Avoiding the Common Pitfalls of New Working Moms

Working motherhood is hard no matter what, so get prepared

Mom and baby boy crawling
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Returning to work is a tough transition for any mom. Maybe you dread it, maybe you can't wait, but it's sure to surprise you. Here are eight common pitfalls working moms can fall into on their way back to the workplace.

Pitfall 1: Waiting to Line Up Child Care

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I got unsolicited advice on everything, from what to eat to what to buy. But nobody told me the most useful information—get on waiting lists for daycare centers immediately.

By the time I toured centers the month before my delivery, I discovered that wait times for infant care were over one year! Panicked, I signed up for a half dozen different lists and started praying. Fortunately, I was able to take six months' leave, and our top choice daycare found a spot for us.

Even if you don't anticipate needing daycare, sign up anyway. Maybe you'll have to go back to work sooner than expected, or your mom or nanny will suddenly back out of caring for your baby. If you had laid the groundwork ahead of time, it'll be much easier to figure out last-minute care.

Pitfall 2: Being Passive About Child Care

Once you've gotten on some daycare wait lists or lined up a nanny, don't cross the task off your list and forget about it. You've taken the first step in the most important new relationship of a working mom's life, and you must nurture it.

Daycare centers are run by human beings, and, obviously, babysitters are people too. They want to know you'll be easy to work with and you'll value the important job they do.

Make sure to check in with your top choice daycare centers or the babysitter you've lined up. Call after the baby is born, and periodically during your maternity leave. I'm pretty sure it was my bi-monthly calls to our daycare center that got us a spot ahead of schedule. I aimed to show eager interest without nagging.

If you're in a bind, showing up in person is the most effective technique for getting into child care. Providers prefer engaged, interested parents. I know two new moms who strolled their baby into a center the week before they had to return to work and walked out with a spot.

Pitfall 3: Going Back Full Steam

Whether your maternity leave is six weeks, six months, or six years, returning to work is going to be an adjustment.

If possible, return mid-week. You get a short first week back at work, and your baby gets an easy introduction to child care. You might also want to explore going back on a part-time schedule for the first few weeks or months.

Some find it easier to stay in touch with work during maternity leave to help delegate work and keep projects moving along. That way they don't return to a pile of uncompleted tasks.

Others would rather make a clean break and come back to a fresh start, or even to a brand new position. This tactic works best if your job is more independent and you can wrap up projects before your maternity leave and start new ones when you return.

Pitfall 4: Going It Alone

You want to succeed as a mom. You want to feel capable. You can achieve both of these goals by asking for help.

You're more likely to find a happy balance as a working mom if you admit you have needs and require assistance. Trying to go it alone will only push you over the edge of exhaustion and frustration.

Accept support from friends or relatives, whether it's a few hours' of babysitting or a casserole that saves you preparing dinner one night. And if you are raising your child with a partner, make sure it's a true partnership, where you give and take help.

Once you return to your job, seek out other moms at your workplace. They can give you vital information, from which paperwork you need to which managers to spare the baby stories. Moms of older children can reassure you that kids turn out fine even when they're in childcare.

Pitfall 5: Imagining Your Child Miserable

You say goodbye, close the door, and head off to work. From that moment on, you don't know what your child is thinking or doing for the rest of the day.

Don't make the mistake of imagining her crying her eyes out missing mommy. That's usually just the first minute until a shiny toy or playmate distracts her.

Some moms hide outside the closed door until the separation sobs subside. Or sneak in when the work day is over, to catch the children playing, dancing to music, or quietly enjoying a book.

Ask your child's caregiver to take pictures during the day so you can see him engaged in activities or enjoying a laughing hug. Hang them over your desk as a reality check for when your fantasies turn sour.

With older kids, schedule weekly phone check-ins. You can get a lot more out of a tween on the walk home from school than the half hour before dinner.

Pitfall 6: Apologizing

You've got enough on your mind without worrying about what other people think of you. Don't waste an apology on the lady in the grocery store who frowns at the combo of your suit and stroller.

You'll need all your apologies for when you wake your husband at 2:00 a.m. to get the baby, but it turns out she's sleeping soundly and her cries were just in your dreams.

Pitfall 7: Expecting No Bumps

The first week went smoothly. You're loving the return to an interesting job in the adult world. And then your baby gets her first cold and won't sleep all night before your big presentation.

Relax. Mama said there would be days like this. You'll get through it, and next time you'll know to keep your sleep reserves high in case of an ear infection.

You might want to put an emergency bag in your car with clean clothes for baby and mom, snacks, or even a new toy. You may get stuck in bad traffic with a screaming child or have to run an errand before you return home.

Pitfall 8: Sticking to Your Guns Blindly

Many working moms are used to making a plan and pushing forward until it succeeds. Life with a baby is rarely so straightforward.

Give yourself permission to readjust your arrangements, whether it's your work schedule or child care. Listen to your gut. If something truly isn't working for you or your family, change it.