If you’re a parent you’ll be familiar with the 3 trimesters of pregnancy, some of us have heard about and experienced the 4th (the afterbirth) but I think for some, there is a 5th. The return to work after maternity leave.
Going back to work is a big transition and for many women, it happens sooner than they are ready and is harder than expected.
My experience returning to work
As a mother of two young kids, I had two very different experiences returning. With my first, I was excited to go back to work and couldn’t wait to re-join adult conversation and have a routine.
On my second I took a year out and with a pre-schooler to look after as well as a baby my days were filled with play dates, meeting with friends, coffee mornings and parent and baby classes. I loved it.
There were (and still are) sleepless nights but I embraced this new phase as a mother of two wholeheartedly. My life felt full and I surprised myself at how quickly I adjusted.
As much as I was enjoying being a mother, I was still excited to get back to work and take back up role as Associate Director of Cpl’s Office Support division. I missed working outside the home (yes, it is a job) and the independence I felt it gave me.
Returning after a year is a long time and small gradual changes can be huge for someone who hasn’t been there to witness them. Not everyone wants to go back to work, and that’s ok too, but if this is something you desire you should be able to.
Here are some of my tips in the hope that it may help anyone in the same boat and help make the transition as painless as possible.
Tips for returning to work after maternity leave
Stay in touch with your team
It’s a great idea to stay in touch and “check-in “occasionally during your mat leave. I found this helpful when D day approaches. If you like, ask to be kept in the loop of any major changes and business updates that would be relevant for you. It will help create a sense of familiarity and comfort for you upon your return.
Do a trial childcare run in advance
One of the more trying aspects of your return will be finding, assessing & confirming your childcare arrangements. Be it, family, a childminder, a creche or your partner do a trial run of what that will be for a couple of days a week or two before your return. You will quickly see what works, what doesn’t and what can be done to get it right and minimise stress.
Start back mid-week
It is hard enough to leave your bundle of joy (and quite possibly last night’s dishes in the sink) so make it as painless as possible and start back mid-week. If your company will allow it, a phased return over the course of a few weeks is a wonderful option.
Ask yourself “what adjustments will I need to make”
I am lucky to work for an employer who fully supports work from home options and flexible hours. This is, without a doubt, my new currency. Do not be afraid to inquire about what flexible work options are available to you.
Come up with a plan to show how this will work. Make it clear you will have your childcare in place and show how you will continue to meet your deliverables. This will enable you to successfully plan for and balance your career and family life.
Work through the emotions, and there will be many
Doubt, low confidence, is this really going to work, brain fog and feeling overwhelmed. It is all normal. For some, it could last weeks, for others just one bad morning.
Know that these raw feelings are normal and try not to make any harsh decisions. Give it time, seek out support from friends or colleagues who have been through this before and take heart, you will find your new normal.
See your return as an opportunity
The only constant that is true for all of us is change, embrace it. You now leave your home to go to work as a working parent with so many newly acquired skills that you can use in the workplace.
As a parent, I’m infinitely more efficient and have become a multitasker extraordinaire – who else can hum the theme tune to Peppa Pig whilst simultaneously changing the nappy of the wriggliest baby that ever lived?
I was privileged recently to attend a fantastic training day on “Inclusive Leadership” (albeit a Monday morning after a very sleepless night with my unwell daughter.) Our trainer on the day spoke about a policy they have in their company called “Leave Loudly”.
The principal is to make no excuses and for everyone to have the same flexible options (whether you’re a parent or not.) This puts the focus on having your work done rather than being at your desk past 5:30 and to me this is so powerful.
Having been in the unique position as the 1st person on my team to be a parent 5 years ago I am acutely aware of quietly sneaking out the door a little early to make the childcare pick up. This was not something to be done loudly, back then.
Don’t apologise for agreeing with your employer to leave early to make the childcare pick up or for some it may have been to take time out to pump. Understand what you are bringing back into your job, all your skills and a huge incentive to work as efficiently as possible.
I have always placed a high value on having my own career and would consider myself to be ambitious. I am proud of what I have achieved to date and I want to achieve more.
Being a working mother should not mean you have to comprise on this. I am learning not to sprint a marathon having only just returned, but I still want to be a strong contender in the race.
Don’t feel guilty for raising children and wanting to continue to progress in your career. Shout about it. You are bloody brilliant.