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Nancy Collamer on Going Back to Work
For more than a decade, career consultant Nancy Collamer, M.S., has been helping hundreds of women forge more fulfilling and family-friendly career paths. She is founder of Jobsandmoms.com, a web site for professional-level women seeking career advice, and formerly worked as “career transitions expert” and “jobs and moms pro” for Oprah Winfrey’s Oxygen Media. Collamer is also the author of several e-books including, The Back-to-Work Toolkit: A Guide for Comeback Moms and Flexjobs: Your Work, Your Life, Your Way! Here, she shares some of her secrets for the first 30 days of going back to work after baby.
What can working moms do to prepare themselves for returning to the workplace?
If possible, avoid leaving your baby with her new caregiver for the first time on the morning that you report back to the office. Ideally, you’ll want to give everyone more time to adjust. I recommend leaving your child with her caregiver for brief periods up to two weeks before your start date. This will allow your baby time to get comfortable with this new person or environment and lessen your anxiety, as well. Concurrently, you will have the opportunity to assess how your child is being cared for and make any necessary adjustments. The brief periods to yourself will also afford you some much needed “me time” to have lunch with a girlfriend, take an exercise class or just stroll leisurely through the aisles of your grocery store.
What are the most important things for us to do at work during this first 30 days?
It’s important to reestablish yourself at work very quickly. Your colleagues will be wondering if you have changed, whether or not you are still committed to your job and the impact on their jobs if you are not. You may find people who are tiptoeing around you wondering where your head is at, perhaps thinking that you won’t be willing to take on tough assignments. You need to be the one to set the tone. Let your team know that while you may need some time to ramp back up to where you were, you are prepared to pull your weight. You also need to be aware of the office culture in which you are operating; be sure to gauge your audience when sharing anecdotes about your baby. A conference room full of men, for example, may not be as eager to hear them as a group of fellow working mothers.
How might motherhood positively affect a women's performance at work?
Some mothers report that by the end of their workday, the craving to see their baby is so strong it’s almost physical. So in order to get back home to your little one as quickly as possible, chances are that you will become much more efficient and focused on doing actual work when you are at work. This may translate into less time for chatting at the water cooler or taking a full hour for lunch, but much greater productivity.
What is the best way to cope if women begin to feel emotional at the office?
Keeping it all bottled up won’t do anyone any good. Rather than turn on the waterworks in the middle of the lunchroom, go out for a short walk or have a bite to eat with a co-worker with whom you can freely speak your mind. Venting your feelings may not change your work situation, but it will reduce the amount of stress you are holding.
Should women bring baby pictures to the office?
You may feel a tremendous urge to share lots and lots of photographs with anyone who passes by your desk. While your colleagues will, no doubt, be pleased to share in your joy, it may send a signal to them that you aren’t ready to concentrate on work. I recommend taking the first couple of days back at work to get it out of your system and then just keep a framed portrait or two on your desk for your own enjoyment.
How can a working mom maximize time with baby?
In order to spend the most time with your baby, outsource as much as you can: Instead of coming home after an exhausting day at work to scrub down your house, consider hiring a cleaning service. Order take-out or subscribe to a meal service rather than spending precious minutes cooking each night. Remember that on top of bonding with your baby, you’ll want to get as much rest as you can, especially if the baby isn’t sleeping through the night yet. While these options may sound costly, it’s probably less expensive than not getting a raise because you were too exhausted to perform well at work.
Additionally, if it’s feasible, you may want to consider synchronizing your work hours with your baby’s nap schedule. Perhaps you could go into the office earlier in the morning if your baby typically sleeps during that time and then return home earlier in the afternoon.
What phases can someone expect to go through when returning to work?
The first three days to two weeks seem to be the roughest in terms of turbulent emotions and physical exhaustion. Some women feel calmer and more in control after week one. Some women experience those kinds of feelings much later in the month. However you feel, it’s important not to force yourself to live by an artificial timetable. Focus on forward movement. Check in with yourself periodically up to the 30-day mark and beyond to make sure that things continue to run more smoothly.
Why are the first 30 days of returning to the workplace such a vital time?
Everyone in your world is going through an adjustment period at the same time. Your baby, your spouse, your co-workers—the transition impacts everyone around you.
Who is it important to “be” during this crucial period?
Recognize and honor yourself as an individual, a wife, a worker and as a mother. Be good to the new you and all of the different aspects of yourself. Take care of yourself as well as your baby, your spouse and your job. Give yourself time to ease into these new roles.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Everything happens for a reason.
The best thing about change is...
...it can be frightening. And that fear often turns out to be a bridge to a better opportunity.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
Leaving corporate America to start my own business. It offered me the flexibility and work-life balance that I needed and took my career to places that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
For more information on Nancy Collamer, visit www.jobsandmoms.com.