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Overcoming Back-to-Work Anxieties for New Moms
Problem solving has always come naturally to you as a working woman. It should be no different with the common worries of most working mothers. There are solutions! Just understand what to expect, find support for your concerns at home and at work, and you'll learn to overcome your anxieties.
Answers to the Most Common Worries of Working Mothers
Here are the five concerns most often expressed by working mothers and some tips to help alleviate them:
How to Prevent Super Working-Mother Syndrome
- You won't bond with your babyYou worry that you've returned to work before you've bonded with your child. Theres no evidence to suggest that an early return will affect your baby's normal development. Bonding isn't glue. It comes through interactions during the typical child-care activities over months and years.
- Your caregiver will be closer to your baby than youYou wouldn't be human if you didn't feel competitive with your care provider. Of course, you want both your child and caregiver to love each anotherbut not too much. If you work at it, you can learn to respect your caregiver for the skill and interest she brings to the job without viewing this interloper as some kind of rival. Studies show that the strongest emotional bonds are between a mother and her child, regardless of who supplements the care.
If you begin to feel jealous of your child's attachment to the caregiver,stop to realize that this doesn't mean any loss of love for you. In fact, it means just the opposite. Your child may be so overcome with love for you, and with the fear that you would leave, that she clings to the caregiver. Besides, the more people who love your baby, the more special and secure your baby will feel.
Understandably, it hurts you to know that your care provider, not you, will see your child's first step. But take some comfort in knowing that when your baby smiles at you for the first time it will be a special moment. And when you hear the first recognizable word, the thrill will be just as great. For now, you have to focus on your need for a loving caregiver.
- Absence from homeBe honest and realistic about the demands and priorities of your life. Understand that the unrealistic expectations of others come from outdated views of what a woman's role in society should be. Remember that you love your work, that you need the challenge it provides, and that your child is not suffering but is receiving excellent care. Think of yourself as your child's role model for achievement and feelings of self-worth. Remember that mothers who stay home have their own guilt because they're not contributing to the family income, and they sometimes resent their lack of freedom. Make up for your absence by phoning several times a day and schedule a play/talk time every evening.
- You will spoil your babyContinue to lavish love and affection on your baby. There is no more important contribution you can make to your child's well-being than to help develop a sense of self-worth and of being lovable. After all, a loving, stable environment is just what your baby needs. On the other hand, if you cling to your child, it will interfere with the development of a self-reliant, independent individual.
- You will snap at your childPerhaps you're preoccupied with thoughts of work when your child intrudes and you show your irritation. Explain to your child that you're tense, or worried, or tiredand apologize for your quick temper. Force yourself to clear your mind of work concerns and give undivided attention to your child.
The "Super Working-Mother Syndrome" is a major trap that many working mothers fall into. In order to protect their families from the physical, mental, and social effects of their return to the workplace, many women feel compelled to "overload" their lives by doing too much in too little time
. This trend for perfectionism is driven by guilt and anger. The maternal guilt basically comes from not living up to your own expectations of yourself, and the anger comes from having to self-sacrifice all day long, week in and week out.
It is important that you get past these destructive attitudes and projections. Try to dispel the notion that you can, and should, do everything perfectly: be a perfect mother, a perfect wife, and a perfect employee. It's not humanly possible. Until you acknowledge to yourself that it's okay to be less than perfect at everything, you'll carry a heavy burden of tension, a feeling of inadequacy,and disappointment. Being a balanced woman is an ongoing processit is not a destination.
Here is a list to help you rid yourself of the symptoms before they lead to frustration, and eventually, depression:
Helping Your Baby and Yourself with Separation Anxiety
- Learn to recognize warning signsPhysical symptoms, irritability, yelling, tears, etc., may indicate you need (and deserve) emotional sustenance. Accept the validity of what you're feeling, of the fact that you have needs that must be met if you are to function as a working mom.
