Seven ideas for a successful, confident return from maternity or parental leave

Workstation for thriving at flexible work

Heading back to work after a baby is a big change – exciting but also a turbulent time.   Here are seven ways to ace the return to work:

1) Feel the excitement

Go back in a blaze of energy – let yourself feel the excitement at resuming this part of your adult life.  Take some time out to remember why you loved your job in the first place (if you didn’t you may need to reassess, but that is a whole other post!).   Using your brain and skills, picking up again with colleagues, – even the ability to have a coffee while it’s still hot – are all a probably welcome change of pace. 

2) A fresh start – reconnect with people, and have an induction plan

Don’t skulk back in as if you’d never been away and assume nothing has changed.

Treat your return as starting a new job… with the added advantage (if you are remaining in your old company) that you have a flying start because you know how it all works, and are reconnecting with people you already know well.

Put yourself through the sort of induction / 90 day plan you would give a new starter.   It is unlikely anyone will set this up for you so be prepared to do it yourself.   Meeting the people you need to will help you get visible, will establish that you’re back, and catch you up quickly on everything that has happened.

3) Think of it as stepping up… twice

You have already successfully been through one enormous, lifechanging growth experience by becoming a parent.  You are stronger, more capable and more resilient than the person who left to go on leave.  And you’re about to take it to another level by adding work into the equation.  In the same way as if you’d just been promoted, it will be a steep learning curve and you will feel a bit stretched (on probably not enough sleep).    Treat yourself kindly, and appreciate what you’re achieving.  It is pretty impressive!

4) Look after your energy and ferociously defend your weekends

However much you love your work, effectively starting a new job is exhausting, and more so when you are going home to children.  Make a conscious plan to keep your energy levels up for the first few weeks.

Make time at weekends to recharge in the way that suits you best – be that sleep, seeing friends, exercising, or just staring out of the window.  

Be ruthless about saying no to things or people that tire you – you can always say that you are temporarily clearing the diary while you get used to being back at work.

Only do things that help you and ditch the rest – self-carecan become just another set of tasks on the to-do list.   

5) Before you go back, book a week of annual leave at around 2 months in 

Unless you are superhuman you will be exhausted, and will be thankful for a change of pace and/or the opportunity to spend some time with your family.  It will also give you a chance to reflect and reboot if anything that has gone a bit wonky.

6) Avoid wobbly mornings by delegating childcare dropoffs

However OK you are about it, and however wonderful your childcare, the first few dropoffs represent a big change: for you with the end of a career break, and for your child with a new phase of growing up – a bit like their first day at school.  This means they can be emotionally tough for both of you.  And if you’re wobbly, they will be too.

If at all possible, ask your partner to do childcare dropoffs for your first week back.  It will give you a smoother start to the day and make sure you arrive at work in the right headspace, without smudged makeup!   And calm, happy mornings will help your little one with the transition.

7) Don’t mess about – full-on focus not maximum hours

Be committed, focused and super-efficient during the time you’re at work, and probably no-one will even notice if you have to leave 10 minutes early to do pickup.   But if you faff, gossip or spend time doing personal admin, people will resent it, and fast. Plus it gives the rest of us working mums a bad name.  Just don’t.

Finally – and reluctantly, as I’m not sure it passes the ‘would this advice be given to a man?’ test – make sure home can run like clockwork, especially for the first couple of weeks.   So shopping deliveries, a freezer full of meals, responsibility for chores clearly assigned, any birthday presents etc bought in advance… will all help take the pressure off.

Good luck and enjoy it!

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