The last few weeks of maternity leave can be overwhelming – just as you’ve settled into your new routine with your newborn, reality sets in. You’ll soon be going back to work, and because you’ve fully immersed yourself in your new role as a mom, you may not be feeling as confident as you were before you went on maternity leave.
Personal development coach Thembi Hama says bringing a child into the world is a miracle and coming back from maternity leave should not be seen as a weakness. “Women can juggle both a career and motherhood, as well as other natural roles like being a sister, friend and wife. When you look at your role of being a mother as equally, or more, meaningful than the role that you play in the office or boardroom, you will naturally feel empowered.”
See yourself as confident
Visualisation is a powerful technique that allows you to see beyond the present moment. If your current situation is making you feel anxious, envisioning a more confident you will elicit positive emotions.
Transformational coach Michelle Schwartz recommends spending a few minutes every day visualising arriving at work, opening the door, going in and speaking to people with confidence. She suggests thinking back to a specific time when you felt unsure of yourself, and switching to remembering a time you succeeded at something and felt good and confident. “Spend a moment remembering the time you felt low confidence. Now shift to a confident memory, spend a few minutes remembering when things were going really well, and allow your mind to dwell on the successful memory,” she says. Pay attention to how your body language changes between these two states of being, and use this exercise as an anchor when you need a confidence boost.
Challenge the negative self-talk
We sometimes get in our own way with negative self-talk, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to the kind of thinking that makes mountains out of molehills. This often happens when you replay the worst-case scenario in your mind and the natural response is “I can’t do it” or “I’m not good enough”. By challenging these statements, you’ll realise that they are unfounded.
Michelle recommends labelling your emotions by asking yourself, “How do I feel about leaving my baby?” and “How do I feel about going back to work?” List the emotions that come up. “Once you label the emotions, you may notice you have a variety of feelings, such as feeling anxious about work and worried about leaving the baby, but also a little excited to get out again.” She explains that by labelling the emotion, you’re shifting from inner turbulence to a more rational cognitive mindset that leads you to feel calmer and more able to deal with the practicalities.
Michelle encourages new moms to spare at least five minutes a day for themselves. You may be feeling overwhelmed, so the quiet time will help you gain perspective. “Try a five-minute meditation, repeating an empowering affirmation, doing stretching exercises, listening to music, mindfully having a cup of tea or whatever it is that feels satisfying.”
She explains that it is often the small things that make you feel good. “But it’s important to set a positive intention before starting. Tell yourself you are setting time aside to replenish your energy,” she says. Using positive affirmations is a powerful way of countering the negative voices, so Thembi suggests an affirmation like “I’m full of energy and I’m ready to take on the world”.
Utilise your new skills
Being a new mom means operating on less sleep than usual, multitasking and showing up, when all you want to do is curl up and get some rest. Thembi notes that having a baby creates changes – you learn to be organised, how not to be forgetful, to make mental lists at 2am, to be brave, and to look after someone who is completely dependent on you. “You also learn patience, multitasking, and to be a protector. With the right mindset and support, you can excel at home and at work,” she says.
Michelle encourages new moms to value their soft skills. “More and more businesses are coming to value emotional intelligence. The good news is that’s exactly what you’ve been practising with your baby.” She suggests drawing three columns on a piece of paper. In the first column, write a quick list of the kinds of things you do for your baby; in the second, the emotional skills it takes; in the third column write how that would relate to your work. “For example, getting up in the middle of the night to feed or calm your baby requires kindness, patience and determination. Many work interactions require these same things,” she says.
Remember who you were before you went on maternity leave
Remember, you’re the same person you were before becoming a mom. “Take some time to look at some of your past presentations or projects and how you were able to meet deadlines and excel in your career,” says Thembi.
She suggests recreating an atmosphere you used to excel in, and getting someone to help with the baby while you focus on your career. She also notes that it may not be possible to recreate the atmosphere entirely, as you’ll be checking in with your baby often, and there are days when she’ll be under the weather. So, even though you may be eager to pick up where you left off, keep in mind that it will take time. It also helps to get constant and honest feedback when you return to work so you know where you can improve, evaluate your own performance and implement the necessary changes. Instead of viewing your baby as a distraction, see her as a reason to work even harder.
Expert tips for feeling confident again
- Arrange a meeting with your manager or colleague to get updates on what’s happening at the office, what’s changed and what the current goals or targets are. Know what’s expected of you when you go back to the office.
- Surround yourself with other working moms for support. Find out how they juggle their roles, and how they cope with exhaustion and separation anxiety.
- Work on your time management skills – tick off the important things in the morning, catch up on how baby is doing over lunch, and plan your day in advance.
- Review your personal life and daily activities to feel more in control, and cut back on things that aren’t urgent.
- Joining a gym will not only give you some time for yourself, it will help you get back in shape and feeling great again too. A new haircut or clothing can also do wonders for a working mom.
- Have fun once in a while. It helps the mind relax and makes way for fresh inspiration.
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.