Preparing to return to work after having a baby can be a very emotional time. Typically, this is the first time mothers are entrusting their precious new child to someone else’s care. This separation can be very difficult for many new moms. After all, babies are often physically in contact with their mothers nearly around the clock for the first few weeks of life. Feeling uneasy about this transition is normal and natural.
Leaving your baby in someone else’s care can be seen as the first in a series of separations throughout childhood development…going off to school, sleepovers, dates, college. Managing this separation with grace can help set the stage for success with these future separations as your child continues to expand and explore the world around them. The first step to a graceful transition is to understand your own feelings about this separation. It is not uncommon for mothers to struggle with mixed feelings about returning to work and starting childcare.
See if any of these feelings fit for you:
A reluctance to return to work: Many women don’t feel ready to separate from baby when maternity leave draws to a close. They may be enjoying the sole focus on baby, watching the daily changes as baby learns to smile, giggle, and roll over. They don’t want to miss a moment of watching their child grow and develop. Leaving baby feels almost like removing a body part, they’ve been so attached for the past few months or even longer, including pregnancy. They may feel guilty for NEEDING to return to work to meet financial obligations. They may worry about being able to keep up at work, especially after being gone for weeks/months.
Feeling fearful about leaving baby: Many women worry about the safety and well-being of baby in a childcare setting. Despite doing their due diligence researching and visiting their chosen childcare provider, they may still fear that no one will be as competent and responsive to their baby as mom. Certainly no one would be as loving and attentive. They may worry that baby will feel abandoned by mom or suffer physical and emotional damage during the separation. They read stories of daycare disasters and know they could never forgive themselves if their baby was hurt in their absence.
Looking forward to returning to work: Many women genuinely look forward to returning to work and the familiar life they once had, a life where they could go to the bathroom or eat soup uninterrupted. They felt competent and capable at work, rather than overwhelmed and exhausted as a new mom. While anticipating the liberation of being an adult again without a baby in tow, they also may feel great guilt about this feeling of wanting to separate. Many women berate themselves for NOT WANTING to stay home with baby. And they may fear baby will form closer attachments with their caregiver than themselves.
Steps to managing your feelings about leaving baby:
- Acknowledge and accept your feelings. Try to avoid judging yourself or comparing yourself to others. This means letting go of pressures that you SHOULD feel a certain way. Spend a little time tuning into your emotional state with compassion. This may involve meditating, journal writing, or just sitting quietly with your feelings. And don’t be surprised if these feelings change from moment to moment. Try to roll with the shifting tides of your emotions without trying to escape or erase them.
- Share your feelings with someone you trust. Talk about your experience with your partner, friend, sister, or mother. Choose someone you can be your genuine self with as it can feel very vulnerable to share these tough feelings. Often times you may receive helpful feedback and validation. You may even hear stories of how others have successfully navigated this difficult separation.
- Remain positive and calm about this separation when with your baby. Children are quick to pick up on parents’ worries and discomforts, even as infants. So talk about daycare plans with your baby in an upbeat tone of voice. Visit the daycare provider with baby while calm and cheerful. Practice saying goodbyes pleasantly and simply with baby. You might develop a brief goodbye ritual with a familiar phrase, kiss, and calmly walking away. Save your own emotional upset for when you’re not around baby. Many mothers have smiled sweetly as they bid their babies goodbyes at daycare and then taken time to cry in the car afterward. This is okay.
- Expect tough moments.Transitions are naturally stressful. Expect baby to take time adjusting to the new routine. He may be act sad, clingy, or out of sorts for a while. Additionally, you may have moments of feeling overwhelmed and emotionally vulnerable. Try to avoid additional stressors during this time, such as moving to a crib, changing diets, or getting a puppy. And build in opportunities to reconnect as a family each day, perhaps creating reunion rituals in the evenings with family dance time or snuggles on the couch. Be patient with yourself, your baby, and your childcare provider as you ride the waves of this transition.
Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Health Psychologist working in private practice atLinden BPin Westlake, Ohio. She received her Doctorate at Ohio University and completed her training at the Cincinnati VAMC and Cleveland Clinic. She worked for more than 10 years as a staff psychologist at the Cleveland VAMC. Currently, she provides assessment and treatment for adults experiencing anxiety, depression, personal crises, and relationship difficulties within the comfort of a small private practice setting. She specializes in providing compassionate care for women facing unique challenges throughout the child-bearing and child-rearing years. In particular, she strives to support women dealing with pregnancy and fertility issues, loss, as well as transitions in family and personal life.