So you’ve been on maternity leave for a few months now, or maybe even a full year, but now it’s time to go back to work. I get a lot of questions from working mamas, so off I went in search of practical tips for easing back into a structured school schedule after the time at home with your baby.
Thank you to Marisa S., a fifth grade teacher in Oregon, and Liz L., a school leader in the Bronx, who were kind enough to discuss this with me. What follows below is their combined wisdom.
- Communicate. Before you return to work, tell your principal or school leader what you’ll need and when. Initiate conversations about pumping, when you’ll be in for the day, when you’re leaving, and other anticipated needs. If you used to come early and stay late but you can’t anymore, let your boss know before your first day back so you don’t feel so weird about making this change.
- Simplify. Pick the same 5 meals and the same 5-6 nursing-friendly outfits. Eat and wear the same thing every week for a month. Liz’s grocery list is the same every week, and her husband knows what they’re supposed to eat for dinner in case he beats her home.
- Plan. After the birth of her second child, but before officially returning to work, Marisa went in on a weekend day to “reclaim” her classroom from the long-term sub. Marisa also met with her for about an hour to get notes on her students, curriculum, and class business. As she reported, “It took me about 6 hours to reset the class to my preferences, but it was time well spent. I was happy to do this before kids arrived and I felt much more prepared for Monday morning.”
- Practice. A week or two before you go back, practice your morning routine all the way out to your car or transit stop. Don’t rely on any assumptions about how long it will take to get out the door. Liz also went in to school the afternoon before she returned to set up her desk, breast pump, and snacks. At my urging, she also made a checklist to help get out the door. Of course, I love that her Flexy is on there! And her baby!
- Go Back to the Beginning. Even though it was mid-winter when she returned, Marisa put herself in the mindset that it was the beginning of the school year all over again: “I was getting back into the swing of things and so were my students. I spent way more time on transitions and routines than I usually would at that time of year.”
- Prepare. Have those sub plans written and ready. Just like your students get sick, so do your own children. Kids don’t get sick on a schedule, so Marisa invested a little time in writing a sub plan before she needed it. Sure enough her son got sick last week and she was able to implement her plan with very little stress.
- Say No (for a little while): Marisa wisely took a break from extra commitments for 3 months. No new committees, leadership responsibilities, student teachers, nor clubs: “Having a new baby is really exhausting. Even though I usually have several leadership roles in my building, I said no until late spring to keep things running smoothly between work and home until I hit a new rhythm.”
How can Togetherness help ease the transition back to school? As Liz aptly put it,
The work I do requires me to always look ahead (an hour ahead, a day, a week, a year), but a newborn required me to be very present. I was nervous about trying to balance my newfound “presentness” with the future planning that makes me effective at work. Keeping Together helped me juggle my love for my baby with my love for my job!”
Liz and Marisa, thanks for weighing in on such a personal issue!