neighborhood who can reliably help babysit for you in a pinch and vice versa.
MAKE YOUR MORNINGS AS EASY AS POSSIBLE
Create a consistent morning routine for you, baby and other family members — and stick to it. That way you’ll automatically know what you have to do before you either get out the door to start your commute or begin working from home. And you won’t lose too much time fumbling around (though be realistic and flexible, because babies, older children and life in general are unpredictable!).
GET THE SUPPORT YOU NEED AT WORK
Make sure you have an open and honest relationship with your employer. Here are a few tips from experts:
- Ask about illness. Ask your employer or manager once you get back to work what the policy is on caring for sick children. Can you work from home (if you're not already)? Can you work a flexible schedule? The same should be asked about your baby's doctor's appointments. If you need two hours at a standard appointment, can you make up the time in the future?
- Ask about leave. Leave policies are not standardized, so ask about your employer’s baby bonding policy, paternity leave policy, personal leave, sick leave and unpaid leave.
- Prep for breastfeeding. If you’re going to be pumping at the office, dress accordingly so you can easily breastfeed without too much trouble. Ask your employer about places that you can comfortably and privately pump and try getting on a schedule so your coworkers can plan for your time away from your desk. Also make sure if you are back to work at the office that there's a refrigerator you can use to store your milk. Federal law requires that any company of 50 employees or more provide breastfeeding moms with sufficient break time during the day to pump milk for their babies until age 1. The employer must also provide a private space other than a bathroom to pump.
GET BABY TO BED
Establishing a bedtime routine at the same time every night is a great way to encourage your baby to fall asleep like clockwork — something you’ll come to depend on at the end of a long day.
Also important to note: Some babies don’t sleep well at day care or with a sitter, which can lead to an overtired baby and/or more frequent night wakings.
Keeps tabs on how much your baby sleeps each day. If your caregiver tells you your little one didn’t nap that day, try an earlier bedtime. A good night’s sleep is important — for both of you.
Try to do some of your prep the night before, like packing lunches and snacks, preparing bottles, laying out everyone's clothes, getting your baby’s diaper bag ready, showering, etc. Your mornings will run more smoothly the more you practice and get as much done ahead of time as you can.
Who wants to spend time making dinner each night when there’s a cute baby to be cuddled? And when that tiny bundle grows into a toddler, what you cook isn't just about Mommy and Daddy anymore, but your little one too.
There are a lot of ways to maximize playtime while minimizing meal prep time so you can get a nutritious dinner on the table, without a ton of work. Try these tips:
- Plan meals weekly. Make a weekly menu. Plot out your grocery list so that it revolves around the week’s meals. Keep it simple and interchange ingredients when you run out of something.
- Prep over the weekend. If you’re making more complicated meals, do it when you have more time, like over the weekend or when baby's sleeping or napping. Make enough for at least a few meals, and freeze what you're not going to be eating immediately.
- Use your slow cooker if you have one, adding ingredients in the morning so dinner is ready when you come home.
- Prep finger foods. For those days when you’re too busy to make a meal, at least your little ones can still eat pretty well. Prep healthy finger foods like crumbled-up hard-boiled eggs, washed and finely chopped, baby-safe fruits and veggies, and small cubes of cheese. For teeny tinies, you might try preparing purees ahead of time by storing them in ice cube trays to be thawed out when necessary.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
This one can be tricky difficult, especially when it feels like there already aren’t enough hours in the day. But as much as you’d like to shrug off personal care, your own health and well-being are key to making everything at home and the office run smoothly.
If you can’t imagine taking any time for yourself, try this to start: Each week as you’re inputting events into that family calendar, schedule at least one event for yourself — maybe a weekend yoga class, a haircut during your lunch break, a pedicure, or a grocery trip without the baby.
Once you get into the habit and see how healing and rejuvenating even a little bit of time to yourself can be, you’ll be hooked.
MAINTAIN A NETWORK OF STRONG CONTACTS
Keeping connected with your peers, colleagues and career contacts takes time and effort (both things you don’t have a lot of these days), but there’s a good reason it’s worth putting on your already packed to-do list.
At the very least, many of those contacts may be working moms like you who can provide advice, support and commiseration when you’re having a bad week.
And you never know: If you are finding yourself considering a different job opportunity — perhaps one with a more flexible schedule — those contacts could really come in handy.
LEARN HOW TO SAY NO
Never has your time been more valuable. That’s why you should be spending it doing what you either need or want to do — not what other people pressure you into doing.
When it comes to getting it all done as a working parent, it’s all about learning to say no. Time is a finite resource and productive parenting means using it wisely. Here are a few tips:
- Be picky when it comes to your social calendar. Social obligations are best enjoyed when you actually have time to relax. If that means saying, “Another time, thanks!” to that friend's invitation so you can cuddle with your baby and catch up on sleep, that’s fine. The same goes for turning down any volunteer requests until your schedule is a little more flexible. Being selfish about your time is one thing you should try not to feel guilty about.
- You don’t have to do everything. It’s okay to delegate and get help when you can without feeling badly about it. If you have the resources and are comfortable with it, have someone clean your house, for example. Or consider trying a prepared meal service. You can even hire people to do tasks that you don’t have time to do, like going to the grocery store. Services like Instacart will do it for you.
- Set manageable expectations at work. It can be even more difficult to say no to job responsibilities and requests, but if you set expectations early on, you’re much less likely to feel overwhelmed. Turn your work computer off when the day is over if possible so you can enjoy some unhindered time with baby.
Many working parents find that even though they have way more to do, they’re actually more efficient and productive than ever. Staying focused and managing your time wisely is the secret here.
Make a to-do list each day, and don’t veer from it for unnecessary things — like mindlessly checking your email over and over again or running to the store when you could simply order online. That way you can spend more time doing what you really want to do — getting things done so you can cozy up to that adorable baby of yours.
SNEAK IN SNUGGLE TIME
Whether it’s during a late-night feeding or an early-morning diaper change, make time for a little cuddling with your baby. You might not get to spend all day taking care of your little one, but try to truly enjoy the time you have.
It's not easy balancing it all. On those days when you’re feeling like you wish could give more at work or at home (or both), tell yourself that you're doing the best you can. Remember, you just brought a beautiful life into the world — and that’s the biggest accomplishment of all.