- Alter your expectationsAsk yourself whether they are realistic and try to come to terms with them. Constantly remind yourself that you cant be all things to all people. Make a list of every last thing you feel bad about that you didn't do for your child. Feel really awful about all of them for a day, then ask forgiveness of yourself and sweep them away. Tomorrow is another day.
- Understand that guilt comes with the territoryUse it as a motivating force to do something positive; for example, find the best child care available. Make sure you're not projecting your own feelings of guilt and frustration on your child or she will start believing that everything is her fault, and she is the cause of your grief. Let negative comments go in one ear and out the other.
- Become a happy, fulfilled personSomebody who is taking care of her own needs. This is the most important thing you can do to promote your child's future welfare. Engage in any worthwhile activity that brings you a sense of satisfaction.
- Separate your feelings from your actionsFeeling like hitting your child is not something to feel guilty about; hitting your child is.
- Set prioritiesDecide which are most important to you and which you can live without. These can be tough choices, but not making them deprives you of the time you need to really enjoy your life. Once you've set your priorities, don't add a new activity unless you subtract one.
- Slow down at work and at homeYou don't have to be number one in your department or have the cleanest house on the block. Drop the fantasy that you can come home after an easy day's work and bake delicious cookies for the family. Give them store-bought ones. Your family will love you just the same, and you'll be more fun to be around. Learn to delegate chores you loathe or pay someone to do them. (see Working Mothers: Organizing Your Life)
- Seek counselingIf you feel your life is unmanageable, a therapist can help you put things into the proper perspective and enable you to find balance in your life. If you're single, find a good support group. Your insurance company can be a good place to start. Many feature a variety of self-improvement programs at no cost to you. Your local library is another great place for info on support groups in your area as well as searching the Internet. Your local church or synagogue may also have a group that would be the right fit for you.
Before the age of five months, babies usually don't show signs of distress when they re separated from their parents. From that time until about five years of age, however, if you notice any of the following signs, it indicates that your baby may be feeling separation anxiety:
Dos and Don'ts for Dealing with Baby's Fears
- Increasing wariness and fear of strangers
- Increasing distress when you leave
- Clinging to you
- Crying inconsolably with a sitter
There are several ways to approach your baby's separation anxiety to make it easier on everyone:
Reducing Your Own Fears
- Do choose a time when your baby is usually alert and happy to introduce a new caregiver. Never begin a potentially stressful encounter when your baby is sick or cranky.
- Do reassure your child by using a positive tone of voice to explain what's going to occur. Even a baby understands a calm voice. Treat any stranger entering your home in a welcoming way to show that you have no anxiety. You show that you're to be trusted and relied upon more by your actions than by words. Always be truthful about where you re going and when you're returning. Confidence will build when it's clear you're trustworthy.
- Do arrange some time for a new caregiver and your baby to become acquainted. Insist that the same routine and pattern of child rearing be maintained. Keep photos of yourself around so your caregiver can point at the pictures and talk about how Mommy will be back soon.
- Do play quiet games before the encounter to keep your child peacefulno running around. A quieter child will find it easier to say good-bye. You can help your baby understand this process of separation by playing peek-a-boo. This game demonstrates that while Mommy may disappear for a while, she'll reappear.
- Do give your baby a "lovey" to hold: a favorite plush animal or a security blanket. These help your baby to cope with his fears and frustrations.
- Do give your baby time to readjust to you when you return. Talk affectionately, but keep your distance until your baby is ready to come to you. Your baby needs to learn that even when she has these feelings, you're ready to help overcome the sense of discomfort.
- Don't rush when your baby is crying and pulling at you. Keep talking and holding your baby lovingly.
- Don't worry if your baby is upset. All babies go through this period. It actually represents a developmental step forward because it shows recognition that you two are separate people.
- Don't be scornful of your child's feelings. Always be sympathetic and supportive, but do your best not to be overprotective. That would curb an adventurous spirit and weaken self-confidence.
- Don't ever force your child to go to a stranger.
