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Returning to Work: How to Survive & How to Cut Yourself Some Slack Already

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

Five months ago I had the most delicious little girl in the whole world. Perfectly chubby thighs? Check. Sleeps through the night? Check. Always smiling and/or laughing? Double check. In short, I’m half-way convinced that the hospital made a horrendous mistake by giving me someone else’s happy-go-lucky girl, and by giving my screaming, ill-tempered child to some poor, innocent parents who are probably at this instant cursing the day they decided to conceive a child.

Then what’s the problem? My maternity/personal leave ends in one month. Even though I’ve always loved working — so much so that my mother’s response to being told that I was pregnant was to ask whether it was a mistake (no, it was not) rather than to offer her congratulations — I’m finding that I am dreading going back to work. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: I don’t dread going back to work, but I do dread putting my baby in day care.

Not because I’m taking sides on the debate on whether it is better to have a stay-at-home mother. (We’ve all seen the hate-filled messages on the web: “Why are you going to have a kid if you’re going to have someone else — e.g., the day-care provider — raise them?” Of course, the other side isn’t much better: “You’re not returning to work?” — where “working” is invoked as a poorly-disguised synonym for “contributing to society.” What type of role model are you?”) No, I’m dreading leaving her because it takes my breath away how much I love this beautiful, perfect child. And because, selfishly, I want to be the one to share her “firsts”: the first time she talks, the first time she takes a faltering step. And also, although it pains me to admit it publicly because I know that I’m being less than rational, because I am scared that she will love her daycare provider more.

Had you told me that I would have dreaded leaving my baby in day care before she was born, I would have been skeptical, which makes this all the more difficult to deal with. My goals have changed. Even more surprising, I’ve changed, in ways that I’ve never anticipated.

I know that you put Noah in daycare before you ultimately decided to work from home, so I hoped that you could share a little about your experience. How did you/do you continue to balance it all? What advice can you give for a new mother who will be returning back to work?

Thanks in advance!
– M

I was nodding my head the whole time I read your question — yes! yes! I know! totally! — and incidentally nodded it so vigorously that my sunglasses fell off the top of my head and hit the keyboard. And I’d been LOOKING ALL OVER for my sunglasses. So…thanks for that.

Stay at Home or Return to Work?

Now, to your rather tall-order of a question. I think it took me sufficiently long enough to get to your question that you are already back at work. Perhaps things are going swimmingly. Perhaps not. Personally, when I look back on the five (six?) months or so I spent working full-time post-baby, I’m floored by how much I sucked at it.

Before I had a baby, I was (if I do say so myself) ridiculously GOOD at my job — one of the youngest managing editors, all signs pointing to a rapid rise through the ranks, generally considered to be one of the most prolific writers who could generally nail anything on her first draft, beloved by my authors and an absolute eagle eye for spelling, grammar and the passive voice. Then the simple little hiccup of the daycare drop-off and pick-up and the hours spent wondering what my baaaaaybeeeeee was doing during the day sent everything into a tailspin. I was always running late. I couldn’t keep my schedule organized. I started making mistakes and resenting my job and realizing that no matter how “family friendly” my office seemed before — I actually wasn’t going to get another promotion unless I worked that overtime and made further concessions re: time with my family.

But I am so, so glad I gave it a shot. I NEEDED to give it a shot. Making a decision in the heady early days of “baby love” — a decision that will indeed affect the rest of my life, my marriage, my future career and earning power — would have been a mistake. The adjustment period for new moms is HUGE, no matter what decision they make. Staying home, working full-time, part-time, freelancing from home…these are all big changes and I think we get so ready to defend and stand by our choices that we sometimes aren’t very easy on ourselves.

There are going to be days when you hate your decision. ANY decision. I work from home at a slightly more-than-part-time basis. I am good at my job. I am a prolific writer who can generally nail anything on my first draft. My employers love me. I love what I do and I am every bit as satisfied as I ever was at my office job. And yet I still have days where bleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaargh I’m burnt out and Noah’s annoying me and I just wish I could LEAVE THE HOUSE and TALK WITH ADULTS outside of email and pppffffffffffttttttttttttity.

So. All of this rambling about my own self is to make one obvious point: what you’re feeling is normal, no matter what the decision or circumstances. It doesn’t immediately mean you’re making the WRONG decision. Perhaps, down the road, you will decide there is a BETTER decision for you and your daughter and significant other.

