I admit it took me a while to come around to the idea that I needed to spend time and energy making working mama friends. I pride myself on being fiercely independent. I tend to figure things out for myself, and I love the thrill of making my own discoveries. I’m reluctant to ask for help. And you know what? These skills serve me well. Sometimes. Why let go of them?
Add to these traits the fact that after giving birth, I felt like I didn’t have the time or energy to make a whole bunch of new mom friends — especially when I knew I’d be leaving them to go back to work soon. My best friends from college were scattered around the country. And only some of them had kids anyway. I had both of my babies in the winter, so I wasn’t particularly motivated to go out in the cold. And joining some of the in-person support groups near my home cost more money than I wanted to spend.
In short, my head was full of reasons not to connect with other working moms. This feeling lasted until my second baby came along, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. While both of my boys were delightful, feelings of isolation set it. I found myself in tears on the kitchen floor more often that I’d like to admit – both during my second maternity leave and the first few months I was back to work.
It was then that I realized I could learn a lot from my experienced working mom colleagues and that my workplace would benefit from a parents group. My first action step was to start a “Returning to Work Community” at my office. We started a monthly brown-bag lunch in a conference room, and an online community for sharing concerns and swapping baby items. And after I switched jobs and returned to a law firm setting, I led my firm’s efforts to create a Parent Professional Network.
However, there are many communities you can join outside of work. As you start to think about communities you might join, you might ask: which is better, in-person or online groups? I’m a huge fan of both. My baby-and-me yoga classes were awesome for connecting me with other new moms in the neighborhood. And I took the Abundant Mama online course, which introduced me to amazing moms with kids of all ages, who literally lived all over the world.
When you go back to work after maternity leave, it gets admittedly harder to meet up with friends, as you can’t go to those daytime new mama groups or yoga classes anymore. But after a while, I did manage to find a groove with my working mom posse, though, and I’ve learned a few things about how to make amazing working mama friends. Here are a few ways I recommend.
If you know anyone at work who did the maternity-leave-and-return thing in recent history, consider picking her brain while you are pregnant and setting up lunch with her for your first day back at work after maternity leave. She’ll understand your first-day-back jumble of emotions, will probably have good tips and she’ll be a safe person to confide in about those new parent dilemmas.
If you work for a larger organization or company, there may already be a “working parent professionals” group. Ask HR about it, find out who the group’s key contacts are and join. Going to even one or two of the group’s events will help you find “your people.”
If there is no working parent group at your employer already, consider creating one! (More on how to do that here.) I had the opportunity to interview Rachel Thomas, President of Lean In, and her number one recommendation was to “form a working mom posse” at your office. I know, I know, you don’t have the bandwidth right now. But it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift, I promise. (And I speak from experience, having now launched two!) First, brainstorm your target audience. Then, work closely with your Human Resources department to get it off the ground, and think about how often and where you will meet (either in person or virtually). Founding a group will absolutely make you a happier, more-connected mama and employee, and you’ll suddenly gain a mentor group you previously may not have considered. Oh, and you’ll change the lives of other new parents in your workplace, too.
Do you belong to a professional organization for work? Perhaps a bar association if you’re a lawyer, or something similar in other fields? Often these groups have committees or sub-sections specifically focused on working parents. Have lunch with just one member of that parent committee to find out what the group does, and how you might benefit from it. Again, it’s not a heavy lift to have a lunch and find out more.
Check out the awesome articles on Working Moms Against Guilt. And check out Facebook groups that are specific to working moms (like Breadwinning Mamas) and those that are industry-specific (like Lawyer Mama Rockstars, or Moms in Policy and Government).
For me, making working mom friends has been critical – both to my sanity and to my education as a new parent. Connecting has, on many occasions, really saved me from despair. All of this is to say: yes, new mama. I know you have no extra bandwidth at the moment. But when you have a little — and all you need is a little — I’d urge you to seek out working mom friends as an investment in yourself and your workplace community.
Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the Founder of Mindful Return, a blog and e-course that helps mamas returning to work after maternity leave to feel present – both with their babies and in their careers. She is also the author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, which Working Mother called “every ambitious new mother’s bible.” She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and two redheaded boys and is a partner in the healthcare practice group at Dentons US LLP.
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