Uncertainty: Maternity Leave is Over… Now What While Working Remotely?

It is time to go back to work from your maternity leave. Does it make you feel anxious? There are a few questions that you need to address. Especially since a lot has happened while you’ve been gone … you’re returning amidst a global pandemic, and there will be lots to take in.

Are you even going back to an office or will remote work be required?

For many, remote working is the “new normal” – which means returning to work but in the same place that you‘ve been spending your maternity leave: at home.

This year has been a new experience for everyone, and the blurred boundaries between work and life have been causing anxiety, guilt, and exhaustion for many. And for you – you’ll be dealing with all of this, in addition to the adjustment and learning curve of having a new child in your life. With all the questions of your new balancing act, it can be an opportunity to seek counsel outside of your family, friends and employer. I had the opportunity to attend a webinar last month hosted by Inner Circles CEO Em Roblin and it was a great opportunity to understand how I can use this time to carefully craft my new life. This article will answer a few questions that you may have. In addition to this article, Em and I are facilitating a Facebook Live discussion on July 17th and a Webinar here in partnership with New Orleans Mom on July 24th 8:00-9:30am

Tune in for our Facebook Live on this topic:

Maternity Leave is Over… Now What While Working Remotely? With Nia and Em

When: Friday July 17th 8:00am

How to join: Add Em Roblin on Facebook HERE

**You’re welcome to share a specific challenge or ask a question by reaching out directly to Em through a PM in Facebook, or by commenting below, and we’ll be sure to address them in the Facebook Live.**

Join the free webinar for the New Orleans Mom Community:

Anxious to Energized: The 3 Powerful Keys Every Working Mom Needs to Turn Guilt and Exhaustion into Peace of Mind and Fulfillment

When: Friday July 24th 8:00-9:30am

How to join: Register for the free webinar HERE

1. How can we best handle feeling behind / uninformed / out of the loop / guilty or some combination of all of these things as we return from maternity leave to our work environments?

Em: First of all, if you’re finding yourself feeling a little more anxious than you may have thought as you prepare to head back to work after your maternity leave – please know that you’re not alone.

“I’ll be back to work in full gear for the busy quarter” I remember one of my clients saying in the weeks before she gave birth. As the date approached for her to return to work, she began to feel really anxious. “There is no way I can do it. First of all, I just don’t have the bandwidth, but it’s more, I actually just don’t feel ready to part with the baby. I didn’t expect to feel this way, but I feel this way, so now what?”

I’ve worked with so many women that struggle in unexpected ways as they return to work after maternity leave. It’s counterintuitive that at such an important milestone in life – a moment where we imagine we’ll feel like we have it all – that we’ve got what we’ve been building towards for so many years – we end up feeling LESS CONFIDENT than we did before. So we have these expectations for how it’s going to be and how we’re going to be, and when we find ourselves feeling differently, it can cause us to become very self-critical.

I was working with one woman, for example, who, after the birth of her second child felt at a surprising all time low in her confidence levels. “It was like after the first baby people were respectful and supportive and picked up the extra work while I was away. But this time it’s different. People think my decision to have a second child has made me less committed to the job somehow. Some have been judgmental and then others are outright resentful. I feel like I’m getting questioned on all sides and it’s gotten to me to the point that I’m now questioning myself.”

So, if you’re feeling unsteady coming back, here’s what you can do:

  • Don’t overanalyze your self-doubt. Feeling self-doubt is not a sign that there is anything wrong with you. Remember that you’re not alone – many competent, committed women before you have felt the same way – and gotten through it – just like you will. Notice it, acknowledge it, and then, let it go. You can literally say: “I heard you. Now go away Self-doubt. Good bye!”
  • Check your expectations. Some of the self-doubt is likely coming from some of your own expectations– for example, to perform at work in the same way you were before having the baby, to be able to fulfill the baby’s every need, etc. Some of these may be your own, others might be what you think you’re supposed to do based on the expectations others have of you. Again, Notice them, acknowledge them, and then you can decide whether or not these expectations are constructive and desired, or not.
  • Prepare. On the work front, putting in just a few power-hours to catch yourself up in relevant ways that are within your control – market updates, industry shifts, etc, so you’re feeling more in the know will take you far in feeling better about your first steps back. On the home front, take some time away from the baby to practice what it feels like and for both of you, as well as your community can adjust.

2. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic – what is important in this context to consider?

Em: There has been a lot of change – turbocharged change– and while on the one hand that may make you feel even more stressed and unsure about how to come back smoothly – it’s also an opportunity to join into the biggest work from home experiment of all time. Like any experiment, it’s about trial and error, so in fact there is more space to craft and try out what could work for your specific situation, as opposed to trying to do what you should do perfectly. Try with small things, see what works and what doesn’t and tweak it as you go.