(Just don’t expect THAT decision to necessarily always be unicorns and rainbows and perfectly-balanced home-cooked breakfasts, you know?)

Whew. Talky today! And I still haven’t even gotten to my bullet points! Because OF COURSE I HAVE BULLET POINTS.

How to Go Back to Work Without Losing Your Mind

1. Divide responsibility. Do NOT put yourself in the position of being solely responsible for pick-up, drop-off, waking, feeding, preparing bottles, packing clothes, etc.

2. Streamline. Make bottles the night before. Mix formula by the pitcherful. Lay out clothes, shower at night, put bags and dry-cleaning and everything you need to take each day right in the foyer. If your baby has a cubby or drawer at daycare, fill it up with EVERYTHING you could POSSIBLY need, beyond what the center or caretaker “requires.”

3. Take care of yourself. Vitamins. Sleep. Whatever immunity-boosting health-store quack product you dig. I was prepared for Noah to get sick from daycare — we were completely unprepared for the onslaught of adult-sized germs he’d bring home and pass to us.

4. Don’t be the Martyr Mom. Yes, you spend a decent chunk of time away from your daughter during the day. You still don’t need to spend the REST of your days playing a pointless game of catch-up. She won’t love anyone like her mama. She won’t think you’ve abandoned her further if you insist she sleep in her crib. An occasional nighttime babysitter does NOT equal further neglect of parental duties. You are allowed to get a pedicure or a haircut by yourself on the weekends.

5. Set a mental deadline for reassessing. The first month (or two, or three) back is hard. It’s just going to be hard. You may feel a tremendous amount of relief to be Back Among the Potty-Trained, you may just straight-up hate everyone and everything and fantasize daily about quitting…or about leaving your baby in daycare one night and driving off to Vegas. Give yourself time to get over the initial hump, but set a deadline for reassessing the situation and your decision in case the hump seems to last longer than you’re willing to live with. Six months, maybe. Or three. Or a year.

6. Remember that it’s not always an either/or situation. So…you give it six months and decide that you hate your job. They’ve changed your job description and responsibilities since you’ve been back. You have a new boss or new coworkers and it’s not working out. Stay rational and remember that this could have happened pre-baby as well, and your default choice wouldn’t have been “quit and stay home.” Sometimes even working moms need to just find new jobs. Maybe working part-time is better. Maybe your reservations about daycare are more about your daughter’s specific center or nanny than your decision to work. When you reassess your decision (and I don’t think there’s a parent out there who DOESN’T occasionally question their situation and ponder the alternatives, even if they end up keeping everything as-is), make sure you look at it from all the many, many possible angles.

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s must-read weekly Pregnancy Calendar.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • heels

    August 25, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    When I first went back to work, my husband was on a leave from grad school and so was able to look after our son. When he quit school and went to work, I put my son in daycare for the first time (about 4 months old). It was horrible, and I thought that it was horrible because daycare was horrible- all daycare. But our family finances would not allow for me to quit or even take time off. So, I started really paying attention to the daycare environment and realized that I wasn’t happy where my son was. I was afraid for him all of the time. So we changed daycares, and I’ve never felt the same way about it since. He’s happy, I’m happy. I miss him, sure, but I also can get my work done without worrying about him. I know he’s safe. We’re happy to see each other and spend time together every night and on weekends, which adds up to quite a good bit of time. I still got to see all of his firsts, and he has learned some wonderful things in the last 2 years of school. I feel like I have more patience for him during the time that I do get to be with him because I get regular breaks. It’s been a really good thing for my family.

