See related posts: being pregnant at work, making your workplace family friendly, and the pressing need to address parental leave for business and family.

 

You said goodbye right before your due date, with an airtight maternity leave plan and a few "I'll handle these on my return" tasks neatly packaged on your desk.

You dashed out at 35 weeks, your water having broke by the copier and not a bit of work handed off to your team.

Your due date came and went while you were in a meeting and you were still sending email while your partner guided you through Lamaze exercises.

You're a dad. You're company doesn't seem ready for you returning as a truly equal co-parent - daycare runs, doctor's visits, and all.

Whatever the circumstances around your departure for parental leave, you're coming back soon and it feels like a brave new world. 

Here are some pointers as you plan your return to work.

 

1. The practical

Confirm your return date and line up childcare. A good rule of thumb is to begin finding help 6 weeks out. Don't worry if you're a little bit late or early - it will work out. 

Plan your commute. Your workplace probably hasn't moved, but you now have to factor in a childcare pitstop or an altered departure time. Figure out what the new normal might look like.

 

2. Zero in on your anxiety/ies

What's keeping you up at night - aside from the baby? Is it figuring out a pumping schedule? The idea of being distant from your little one? Concerns about daycare or the nanny? Worry over who will do the evening baby shift after a long day at the office?

You can't deal with a problem until you define what it is. Ask yourself what pain points you foresee around returning to work. Zero in on what they are. Once you've figured them out, take each challenge in turn and work through it. With your partner. 

 

3. Talk to your boss; ask questions

It's never a bad idea to communicate. Set up a pre-return meeting to catch up and check in.

This is a great opportunity to address any work-based hesitation you have about returning. This could be as practical as "can we allot some fridge space for expressed milk?" and "can I leave at 4pm on Fridays to collect baby early from daycare?" or as significant as "gauging your reaction - would we be able to work together to figure out a way for me to return part time instead of full time?"

Best case: you and your boss will work together to make your return beneficial to all. Worst case: you're boss is inflexible, but you're better prepared for your eventual arrival at the office.
 

4. Have an ease-in visit

Stop by the office ahead of your official return - to get over the psychological leap of being back in "work mode" and to get the baby-based small talk out of the way. Again, ask questions of your coworkers (perhaps seek out the ones who've made this transition before) and use it as a chance to smooth your return.

Consider combining the visit with your boss-talk (see step 3) or take care of that over the phone ahead of time. 

Figure out what your new day might look like. If you plan to continue expressing milk for baby, use this visit as a chance to size up the pumping room (to which you're legally entitled). Try to preempt any "day 1" challenges by getting ahead of them now.

 

5. Do a dry run

Try it out. The separation, the pumping (if you're planning to express milk), the timings, and the childcare. If you are nursing, this will help you gauge your milk production before you're back at work for real, which in itself can take care of some of the back-to-work anxiety.

 

6. Discuss a "second shift" division of labor with your partner

You get home from work, start to relax, reply to the last couple of emails, and pull up the menu for the local Thai place. Or you used to at least.

Now there are feedings, diaper-changes, bath-time, story-time, and baby bed time to grapple with. If you and your partner have similar schedules, be sure to divide and conquer to maximize your "downtime." Remember, it's 2017 - the mother doesn't have to do everything, and nor should she, especially if both parties are working parents.

 

7. Plan your first few days

When will you arrive for the day? When will you leave? Will you have offsite meetings? Take a little time to figure out that first week back - it will make it all a little more manageable. 

If you're nursing, figuring out when you'll take time to pump. Put it on your calendar and safeguard it as best you can. If you have meetings offsite, figure out how that will impact your commute and childcare - and any pumping you have to do.

Have an offsite meeting? How will it alter your commute? Your childcare? Your milk schedule? Ask yourself these questions now so you don't have to deal with them last minute.

 

8. "I really can't do it. Really."

The leap is hard, especially here in the US where parental leave is typically short. If you think your hesitation is more than just natural butterflies about leaving baby, talk to your partner and evaluate your options. Talk to your boss about a figuring out a compromise or consider giving notice if you can afford to and you think it's the right next step. 

 

Remember, a lot of people have done this before you and everyone is different. Listen to your gut and plan accordingly.