8 tips for a smooth transition back to work after maternity leave

PHOTO: Getty Images
PHOTO: Getty Images

Were you fortunate enough to spend some time at home with your young children?

If so, you were probably lucky enough to witness every milestone your child experienced. However, most moms eventually wade back into the working world – by choice or for financial reasons.

The reality is that whatever your motivation for this decision, it can be a really difficult time for you and your child. So how do you cope with this transition without being overwrought with guilt and the fear of neglecting your little ones?

“It’s always tough in the beginning when you return to work,” says Busi Molewa, principal and owner of a Montessori crèche in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, who was also a stay-at-home mom for a while.

“I had to cut back on some things in order to make time for my children. Weekends for me are now reserved for my children.”

She gives her top tips:

  • Don’t work too late and try to get home as quickly as possible so you can still spend some time with your children in the afternoon.
  • Get into a routine of either taking your child to school or fetching them from school, so your child will still feel you’re there for them. This will help you to catch up on what’s going on in their life.
  • Cut back on your social life during the week. Or meet up with your friends once your child has gone to bed.
  • Try to prepare lunch for your child because they’ll appreciate that their lunch was made especially by mommy. Also try to be home in time for your child’s bathtime so you can bath them. Use bathtime as a time to bond with your child. According to Busi it’s moments like these that mean a lot to children.

How are children generally affected by their mothers returning to work?

Cape Town clinical psychologist Robyn Jacobs says research shows there are no long-term behavioural, academic or emotional difficulties that children experience as a result of their mothers going back to work.

“In the immediate aftermath, there may be some disruptions in that the child may become more sensitive, emotional, throw tantrums, be clingy or other ‘naughty’ behavioural patterns (such as throwing toys and breaking things).

Some regression would also be considered normal. But these types of behaviours would be common in any big change in the child's life, including bringing home a sibling, changing schools or moving homes,” says Jacobs.

Mothers often feel guilty for returning to work and not spending a lot of time at home because of their careers.

“Guilt about returning to work is common, but generally unfounded. Don't be too hard on yourself – you're doing what's best for your specific family situation and you shouldn't feel bad about that.

Try not to compare yourself with other people’s situations and don't listen to people who are adding to your guilt. As long as you and your partner are on the same page about your decision, that is all that matters,” Jacobs says.

Her tips for overwhelmed mothers:

  • Try to decide what exactly is making you feel guilty and whether your fears are a problem in reality.
  • Can you do anything to change the situation? Perhaps look at other childcare options or speak to your manager about working flexi-hours.
  • Give yourself some time; sometimes all that's needed for the guilt to abate is to see your child is happy and coping with the change.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed by guilt, you need to talk to someone. Discuss the situation with your partner, a trusted friend or a therapist.
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