  • ~M

    August 25, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    To expand a little on Amy’s last point
    a) If full-time doesn’t feel right, there are usally lots of options, and employers are increasingly willing to work with parents returning from leave because they don’t want to lose valuable employees. Flex schedule may allow you and your husband to work slightly different hours, so that your baby isn’t at daycare quite as long, and you both get to spend extra time with her. Job-sharing is a great way to go back to work part time if you can find someone else who wants to work part-time. I job-shared for 2 1/2 yrs after I came back from maternity leave, and it was wonderful. I worked mornings 5 days a week, so I got to have adult conversation and rebuild those lost brain cells while my daughter got some stimulation from a few other kids and a loving caregiver who wasn’t me, and then I had all afternoon and evening to just be with her. I’m convinced it made me a better mom.
    b) About that caregiver, she was the most wonderful, loving, caring person I’ve ever met, and was born to be with kids. But, that first day I dropped off my daughter? I sobbed all the way to the office, even though I knew she was in great hands. You know what else? 2 years later when I had to tell the sitter we were moving out of state? I cried the whole time, and could barely get the words out, I was so upset to leave her. Whether it’s grandma, someone’s house, or a daycare facility, finding a caring, loving environment, and allowing your child to love the daycare provider as much as she loves you, is the best thing you can do for both of you.

  • Susan

    August 25, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    All I have to say is that when you go to pick your little girl up at the end of the day and she practically jumps out of the other persons arms and squeals in delight that your there; thats when you know that your baby still loves you more than anyone else out there.

  • Katie

    August 25, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    My God, I could have written this post, right down to the chubby thighs. In fact, in one weird, science-fictioney moment, I thought I HAD written this post.
    Anyway. I received a “talking to” on Friday about my job performance since I’ve been back from maternity leave. Seems I’m not 100%. Seems I already knew that. I think it’s time to move on.
    But, the thing is, I enjoy working. Just not full time. And not at the job where I’ve been for seven years. I’ve outgrown this place, and I miss my daughter so much.
    I applied for a part-time writing position today. Like Amy, I tried it, gave it a shot. I’m not happy, and I’m tired of telling myself everything’s okay.
    Best of luck to you, M. Be honest with yourself, and whatever decision you make is the right one.
    P.S. Amy, you rocked the advice today, chica. Spot on!

  • Melissa

    August 25, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    My cousin, who has two kids in daycare, solved the “first” problem by simply asking her daycare provider not to tell her if her kids did any of their firsts. That way, as far as she knew, all of their firsts happened when she saw them. Sure, rationally she probably knows that one or two may have happened at daycare, but she said, honestly, when her baby said his first word, her reaction wasn’t “Hmm .. is that really his first word, or did he say it at daycare yesterday?”

  • Liz

    August 25, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    As a first time parent, I have found our daycare provider to be a wonderful help to our family. The two teachers in my babe’s class have college degrees in early childhood education, not to mention 7 kids of their own between them, and have given us great help through various developmental issues.
    And I’m honestly happy when he goes into “school” in the morning and hugs his teacher hello: it confirms for me that I’m leaving him in a good place, and I know that the love he feels for her is NOTHING like the love he feels for me and his dad. Trust me — you will know, always, the difference between love for others and love for mama/daddy.

  • Jennifer

    August 25, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    It seems that there are several of us in the same boat. I returned to my full-time, overtime- required, corporate world job in February. I too have not been 100%, and that is so hard for me. I was great at my job. I was the super star. And now? There’s just not enough of me to go around. I have a wonderful woman who watches my daughter, and I know that she is safe. So, I’m not spending my time worrying. But, I’m exhausted ALL THE TIME. Things take me so much longer than they should. I’m looking into making a switch as well. And this switch would not have been needed pre-baby. As much as it stinks, and as family friendly as you might think a place is, it really is difficult to pay attention to your career and your family. Good luck!

  • Cee

    August 26, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Thank you for these posts/comments. My daughter is only six weeks old, and I have a few more weeks at home, but I am already thinking ahead to daycare. I love my job, and am looking forward to going back, but I also know that it is going to be so hard to let her go for the day (of course, I sometimes think otherwise when she’s in the middle of a scream-fest).

