I surveyed 732 working moms, and they reported that it took an average of almost six months after delivery to start feeling normal again emotionally. The vast majority were back at work months before that point, though. Your fuse is short, your nighttime sleep is shorter; it’s only natural that the desire to quit can become a fixation and a distraction.
Here are the five things I’ve found in my research that silence the drumbeat and get you through, sanity and career intact.
1. REMEMBER THAT THE DISCOMFORT IS TEMPORARY
Know that this transitional time is temporary, and it will hurt less. Every learning curve has an apex. “We all accept to varying degrees that there will be a learning curve with new motherhood,” says psychotherapist Sarah Best. “Taking care of a baby is a new kind of job. But there’s this assumption that returning to work is going to be the same as always, the same role, the same job, that it should feel easy. But the fact is, you’ve never been a working mom before. It’s a totally new scenario.” When you find yourself being self-critical, Best advises, “Remind yourself: Oh, yeah, this is only day four. I may be a pro at my job, but I’m an absolute beginner at being a working mom.”
Occasionally, Best will have a patient who, after three months back at work, truly feels like she needs to make a major change. But much, much more often, the women who tell her at week two that they need to quit come back a month or two later with a different story entirely: “They say,” notes Best, “‘I’m so glad I’m back at the office; I don’t think I would have been able to stay home!’”
2. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU GET OUT OF WORK . . .
Simple but true: Women’s perception of their work as rewarding is the single biggest predictor of whether they’ll resume their employment, according to research published in 2013 in the Maternal and Child Health Journal. More than their occupation level. More than their education. More than their husband’s paycheck! Carolyn Pirak, LCSW, founding director of the Bringing Baby Home program at The Gottman Institute, advises new moms to “Think, why did you choose to work in the first place? Did you choose to work only for money, or because you love the work and the people? You did at some point choose to work where you work.