Going back to work after maternity leave can be a daunting time. But there are some things you can do to make transitioning back to work after maternity leave as smooth as possible, writes Alana Kirk.
You may be dreading it or dancing in anticipation, but heading back to work after your maternity leave can be an intimidating time. You may feel shocked at how quickly your maternity leave has come to an end, or guilty at how much you want it to. Either way, this is a huge transition, and juggling both work and home life needs a little preparation and planning.
Today, maternity leave can stretch from 26 weeks to 42 weeks, depending on whether you take unpaid leave, so it can be a tough thought heading back after a considerable time away from the work, the people and the politics. But returning back to work either because you have to financially, or want to so that you can carry on your career, is a big step from being at home with your newborn. It is completely normal to feel jittery and nervous, guilty and unsure.
Although you now have a new role as a mother, according to career coach Jane Downes, you still are a female employee with skills, experience and expertise to offer the world of work. “Remember, you were very capable before motherhood and there is every piece of evidence to say you will perform like you did in the past and possibly even better as you will work smarter as a working mother. Your skills have not deserted you.”
However swapping the changing bag for the briefcase takes a bit of planning. The three main areas you have to consider are childcare issues, home life responsibilities while dusting down the work wardrobe, and preparing yourself for going back to the workplace.
This is probably the most important part of the back-to-work jigsaw, and it can be a very emotional time, as you prepare to hand the reins of daily childcare to someone else. Whether it is a child-minder in your home, a family member or a crèche, it is important to trial it in advance of your first day back at work. Think carefully about what options are going to best suit your hours, your commute and the other family commitments. Where possible, make sure this is a shared responsibility so that the pressure doesn’t always fall on you.
It is also important to think about back up plans for when things go wrong, and work out in advance how you and your partner will manage if your child is sick for a day or two. Will you take it in turns? Is there a short-notice family member that can be called on for emergencies? Thinking about these options in advance will take a huge amount of worry and strain off, you so that you can focus on getting back into the swing of things at work. If you and your child are happy with the childcare options, it will enable you to separate your work-self and mother-self a bit better.
According to Jane Downes, this can be one of the pitfalls that affect working women. “Try not bring your worries about your baby to the workplace. Avoid over talking about your baby and remember you are at work where there is a need to maintain a professional yet natural demeanour. Not everyone is excited and interested in children, so respect that.”
Building up the routine a week or two before you start will make that first morning a little less frightening. Making sure you have done at least one full practise run of getting ready and getting your child to childcare and yourself to work will help iron out any potential blocks or unforeseen issues.
You’ve been at home for several months and the lion’s share of the household tasks have probably fallen to you. That has to change when you return to work so that a greater flexibility in housework can be spread between the adults. Standards might have to slip initially! Being prepared in advance will always make those first few weeks especially, much easier to manage.
Think about meal preparation and what time is available every evening, which will also need to include time with your child. So certainly in the first days and weeks, try to pre-plan, do online food deliveries, and use up pre-made freezer meals if you can. You are also likely to be exhausted initially, so make life as easy on yourself as you can in those first couple of weeks.
Many new mums look in the mirror and wonder will they ever look like they used to again. Half the battle to feeling the role, is to look the part. Get your hair done and assess your wardrobe. Your body will inevitably have changed, so don’t leave it until the night before to figure out if those black trousers still fit. Make sure you have a one week supply of comfortable clothes that make you feel good, left out and ready before you start back. It might also be a good idea to meet with colleagues before you return to work, so that you can reconnect with your ‘working self’ and get the inside track as to any changes, which have taken place since you left.
Building up your working hours initially might be helpful, even if it means coming back a little earlier. Don’t be afraid to talk about flexibility and what options are available, because as a working mother, work has to work for you.
Finding your confidence again can be hard, but according to Jane Downes you have a lot to offer. “Acknowledge the new skills you have learnt or built on such as an ability to handle pressure and multi task. These emotional intelligence skills you learn from being at home with babies and children are hard to attain elsewhere. Handling pressure, being flexible, multi-tasking and managing worry, and problem solving.” Having worked with lots of working mothers she knows they tend to work smartly and get their tasks completed efficiently. Juggling job and home life can be stressful and challenging at times so don’t think you are a failure because you are stressed and challenged.
Juggling is all about balance, and finding the right rhythm might take a little time and a few changes to get it right. Take each week at a time, and remember to give yourself a break and make sure that amid job-care and child-care, you remember self-care.
Further information: www.familylawireland.ie
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