First a quick disclaimer: I am not a big fan of “you got this” or “fake it til you make it” when women head back to work after baby. Yes, of course, I’m cheering them on with every fiber of my being -- that’s the driving mission of my Fifth Trimester book and business. But if -- like most American women -- you’re back on the job before you’re emotionally and physically ready to be, you shouldn’t bear the extra burden of putting on a smile about it. We only can fix visible problems, after all. So, if you feel weak, and show it, know that you might be making our workplaces better for all new parents.
That said, the return to work after baby is also the first time that many women find themselves needing to negotiate for their needs -- time, money, flexibility, credit -- in the workplace. And if you can enter into those conversations from a place of power-posing-level confidence and strength, you’re much more likely to get what you need.
Internalize this list of ways you get better at your job after baby:
1. You’re better at saying yes.
So many women I’ve worked with tell me that they are more comfortable “saying no to things” once they’ve had a baby. They’re less likely to agree to tasks that feel unproductive or beneath their pay grade now that it means stealing time away from their baby. True, very. But I always advise my clients to reframe that notion: Really, you’re better at giving more meaningful yesses. If you have done what I call the “compromise math” on what you have to subtract from your day in order to add in drinks with a client or a bid for a promotion, and you decide on YES, that’s a real yes, and a meaningful one. Own that.
2. You’re more nimble now.
Here’s another thing new working moms say pretty often: “Now that my day has a hard stop, I’m much more efficient at getting things done.” Again, totally true. The research even backs this up. But I decided to look at why. Were we really all such time-wasters before we had kids? Hardly! Turns out that maternity leave is boot camp. That drill sergeant of an adorable baby has actually trained you to pivot much more quickly between tasks. He’s not willing to wait for you to gear up to tackle that diaper when you’ve just finished a load of laundry. And that new compression of time translates in the workplace. You’re not more efficient because you’re doing less. You’re more efficient because you’re doing the same amount in less time.
3. You’re more likely to seek meaning in your work.
For most moms, working isn’t optional. You need the paycheck and you want to make good on the career you’ve invested in so far. But to the degree that you have control over the kind of work you do, you’re more likely to want that work to feel worth it, and, frankly, you might feel resentful if it doesn’t. So why is that a strength? Because it motivates you to push your boundaries, to negotiate more righteously, and ultimately to think bigger-picture for your career -- and your current employer. If you’re itchy to get out of some of the less meaningful parts of your job, replace them with higher-level ideas and share those. Ambition is measured not by hours but by impact.
Lauren Smith Brody takes a call after the birth of her son.
Lauren Smith Brody is the founder of The Fifth Trimester consulting, which helps businesses retain women by supporting the transition to new parenthood. She is also the author of the bestselling book The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Success After Baby.