Congratulations on that new bundle of joy – now get back to work. Whether you were fortunate enough to get a long, languid maternity (or paternity) leave with all expenses paid, or circumstances forced you to get back to work sooner than you wanted to, the transition from spending your days gazing at your newborn’s sleeping face to staring down the old, tired faces in the boardroom is probably going to be quite a challenge. With the diapers and the late-night feedings you’re now dealing with, being a new parent is hard enough – but add the stress of going back to work and it’s no wonder you feel like you’re at the end of your rope.
It might not ease all of your woes, but perhaps knowing that other new parents are going through a similar struggle at work can help to make the transition a little easier to bear. If you’re a new parent, you’ll probably recognize some of these struggles as very real parts of your own new reality.
1. Frumpy Clothing
In not so many words: you’re fat, honey.
This one is not just for the new mothers, who have spent nine months gaining that "baby weight" only to find that not all of that weight was actually baby. In some sort of sympathy mode, new fathers also tend to gain weight during a pregnancy, too. As a result, both mothers and fathers tend to return to work a little chunkier than before. That, in turn, can result in clothes that are ill-fitting or worse: way too small for you. And since being a new parent has likely strained your finances, you may not be able to go out and get a new wardrobe. Hence, you walk into work in the frumpiest clothing you have – which can sort of mess with your image. The struggle is real.
2. Leaky Breasts
One word: breastfeeding. If there’s one that’s going to wreak havoc on your work life, it’s breastfeeding. Suddenly you’re not able to feed your child anytime they want – and that can have a number of uncomfortable ramifications. For one, new moms will get that painful twinge in the chest area after a few hours of being away from the baby; a mean reminder that you’re not with the baby at all times, not to mention the fact that it can be pretty painful. If you wait to escape to a private zone to use a breast pump, the consequences can be a soaked shirt. At times, you’ll have to decide whether to awkwardly leave that meeting you’re in the middle of, or risk it and end the meeting with two wet circles on your shirt. Indeed, motherhood can be a total pain in the chest.
You can get through this one, though, by trying to anticipate when you’ll need to pump, and asking your employer provide you a comfortable place in which to do it. Over time, you’ll learn that scheduling meetings mid-morning, for example, is a recipe for disaster, and that you’ll eventually find your groove.
3. Snack Obsession
Most of us wish we had the guts to spend all day slobbering over the snack machine, and when you’re a new parent, you might find it extra hard to resist.
New mothers who are breastfeeding need lots of extra calories in order to make all that milk – and that means eating three square meals a day isn’t always enough. Likewise, the new dads who put on extra weight during the pregnancy may be used to eating a lot more, and won’t necessarily be ready to tone it down right after the baby is born. What’s more, friends and family have probably been bringing you meals and treats, which doesn’t help at all. When you go back to work, you may find that your 12 o’clock lunch break comes hours after your first hunger pangs. Even if you’re organized enough to make yourself a proper breakfast that contains a dose of protein, you may find yourself craving that yummy snack right about the time that the morning client meeting rolls around. And if you’re hungry – or at least if you think you’re hungry – it can be difficult to concentrate on the work at hand.
So now you’re a fat slob who can’t seem to get it together to stop eating. Nice.
4. No Motivation
Speaking of concentration, having a new baby in the house can pretty much eclipse anything else that’s in your life. Where you once might have diligently crunched numbers or organized the office calendar, these days you might find that you’re letting a lot of things slide. Like, super-slide.
When you’ve been given a gift as huge as a new baby, the minutiae of work life doesn’t seem to really matter anymore. You can’t really say this to your boss or your coworkers but the truth is that you just don’t really care what happens around the office anymore. So not only is your mind elsewhere but you also somehow have to keep pretending that you DO care – and that effort can be the most exhausting part about being a new parent. You might be wishing you could give this whole work thing the bird and walk out, but with that new burden little bundle of joy, that’s the last thing you can do.
5. More Coffee, Please?
And then there’s the real, true, actual exhaustion. Oh yes, those long nights and late-night feedings are going to take their toll – and if your job is one that requires you to be up at the crack of dawn, you’re going to struggle. Coffee does help, but when you’re the most tired person in the workplace, don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re the one who always has to make the coffee. Yes, other people in the office do need coffee too, and they do make it once in a while, but if you’re the only one who needs that third or fourth cup by mid-afternoon, don’t get annoyed at everyone else. Your need for more caffeine is just going to be stronger than everyone else’s. Look on the bright side, though: in most workplaces, the employer pays for the coffee, so be happy that there’s someone out there who’s footing the bill for your caffeine habit.
6. Checked Out Coworkers
So you’re checked out, exhausted, your clothes don’t fit and you need extra-absorbent breast pads to handle the deluge of milk, but hey, at least you have that host of photos of the baby that you can look at when you’re feeling down. That can help you stay on task and give you perspective when you’re thinking of quitting your job in favor of staying home with the baby full-time. Your coworkers may have been interested to see the first few photos that you shared, but don’t take it personally when they’re not really interested in seeing every last gesture or facial expression your baby makes. You’re just going to have to get over the fact that not everyone is going to care about your baby as much as you do. Other people have kids of their own – or at least their own nieces, nephews, cousins, or friends’ babies that they have to pretend to care about on top of yours. It’s OK to plaster your own cubicle with photos of your kiddo, but just don’t expect anyone else to cast them a glance. And for goodness’ sake: stop forcing people to look at them. If someone is truly interested in what your infant wore for Halloween, they’ll ask.
Oh, and speaking of that, here’s another thing your coworkers are not going to be super receptive about: you suddenly thinking you’re the expert at parenting. Just because you’ve made it through the gauntlet and you have the baby in your hands doesn’t make you the mother (or father) of the year, and it certainly doesn’t make you an expert. Unless your job qualifications are specifically related to child-rearing, keep your advice and comments about other people’s parenting styles to yourself. Sure, you’ve read a dozen parenting books over the course of the past several months, but your fellow parent/coworkers probably read them at some point too, and they don’t need you chiming in and annoying them with your sudden expertise.
To sum it all up, you’re going through a lot of changes and new challenges as a new parent – and a lot of them really, really suck.
We all know that, and we acknowledge your struggle. At the same time, you can’t expect other people in your office to care – or to cut you any slack. Even if you work in a place where they’re seemingly supportive of parents, with things like long, paid maternity leave or an in-house child care center, your bosses are still going to expect you to show up ready to work each day, to put in your best effort, and to be that superhuman that seems so elusive. It might make you want to cry like a newborn, but the truth is you still have to be the adult in your family.
Until the day comes when kids are welcome to play at our feet and to frolic around the boardroom (fat chance!), you’ll have to console yourself with the fact that millions – or billions, in fact – of other new parents have been where you are at right now, and they survived.