Baby years are not like regular people years. Things move fast. When my daughter was an infant, my husband and I would glance at her just about every morning and say, “Whoa, she looks different today.” This flipbook-like pace of development can make it incredibly difficult for parents to go back to work. You feel like you’re missing it – this entire stage of life.
If you’re stuck in a place of guilt or sadness, it might help to think about time differently. Daisy Wademan Dowling, the founder and CEO of consulting firm Workparent, put together a working parents’ survival guide for Harvard Business Review, and included this advice: Use “today plus 20 years” thinking. She explains:
If you’re just back from parental leave, for example, sitting miserably at your desk and missing the baby, it can be crushing to think forward six months or a year.
So try this instead when you’re feeling conflicted or confronting the loss challenge: Think very short term and very long term — at the same time. Yes, you do miss the baby terribly right now, but you’ll be home to see her in a few hours — and years from now you know you’ll have provided her with a superb example of tenacity, career commitment, and hard work.
If you’re a working parent, whether by necessity or choice, it’s easy to fall into a thought spiral of: What if I’m not there for my baby’s first steps? And what if she becomes more attached to the caregiver than me? I feel this. But focusing only on the hours you’re missing with your baby will just make you resentful.
Dowling suggests acknowledging the depth of your feelings and then shifting your attention to the good. That is, you get to spend time with your baby today. And your career can have positive outcomes on your child later. This might help you find more contentment and purpose in your work.
In a study on the impact of parental employment on children, Drexel University’s Jeff Greenhaus and the Wharton School’s Stewart D. Friedman saw that “children were better off when parents cared about work as a source of challenge, creativity and enjoyment.”
And know when you’re a new parent, time is just weird. All moments can feel monumental — and I’m not saying they’re not — but there’s more to your big lives than these next few years. Try to see that, if you can.