What it feels like to return to work after maternity leave – a message for managers

To all the managers in Japan who have parents returning to work this week… Hang on! Let’s be realistic and start again.

To all the managers in Japan who have mothers returning to work this week after maternity leave,

Below is a post I shared on a Facebook group last week after I dropped my daughter off for her first day at 学童(after-school care). After I blinked back a few tears, I had a flashback to when I dropped her off for the first time at 保育園 (daycare). I wrote this post to motivate those taking the first steps back into the workforce.

This is what your working parents are dealing with this week and for the coming months. Be kind, be patient and ask them how things are going.


It will be tough to adapt.

Baby will cry and cling to you. Some days it will break your heart.

Baby will not cry and will run to the teacher. Some days it will break your heart.

Some days you will miss your baby so much and wonder why you went back to work. If you are still nursing, thinking about your baby will make your breasts leak and you will feel even more alone. It will break your heart.

Some days you will run to the office glad of the “break” and wonder how SAHM’s keep their sanity. Then you will feel guilty for not being more grateful for what you have. Again, it will break your heart.

Basically, get ready for a lot of heart breaking …

People in the office will remember you as you were before your maternity leave … talented, skilled, a force to be reckoned with, a change maker.

But some days you won’t recognise that version of you anymore. Instead you will see the new skills that motherhood has given you: infinite patience, ability to read body language and emotions without words, a sense of both perspective and humour.

Some days you will feel like a hamster on a wheel. You are working two shifts –paid and unpaid. Your hands-on partner with his fulltime job feels this too, but he isn’t “allowed” to talk about it. Give each other a break and a hug, hold hands and kiss in the kitchen whilst the kids eat breakfast.

Use your professional skills in your home. Delegate, outsource and prioritise. What needs to be perfect and what can be good enough?

Find a way to get paid domestic help in some shape or form. It doesn’t have to be every day or every week, but try to carve out time with your family when you are not doing unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning, and folding washing.

Most importantly be passionate about your work! If you are not, all the sacrifices are for nothing. Do a bit of navel gazing and realise that if your priorities have changed, that is fine.

Learn how to trail-blaze and ask for the things you need to succeed. Your boss probably has no idea of how to handle you. Your boss’s assumption about how you live your life may be quite different from the reality.

Help open people’s eyes to the fact that there are many types of working parents. Cookie-cutter approaches might be fair, but fail to take individual needs into account.

It will be tough to adapt, but you should trust yourself and your family enough to achieve it.

Good luck!

If you are a non-Japanese working mum in Tokyo, please contact me to join a monthly Lean In Circle for peer support from like-minded women.

Contact me for maternity coaching