For this to work most effectively, be sure to:

  • Keep an open dialogue. With your boss and key colleagues – focus on aligning around what’s most important and what the top priorities are through regular check ins. Schedule key things carefully and speak up when you need more flexibility or when something’s not working for you. With your family – you may not know your boundaries until they get crossed, what’s working today may not be working tomorrow… so take it one step at a time — and become comfortable in a consistent open dialogue
  • Create a workspace at your home where you’re able to be “on?” And I mean workspace in the loosest sense here. Because, for many of us, switching from work to home mode can be tough – so how can we make this transition easier for ourselves. What will be your signal to change modes – is it when you enter into a specific space in your home? Is it when a certain door gets closed? Could it be when you take a particular mug in hand? Or could it be a smell that gets dispensed?
  • Set yourself up to win by scheduling things in as best as you can yet being flexible and compassionate about expectations you have to execute those schedules to perfection. Remember that you’re not alone. Just like you’re not the first mom to come back from maternity leave, you’re also not alone in dealing with the challenges of the pandemic. In fact, this is a rare occurrence where we’re all affected: your clients, your friends, even people you’ve never had anything in common with before are also experiencing challenge and change around this. That doesn’t make it go away, but it does open up space for understanding, conversation, and learning.

3. Who should be in our Inner Circle? What kind of support is important when we are juggling our new roles as working moms?

Em – yes, we know this is important – that it takes a village to raise a child. But it’s easy to get sucked into thinking we’re somehow supposed to pull it all off on our own and with a smile. I know this – but it hasn’t stopped me from falling into that trap a few times myself. I remember once it was during a holiday when my youngest was just a few months old and she got sick. My husband was traveling, and I didn’t want to burden anyone, get them sick, etc. I was struggling, and the more I did, the harder I was on myself. It wasn’t until about 3 days had gone by that I finally picked up the phone and called a close friend of mine and let it out.

Hands On Support –

Ask yourself: what hands on support do you really need and who is in a position to support you on it? Family members, neighbors, colleagues… it’s critical to be able to have extra hands both on the home and work front when you know you’re dropping the ball. Being appreciative and grateful for the trust you have, for their willingness to contribute and their efforts and energy will bring you all closer together.

Emotional Support –

Keep those friends and family members that bring out the best in you close. We know that many of our family and friends love us dearly and want the best for us – but I’m talking about the ones that really energize YOU, that lift you up and that you know have your back. Who gives you the space to vent when you need to, but doesn’t get caught up in your stories and prevent you from moving gracefully through the challenges you’re facing? You’ve got limited time and energy, skip investing a lot in the taxing relationships that require so much energy and effort from you at this point in time and instead spend your time with people who fuel you and bring you positive energy.

Role Models –

Who are the mom’s you admire and respect? Who are the professional women you look up to? Reach out to them and tell them you think they are great role models and ask them to share specific tactics that have worked for them or to share challenges they have faced and how they overcame them. Keep in mind that we don’t want to seek too much advice, and instead it will be more helpful for you to listen to their experience.

Mentors and Sponsors –

It’s more important than ever to stay connected to key mentors and sponsors that see your potential and are committed to see you grow. Together with them you can zoom out to see your career more broadly and gain their insights on how to navigate at each step, including this one.

Sisterhood –

This has been another important thing for me – we’ll talk more about that in the Facebook live and in the webinar. Interested to join? Here’s how…

4. What does your professional Zoom call look like? How to set up your workspace so that it reflects you.

Em: As discussed above, set yourself up with some consistent signs to indicate it’s now work time. Closing a door, diffusing a smell, or getting dressed professionally are all possibilities. In my experience, the most important determinant to a good workspace is connectivity – do I have a good internet connection at home? Where is it the most reliable?

After that, it’s how can I make that spot quiet and distraction free?

I have heard from my clients and friends that many workplace norms have relaxed – that goes for attire, makeup, even what people see as a backdrop has been less important than a good connection and high quality sound.

Uploading a professional headshot to zoom so that if connections aren’t stable or I’m not in a place that seems appropriate for the setting, having the image backdrop has proved a good option.

But, like anything, ultimately, it’s not about what other people think, it’s about how you feel, so do what works for you, and learn as you go.

It is always enlightening to hear a different perspective regarding motherhood and new roles. A few of my concerns were how would I return to the workforce while continuing with my workout routine and breastfeeding schedule. Since I have returned to work this month this will continue to be a work in progress, however, attending the webinar was helpful in creating balance.

I hope to see all you during the Facebook Live discussion on July 17th and the Webinar on July 24th.

Get your challenge addressed! Get your question answered!

What challenge are you facing? What question do you have now? Ask it below in the comments or by reaching out to Em through Facebook and we will be sure to address it specifically in the Live next week.

Register for the free webinar HERE!

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Nia Avery is a New Orleans based Fine Art Consultant for Heather James Fine Art. Prior to joining Heather James Fine Art in 2017, Nia was an art consultant in Beijing, China, where she oversaw the inaugural C!Talk initiative, a series of cross-cultural events sponsored by the World Culture Open organization. She also previously served as an art consultant in Houston where she co-led the Emancipation Economic Development Council workgroup for the art non-profit Project Row House. Nia received her Bachelor of Science from Clark Atlanta University. Before relocating to New Orleans, she served on the board of Loma Linda Hospital’s “Big Hearts for Little Hearts Guild” in Indio, California, and was a member of Desert AIDS Project’s “Partners for Life” committee in Palm Springs, California. “New Orleans is my hometown, so I am thrilled to be back. As a gastronome and fine art consultant, I have found that this city is the perfect fit – and because New Orleans is a city focused on tourism, there are always opportunities to meet people from all over the world. Living here presents an exciting opportunity to contribute to the cultural landscape. My favorite place in the city has yet to be discovered. From 1000 Figs, to Original Thought, to the McKenna Museum, there is always something to discover and experience. I am excited to discover many new favorites for years to come.”

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