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How to carve out time after maternity leave

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How to carve out time after maternity leave
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Having gone through the “having-a-baby-and-returning-to work stage”, not once but twice, has made me wiser and given me time to think about how I would do things differently if I could go back. By Lori Mihalich-Levin & Stormme Hobson

I remember how hard it was, both while pregnant and in the early days of having a baby, to think further ahead than the next day or the next major event.

When I was pregnant with my first child, as I am sure so many moms can relate to, I couldn’t quite fathom exactly what my life would be like once the baby arrived, and I found it very difficult to plan ahead for my “post-baby life”.

Then, like so many moms, I found the adjustment and transition stage to be exceptionally difficult. After my baby was born, simply surviving the days – and nights – took all the energy I had. And planning (especially months ahead) fell by the wayside.

But motherhood has taught me how essential planning is. As a new mom, I was so hesitant about adopting an overly “regimented” approach to my family life. It felt completely foreign to create a calendar entry to remind myself to “take the kids to the park” or to “buy food for the kids”. And, if I am even more honest, I didn’t think that is what “good moms” did. They somehow magically kept track of everything and managed to seamlessly run their busy lives without ever needing a reminder.

These days, I have a very different approach to and way of thinking about this. I have adopted the philosophy that if something isn’t on my calendar, then it simply won’t happen.  I now realise how important it is to my own state of calm and sanity to plan ahead in order to try and manage the multitude of things I have going on in my life and also to block time, days and weekends for doing absolutely nothing (or the things that really matter to me).

As a more experienced mom, if I could go back in time, I would certainly do things very differently.

So here are a few tips, especially for new moms who are returning to work, on how to carve out and take control of your time and manage your calendar in the first few months after maternity leave (and beyond).

  • Block out the first few weekends after your return to work: The first days of returning to work and having someone else watch your baby are exhausting and emotionally draining. I expected to be tired, but I don’t think I anticipated just how wiped out. It’s a good idea to keep those first few weekends after your return to work completely free to take care of yourself (don’t skip this step), regroup, and reconnect with your little munchkin.
  • Block out time for pumping: If you’re planning to breastfeed, it’s never too early to put some pumping “holds” in your work calendar. Long before I returned to the office with my second son, I blocked out 3 x 30 minutes holds in my calendar a day– one in the morning, one around lunch, and one in the mid-afternoon, to reserve time for pumping.

This made a huge difference, in managing my day and preserving my sanity. It also meant managing to avoid awkward conversations around, why I wanted to postpone an impromptu meeting by 15 minutes or me sitting in meeting terrified that I would start “leaking” at any given minute.

  • Plan holidays around your childcare:  Are there certain days of the year when your nanny will want to take leave or when your nursery school will be closed? Try find out these dates in advance and schedule your calendar around these.

maternity leaveWhen our kids were younger our nanny tended to take her leave in April and December and so we would plan our vacations (and work schedules) around this. Now that our kids are older, they have a long holiday in August and December and so we try to plan our holidays around this or at least block out at least a day or two to spend with them.

  • Consider a post-baby no fly zone: Everyone has a different approach to how many visitors they’d like to see when their baby arrives.  My husband and I decided we wanted some time alone with our first before the onslaught of friends and relatives, so we blocked a “one week no fly zone” post-baby.

People were allowed to drop off food at our door and leave, but nothing more. It worked out well for us and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.  The key was setting expectations in advance, though, so well-meaning baby-adorers didn’t get offended.

Learning to (and being comfortable with) blocking out time in my calendar is a muscle that gets stronger and stronger for me as I keep doing it over time.

Now that my kids are little older,  I’m able to block out time for weekly yoga classes and my husband blocks out exercise time on his calendar.  We plan our work and family lives in advance and commit to a monthly date night (yes, even that goes in the calendar, and I promise it does not kill the romance). We even schedule an annual planning session to map out what we want the upcoming year ahead to look like.

Blocking out time on your calendar in advance never hurts. You can always take those holds off the calendar later if you don’t need them, but it’s harder to get the time back if someone else managed to grab that time from you. So, block that calendar now. Your calmer self will thank you later.

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