  • Frema

    August 26, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Before I had my daughter, Kara (now eight months), I felt very strongly about being a stay-at-home mom. I was never very ambitious career-wise – I always did well at work, but I never envisioned being a VP or having a corner office – and I was ready to devote my days to being with her. But I married someone whose earning power wasn’t nearly as high as mine, and it threw my world into a tailspin, because while we could afford to have a stay-at-home parent, we couldn’t afford it to be me. And it tore me up inside. I was afraid of resenting the time that Luke would spend with Kara. I was afraid she would like her daddy more than me, and that he would know her better and I’d feel like a failure. Plus, I didn’t like my job anymore, hadn’t for a long time, and I hated the idea of leaving my girl to do something I didn’t even find worthwhile. The weekend before I went back, all I had to do was look at her and I’d cry.
    I can’t believe things got better. But they did.
    For one thing, during my three months of maternity leave, work drastically changed for the better. I got a new supervisor who I adore, and at my request, I also received new hours. I work 7 – 3:30 every day, and unless there’s a big project at work that requires more time, I’m home by 4:00, leaving me with four hours of family time before Kara goes to sleep. This works out really well for all of us.
    Second, I realized that I enjoyed working more than I ever knew. Now that my job/work culture has improved, I don’t dread going to work. I’m proud of what I can accomplish and what my working does for my family. After experiencing maternity leave, I don’t know that I would make a good stay-at-home mom full time.
    Third, Luke is an awesome at-home dad. He’s much more patient than I am, and he doesn’t work his afternoon around trying to watch All My Children. He plays with Kara and reads to her all day, takes her on walks, even makes a lot of her baby food. It drains on him a lot, but he loves it. And now I’m confident enough in my relationship with Kara that I love it, too. And so what if he knows her nap routine better than I do? It doesn’t mean he loves her more or that she loves him more. When I come home and she sees me, starts making these funny grunting sounds and crawls to the door as fast as her legs can carry her until she’s in my arms. No matter how long I’m gone, she never forgets her momma.
    Great advice today, Amy. And good luck, M!

  • Brandi Schaefer

    August 26, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    It`s certainly a delima that many families have to go through isn`t it? I myself could only take two months off work after the birth of my son before I had to go back. My husband & I decided that he would quit his job and stay home with our little man. We struggle a little bit from time to time, but we think we`re doing what`s best for us. I really hope that you find a cargiver that your are comfortable with and everything works out for you as well. Thanks!

  • LauraLou

    August 26, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Oh, this is such a tough time. I went back to work part time when my little guy was 3 months, and full time when he was 6 months. I was really lucky that my mother-in-law watched him while I worked, but even though I knew without a doubt that he was safe and happy and loved, I missed him like crazy.
    A book that really helped me was Mommy Wars, edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner. In spite of the confrontational title, it’s a thoughtful, sensitive collection of personal stories of women who worked, stayed at home, and combinations and their feelings about it. Reading their stories helped me to see that the choice I’ve made isn’t forever. It’s okay if it works for now and I can choose to do something different if the situation changes.
    We just had to find a day-care provider for my son, and it was really tough for me. But, I think we’ve found a great mom to watch him and I’m feeling a lot better about the whole thing. So, yeah, if you’re really uncomfortable with day care, maybe you haven’t found the right situation yet. Another tip I have is the website For anyone in MD, you can search for licensed homecare providers and I think other states have similar sites. It was really helpful when I was searching for the right person.
    So, hang in there and give yourself some time to adjust to the new routine and situation. If it isn’t right for you or your family, you can change it.

  • Fran

    August 28, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Single momma here, so returning full-time wasn’t a question for me. Just want share that the day before return, I was awash in tears, dread and regret. The day of returned I experienced gleeful amazement that I could WALK AWAY from my desk ANYTIME and make a CUP OF COFFEE just like that.
    Not to downplay the painful sense of loss and craziness of the balancing act, but my only regret now is the amount of time I spent worrying about all of the “what ifs”. ‘Cause that’s time I didn’t spending gazing into his newborn eyes, etc. And now that time is gone.
    You’ll make fine decisions when you have to that will work for all concerned.
    Ms. A., thank you for a terrific post.

  • Colleen

    September 1, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I had to go back to work after 7 weeks with my first child and 8 weeks after the second one. I was a wreck with both because it’s upsetting to have to leave your little one, no matter how much you trust your child’s caretaker. The only way I got through it was to tell myself over and over “I’m not the only woman going through this. Thousands of other women have had to put their kids in daycare.” It seemed to help a little. And those tips that Amy provided are awesome…wish I had them four years ago.

  • Sarah

    December 5, 2014 at 5:07 am

    Wow! I really needed that! I’m back at work next week and this letter may as well have been written by me. Thank you for asking it and thank you for the honest answer

  • Megan

    February 1, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    I just can’t bear to leave my little girl. I wish men of our generation had more drive to provide. That responsibility, and everything else, is squarely in my shoulders…..this is not how I thought motherhood/life would be 🙁