Peechaya Burroughs for TIME
Advice

How to Build a Support System of Working Parents

April 13, 2016

‘A mother making her way back to work after having a baby needs answers’

Meghan Mills knew she wanted to go back to work after having her daughter and taking four and a half months off for maternity leave. She was less prepared to take a cross-country business trip the month after she returned.

“My daughter was 6 months, it was the first time leaving her and it was a really big thing for me,” she said in her interview with the It’s Working Project. “With that trip on the horizon, it made going back to work more stressful. It was my longest business trip of the year.”

Meghan reached out to me, and I connected her to Marisa Levy, who knows everything there is to know about traveling for work while meeting the needs of a young baby. We’re talking pumping, breast milk, logistics—the works.

Meghan’s situation is not unusual. A mother making her way back to work after having a baby needs answers: How will you know how to navigate your workplace’s unique parental culture? How will you deal with the logistics? How will you establish the support system you need to thrive in your new role as working parent?

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In my work at the helm of the It’s Working Project, where parents share their personal experiences of going back to work after having a baby in the U.S., one thing is clear: The biggest source of support for moms returning to work is not HR—it’s other moms.

Here are my suggestions for how to find a network of working parents.

1. Join existing support groups. Employers have begun to take note of the many ways in which parents can successfully support each other in the workplace. Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, a mom of two in Washington, D.C., started a “Returning to Work” community at her office for new parents who want to meet monthly over a brown-bag lunch. Mihalich-Levin has since started a business, Mindful Return, to help other employers launch similar programs.

2. Ask about ad-hoc support groups and information-keepers. These people are a bit of a secret society. At almost every office, there’s someone who’s been there and done that when it comes to pumping, handling daycare emergencies and spending business trips away from a little one. Ask around—it shouldn’t take you long to find this person.

Read more: What No One Tells New Moms About Going Back to Work

3. Pay it forward. Offer support, be it active guidance or simply an interested ear. For each woman who has contributed to another mother’s wellbeing at work, there is a “next-generation mother” who would benefit from advice and counsel.

Julia Beck is the founder of Forty Weeks and the It’s Working Project.