What I Learned About Returning to Work After Maternity Leave (And 6 Lies I Wrongly Believed)

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I’m used to deadlines. In fact, I tend to thrive on them. They are markers that, when met, make me feel proud, accomplished, and on top of the world. I so got this! 

But the deadline I’m going to talk about today was NOT one I was looking forward to: my return to work after maternity leave with my son. 

I was one of those annoying pregnant women that actually enjoyed being pregnant. But as soon as I delivered my son, I felt a cool, anxious dread settle into my chest. I was on deadline. 

I had 12 weeks to bond with him. To make sure he knew me better than anybody else. To make sure that he knew I was his #1 person. And I had three months to nervously and fearfully anticipate the start of work (for me) and daycare (for him). I spent a lot of this time guilt-tripping myself over how a better mom would quit working and stay home, no matter the financial cost. A holier mom would trust God to make seemingly impossible ends meet without a second salary coming in. 

I feared that my son would love his daycare teachers more than me. 

I was scared that I would miss every “first” in my son’s first few years of development. 

I was nervous that my son would hate me down the road for not being home with him or that he’d think I put my job before him. 

I believed that “owning” and embracing my decision to go back to work was wrong. 

I feared that being a working mom was taking “the easy way out” of parenting (as if that’s even possible) because I would be putting much of the daily responsibilities of raising my son on other people. 

I worried that my son wouldn’t learn the Christian values that are important to my husband and I. 

And I’m here to tell you that these fears are NOT TRUE.

The anticipation of returning to work was way worse than actually returning to work. Yes, the first day was hard and I spent most of it crying because I missed my son (and because of all the anxieties listed above). But each day got easier. And a couple days in, I realized I was mostly mourning the death of a false belief. A belief that said I was bad mom for choosing to work. 

At that time, returning to work was the best option for me and for my family. Financially we weren’t in a place to afford for me to stay home. But more importantly, mentally, I wasn’t in a place to handle the mundanity of infant-hood. And that phrase is undeniably hard for me to admit. 

For the women who stay home, I applaud you. But I wasn’t cut out for that. I was a better mom for working. It made me more present and intentional during the hours I did get to spend with my son. I was my best for him because I went back to work. I am a good mom. 

Anyway, let’s address some of the fears that I listed. 

Lie #1: I feared that my son would love his daycare teachers more than me. 

When I went back to work at 12 weeks postpartum, I felt like he and I were just starting to bond. (Hint: the first two months are HARD, yo.) And I felt like sometimes I couldn’t give enough cuddles, bounces, or rocks to comfort him. At times, nothing would make him stop crying, no matter what I did. And I thought for sure our bond was doomed. 

But we weren’t!

He loved his daycare teachers which made my mama-heart happy. But best of all, he clearly preferred me to them. And I started to gently let go of this idea that he wouldn’t know who was his mama. Instead, I decided to be glad that he had enough love in his heart to love all of us. And honestly, I’m the one who holds him when he wakes up crying in the middle of the night. Somehow, that makes all the difference. 

Lie #2: I was scared that I would miss every “first” in my son’s first few years of development. 

While my son may have done a couple things at daycare first before I saw them, his teachers never brought it up. They actually assumed that I’d already seen him roll over and that they weren’t seeing the first time. Even though I have no way of knowing who actually saw his absolute first rollover, I still remember the excitement I felt when I saw it for the first time myself. Suddenly, it didn’t matter who had seen the very first one. I was just so proud of my boy! 

But the majority of the time, we were the first ones to see or experience something. Like when he sat up for 20 minutes straight on his own before toppling over. Or when he woke up with his first tooth. Or when he got his first stomach bug (not a great “first” but at least he got sick when I was there to care for him!). We got to give him his first food. We got to watch him figure out this whole solid foods thing. We knew he liked to sleep in the dark, with complete silence at night. We knew he liked to wear a long-sleeve onesie under his footed pajamas—and anything less would make him wake up more frequently at night because he was cold. We determined when he increased bottle size, clothing size, etc. We decided when to start letting him sleep with a blankie. We helped him figure out how to fall asleep independently. We got to experience his first slobbery “kiss.” I remember vividly the first time somebody else was holding him and he leaned out of their arms and reached for me. My heart still hasn’t recovered. We also saw his first drunken-looking steps. And much more. 

Trust me, you’ll see all the firsts and they will matter so much. 

Lie #3: I was nervous that my son would hate me down the road for not being home with him or that he’d think I put my job before him. 

While I don’t know if my son will hate me one day for having worked when he was an infant, I tend to think he won’t hold it against me. First, he probably won’t remember vivid memories from such a young age. Second, he knows how much I love him. Nurturing comes in many different forms and situations (working mom, stay-at-home mom, stay-at-home dad, adoptive parents, biological parents, etc.). If you’re doing the best you can in any situation, it is enough. 

Lie #4: I believed that “owning” my decision to go back to work was wrong. 

I really struggled to embrace my decision, but it was a necessary step. Had money not been an issue, I realized I would have made the same choice all over again. I recognized (though didn’t want to admit at the time) that I needed to go back to work. I felt like a “lesser” mom when I realized I couldn’t “cut it” as a stay at home mom. But when I finally embraced the decision, I realized I wasn’t “wrong” or “less than.” I was making the decision that was best for myself and my child and my family. Mentally, I needed the mental/emotional break that working provided each day.

Lie #5: I feared that being a working mom was taking “the easy way out” of parenting because I would be putting much of the daily responsibilities of raising my son on other people. 

Let’s just be clear about one thing if nothing else: being a working parent isn’t taking “the easy way out.” There is NO EASY WAY TO PARENT. You are keeping another little human alive and trying to raise them into a loving, kind, amazing person. That is never going to be a piece of cake, no matter the situation. It’s not easy being alone with a tiny human 24/7, as well as all the pee, spit, poop, and tears. It’s not going to be easy dropping your kid off at daycare, concentrate on work, and return home for another sleepless night. Neither situation is any easier than the other. They are just different. So let’s stop comparing which is better or worse. 

Lie #6: I worried that my son wouldn’t learn the Christian values that are important to my husband and I. 

It wasn’t until my son was between 2 and 2 1/2 years old that he finally started realizing that we go to church once a week, why we go, and that Jesus loves him. Does he fully understand who Jesus is and why it matters? Not yet. But our consistency with bedtime prayers, going to church, and talking about why we do those things has started to take effect. And the key word: consistency. That is what matters. Being home with him every day probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference in this area at this age. 

I think it’s natural to fear the unknown. And going back to work (or even staying home) unearths many unknowns. But I’m here to reassure you that it’s probably not going to be as bad as you anticipate. Instead of hating it, try to change your perspective—see how going back to work (or staying home, if that’s your situation) can make you a better person and mom. And embrace it, whether or not you would have chose that role in an ideal world. 

Hopefully soon I’ll publish my follow-up post about becoming a stay-at-home mom when my son turned 2. But that’s a whole other story for another day.

Thanks for reading!

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