Taking Your Baby to Meet Your Coworkers
- You grieve when you leave homeThese feelings are perfectly normal. Accept some self-doubt and sadnessit's part of the trade-off. You'll learn to gradually accept the distance between you and your child and to cherish your time together at the end of the day.
- Express your feelingsTell your child about the sense of loss and loneliness you feel. You'll probably be putting into words the same emotions your child feels.
- Talk to othersOther mothers will understand how you feel, and perhaps have some tips to help you get through the day.
- Locate a child-care center closer to your workWith child care close to your office, you can stroll over and observe that your child is doing well. You can even go to lunch together occasionally, if you think it won't upset your child to go through yet another parting.
- Take time offTake an occasional afternoon off to be with your baby. Both of you will look forward to these days.
Quality time is for the enjoyment of both child and parent. But a special treat for a mother is to show her baby to the people at work. So plan to stop by the office for a short visit before your maternity leave is over. The best time to visit is during a coffee break. Be sure you take these precautions:
Controlling Stress and Becoming a Contented Working Parent
- Call ahead to get your supervisor's permissionMention that your visit will be short.
- Call to see if anyone in the office is sick or has been exposed to diseaseRemember that a baby, especially in the first three months, doesn't have a fully functioning immune system.
- Bring a fully stocked diaper bag.
- Dress your baby in layers, rather than in heavy garmentsProtect the baby's clothes with a bib until you get there. Remove the outer garments once you re there to avoid getting your baby overheated.
- If you don't feel up to bringing your baby to work, have work come to youInvite people at times that avoid you having to cook a meal for them. Pace your visits. See them only when you want to.
The kind of pressured existence that working parents live can rob everyone of the opportunity to enjoy life together. What is worse, so much stress can make us irritable, and that has a corrosive effect on families. The following suggestions will be reminders from time to time of the kind of parent you want to be:
- Approach your challenges with a sense of joyYou'll find the first few weeks after childbirth much easier to deal with if you keep this in mind. Celebrate your victories and remember them on days when you feel like a failure.
- Accentuate the positiveSome days will be difficult if not downright infuriating. On those days, try to think of the positive side of motherhood. Focus on the many wonderful things about your child. Keep funny or endearing photos in your wallet. Look at them when you re having dark thoughts at work.
- Seize spontaneous moments to play with your childA short play period with your baby after you get home from the office is a great way to release tensions and irritations. Children treasure many experiences that don't take much time or don't need to be scheduled.
- Focus on your child when you're togetherDon't get into the habit of thinking about something else when you're with your child. Requests will begin to feel like interruptions, and your child's very presence may feel like an intrusion. Once you're at home, put away the problems of the workplace. If you have trouble controlling your thoughts, put your concerns on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and seal it. Tell yourself you won't think about it until the envelope is opened.
- Accept your own decisions about your childIf you worry every time you make a decision concerning your child, you'll be under unnecessary stress. You can't be right about everything you do. Make your best decision, and if it's wrong, make another one to correct it.
- Schedule your own needsTake the time to discover what refreshes you and makes you feel good about yourself. Nurture your body and soul with things like reading, napping, painting, bathing, cooking, or writing. You will be amazed by how much energy and patience you will have after having a rendezvous with yourself for one hour.
- Diffuse your angerFind ways to avoid the angry moment. If your child starts crying when you pick up the telephone, save your call until nap time. Give yourself a time out when your toddler is driving you up the wall. Put your child in a safe place, then go into another room. Breathe deeply,count to ten, and hit a pillow. Do whatever you need to do to safely release your anger.
- Be a good role modelYou have the chance to teach your child how to handle stress by your example. In the long run, this will make parenting much easier. Take things in stride, be patient, keep a realistic perspective, and set a good precedent.
- Get supportEveryone around you, at home and at work, may be good resources for information, advice, and help with your child. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Also, look for a nearby parenting center, or a mother's support group off-or online to help you through bad times.
© 2005 by Marla Schram Schwartz. Excerpted from The Working Woman's Baby Planner with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
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