So you’ve been a stay-at-home mom and now you’re headed back (or maybe going for the first time) to a full-time job outside the home? First off, congratulations on your new job! With the interview and hiring process now behind you, the battle to on-ramping after kids is half won. Maybe this is something you’ve been planning on; or maybe you are headed to work after your family hit some unforeseen bumps. Maybe this is something you are excited about; or maybe it’s something you’re still making peace with and are dreading. Your kids might be little, they might be older, or you might have a couple of each. Whatever your circumstances, making the transition from being a stay-at-home mom to a working mom can be a serious adjustment.
I’ve made this transition three different times since my first kiddo arrived. The most recent time I went back to work, we added a cross-country move to the mix. I feel so lucky I’ve been able to have periods of time home solely dedicated to my kids. But I also feel really lucky that I’ve had opportunities to develop and further my career while preventing my family from falling into the financial disaster that would have occurred without my income. Here are some tips I picked up along the way to make the transition go just a little more smoothly:
You are going to experience immense pressure to do it all, and do it well, all without breaking a sweat. Cut yourself a break, and just don’t go there. For various reasons, any guilt or anxiety you may be feeling about returning to work usually boils down to mom feeling obligated to somehow navigate this completely life-altering change in her own life and schedule without letting anyone else in the family notice. You may have visions of the kids —who have had a perfect day at school where they feasted on Instagram-worthy Bento-style lunch boxes and won the “crazy eyebrow day” contest because of the extra three trips you were willing to take to Wal-Mart for hair glitter and styrofoam—walking in the door to a home cooked meal straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. After dinner, which was delicious and nutritious and has magically left behind no dirty pots and pans, you will mention some task you successfully completed, only to be met with the response, “You go to work now, Mom? We had no idea!” Of course, this fantasy was nearly impossible to pull off when you were home full-time, but for some reason you’re going to be tempted to expect it of yourself even more now that you’re working. And if you have any drop of Type A personality in your blood, “doing it all” is going to feel like a challenge you want to win. You’ll set out to prove to everyone (including yourself) that working really “isn’t going to change anything” and that you have everything, even the small, unimportant things, under control.
With expectations like that, you are setting yourself up to be frustrated, upset, and disappointed when the standard of living you were used to in terms of household cleanliness and meal preparation when you had more time to attend to these things drops. So save yourself that grief and just go in with low expectations from the start. Just expect that the house will be a wreck, everyone will be digging clothes out of the dirty laundry, and you will be eating food from the drive-thru all the time for the first three months. When you have a day where something besides just getting everyone to work and day care/school happens, celebrate like you just won a Pulitzer. Every veteran mom (both those who are home full-time and those who have paid employment) has learned that the occasional season of cold cereal for dinner and messy houses is good and necessary for everyone’s mental health. (I think this advice could apply equally as well to moms at home with new babies. Maybe think of adding a new job like adding an infant to the family?) Don’t fall into the rookie working mom trap of expecting to get it all right, right away. By lowering your expectations, you’ll actually get your feet under you more quickly, and you’ll all look back on those first few months with smiles, having saved yourself a lot of unnecessary guilt and shame in the process.
In one of my favorite conference talks by President Uchtdorf, he explains that new airplane pilots often think that the best thing to do when they hit a patch of turbulence is to increase their speed.
“A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road.
Therefore, it is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.”
So reduce your speed. Use paper plates. If laundry starts stressing you out because no one has clean underwear, just buy everyone more underwear. Delegate more in your church calling if you can. Limit social invitations. Whatever you need to do for the first few months to reduce time on basic tasks, do it and don’t take on anything extra. Take paper plates, for instance. As much as you might love the environment, in those first few months when you are still adjusting to working life, the half an hour every day you will save not doing dishes might literally mean the difference between getting to read to your kids and take a breath versus just always feeling like you are constantly working.
Now is not the time to go Paleo, switch to cloth diapers, enroll your kids in three new extracurricular activities, or start training for a half marathon. All of these things might stem from good and righteous desires. And there will be a time and a place to do them. But until you get out of the turbulence, let yourself slow down and keep things minimal. You might find you even start to enjoy the ride.
If you’re married, know that some shifting in your marriage is normal. The dynamic between you and your spouse will change dramatically; maybe even more than the dynamic between you and your kids. If you find yourself fighting more and really annoyed at each other, your marriage isn’t in trouble and your job hasn’t ruined your relationship. It’s just a normal part of navigating newly negotiated roles and responsibilities. You’ll come out of this stronger and more equally balanced in the end, and it’s worth the months of adjustment it takes to get there. You probably went through something similar when you added children to your family or you moved somewhere new. This is the same type of change, and things will calm down.
Take advantage of the fact you get to eat without small children who need their food cut up into pieces and listen to a podcast you like, hit a nearby store, or meet a friend. Maybe even just do some mindless reading in your car. That recharge time in the middle of the day will save you when you get home at night and you are adjusting to having your evenings more packed than before.
It gets so much better after the first few months. You won’t always need to eat take out and feel like you are a zombie. You’ll get in a new groove and your kids will adjust and be happy. Just get through the first few months and you’ll be golden.
Heavenly Father knows you, He knows your family, and He knows your needs. Learning to juggle this new responsibility in your life will take a little trial-and-error. But with the Spirit as your guide, you’ll be blessed with ideas and insights along the way that will help you put first things first and make sure everyone gets where they need to be.
Good luck! I’d love to hear in the comment section from other moms that have made this transition. What advice do you have? What do wish you had known as a new working mom?