Podcast: Making a mindful return to work after baby

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

A big part of combining work and family is figuring out exactly how you are going to combine work and family. People tend to go through that crucible when their children are babies — not an easy time!

Lori Mihalich-Levin (incidentally, a classmate of mine in college) is a lawyer specializing in Medicare reimbursements for teaching hospitals. She is the mother of an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old. After a rough return to work, she started a side business called Mindful Return, which offers online courses for parents to support them during the transition (a number of businesses offer Mindful Return courses as a new parent benefit). She came on the Best of Both Worlds podcast to offer some tips for navigating those first few weeks and months back at work.

Don’t try to get caught up on everything. Trying to read through your entire email backlog will be an exercise in frustration. Instead, set up meetings with everyone during your first week back. Ask two questions: What did I miss? How can I help? This makes sure you focus on the things that actually matter.

Delegate. Or let it go. Don’t buy into the myth that a good working mother must make casseroles on the weekend to last through the week. You probably won’t starve. Mihalich-Levin notes that “help” can also mean mother’s helpers (like neighbor teens) who come over on the weekend to play with the baby while you’re home so you can get a little break.

Line up exciting projects. If you’re going back to work, why not make it worthwhile? Reach out to colleagues a few weeks before your return to see what interesting, meaty projects you can be involved with as soon as you return. This will remind you what you like about your job. There’s this cultural narrative out there that work is a regretful thing for mothers, but honestly, many of us love what we do. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Remember there’s no one like mommy (or daddy!) Your kid is not going to forget you. Don’t buy into the narrative that using childcare means you’re not raising your own children. Even in sheer hours it often doesn’t come out that way (let alone on the psychological side).

Block pumping hours. If you’re going to pump (which you don’t have to, by the way — supplementation does not make you a bad mother), block the pumping times on your calendar. Block them out for months. You can always free up the time, but it’s hard to take it back once it’s not blocked off. Mihalich-Levin needed 3 blocks for her first kid, but only 2 for her second. But she kept the 3rd block to do stuff for her.

Network with other parents. Join (or start!) a working-parent affinity group in your organization. You can all support each other and share helpful information (like managers that are better to work for than others…that sort of thing).

Lobby for broad flexibility. Working parents often do best with flexible work schedules, but you don’t have to be a parent to benefit from flexibility! Encouraging your employer to rethink what has to happen at certain times and certain places, and what does not, is smart.

Our question for this week is about “batching” kid tasks when you have multiple children in the same age range. Our listener has 3 daughters and wondered about the logistics of doing 3 doctor visits and such at the same time. We talked about how to manage it to be efficient and avoid chaos. Please give it a listen!

9 thoughts on “Podcast: Making a mindful return to work after baby

  1. I enjoyed listening to this guest’s perspective. The thought I keep pondering from this week’s podcast is: what is truly behind the sentiment (re: breastfeeding/pumping) of “I knew I didn’t have to do it…I knew supplementation was OK…but FOR ME, I really wanted to continue pumping and provide exclusive breast milk even though it was very stressful and time consuming.” Hearing Sarah discuss this throughout her pumping journey and then hearing Lori touch on it made me think about what thoughts/beliefs drive this thought. Is is perfectionism? Is it wanting to commit to something that women feel their job might otherwise take away (i.e., working moms shouldn’t have to make this choice)? I know many people struggle at work to block out pumping time and/or find it impossible to wash parts/scald milk, making the time commitment and struggle even more intense.

    1. @Maxine – good question. You’d have to ask Sarah and Lori! I believe that some mothers who work in offices feel like they really don’t want their jobs to take away their ability to breastfeed. Since I was generally working at home when my babies were little I didn’t face the same choices.

    2. I think it is a powerful combination of the societal pressure to breastfeed (which is INTENSE) and the personal, emotional aspect of maintaining the breastfeeding relationship with your baby and wanting to do what (we’re told) is best for your baby. I also think that a lot of women who are educated and work are used to aiming high, working hard and succeeding, and exclusively breastfed is another goal to aim for.

      I am going through this personally at the moment, though not as intensely as some others, and I did not expect to feel the way I do at all (which also changes throughout the day). It is complicated, for me and many women.

      1. Agree! I did it too – pumped at work and and BF exclusively at home and never gave a drop of formula. In retrospect, it would have been SO much easier / more freeing to relax this a bit, but I was never amenable to (as Sarah and Lori seemed to echo) releasing some of the grip on it. It’s interesting to me that we are willing to agree that it’s good to spend time away from baby, outsource, etc, but BF is something that many(?) are not willing to relax at all, oftentimes at the expense of other priorities.

  2. This was a great episode and I really liked Lori’s tips on going back to work! One thing I look at a bit differently, however, is her perspective on “de-gendering” parental leave policies, as she put it. It’s awesome if a company wants to give 12 weeks of leave to both mothers and fathers, but we shouldn’t dismiss the physical toll it takes on a woman in giving birth (unless adopting; speaking generally here) and often breastfeeding. So while “de-gendering” in favor of longer leaves is great, I hope we never get to a point of saying that childbirth and the recovery from it is the same for men as it is for women, because clearly it’s not. 🙂

    1. @Noelle – agree with your point, although sometimes some companies have the actual birth + recovery covered under disability policy, and then the parental leave part is different. So there might be 8 weeks of parental leave + 6 weeks short term disability, meaning that a birth mother could have 14 and a father 8. It’s still de-gendered, but with acknowledging the birth as a major medical event.

      I think there are many interesting ways of looking at this question, which is the broader one in general of wanting to see gender equality yet also seeing that there might be gender differences. A lot to unpack there, philosophically 🙂

      1. @ Laura: yes, absolutely a lot to unpack! I realized I just really don’t like the term “de-gender” because of the obvious and important differences between the genders (and I think people sometimes mistakenly equate equality with sameness); perhaps rephrasing it to making parental policies more inclusive of fathers seems to accomplish the same task. For example, at a restaurant recently, I saw a sign above one of the parking spots that said, “Mothers with young children”. I thought that was awesome, but then later realized – what about dads? Simply writing “parents with young children” would be better. 🙂

        1. Don’t get me started on these kinds of signs! It is like when changing tables are only available in ladies’ restrooms. What if a dad is there with his child? They may be small things but they contribute to building stereotypes that are no good for gender equality.

  3. Very interesting guest! Her program is something I wished I could have benefitted from. My biggest mistake was certainly thinking that I should do it all but I worked on that since (especially thanks to your podcast, blogs and Laura’s books! 😊). I also found very interesting the discussion about flexibility policies in companies (already quite interesting to see how it goes in the US – I live in Europe and I do realise how lucky we are with generous social and holiday schemes) . For me, a big challenge is for small companies to be able to offer flexibility. I work in an office of 6 persons and I am the only one with young kids. I also have the longest commute so I am pretty much the only one with strong flexibility needs. My boss is at least flexible on working hours and on letting us working from home but these are more informal and as-hoc arrangements. I feel that in small structures without formally established policies, you always have to go and « beg » for special conditions. And when you’re the only one asking for it, it can make you feel like the odd one (and let’s be honest, even nowadays, most people still believe that when you work from home, you’re actually not working but watching tv or doing your chores!).

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