Returning to work after having a baby can range from exhilarating to hideously daunting. For some women, getting out of the house and into the adult world is just what they need to shake the baby brain and feel themselves again. For others, the thought of leaving their babe terrifies them more than being locked in a cage with 1,000 rats. But like it or not, it’s a reality many women face.
Personally, home life is not for me. For the first six months of my child’s life I cursed my husband for getting to go to work while I was stuck at home with a crying baby. But then there were times that I felt enormously grateful to have that special time to connect with my son and learn how to be his parent. Eventually though, I realised that for me, balance required a bit of work and a bit of home.
But even if you know that heading back to work will ultimately make you a better parent, it’s not always an easy transition. So here are some tips to help you on your way:
1. Meet with your manager
It’s a great idea to touch base with your manager before returning to work. Find out about any changes in the office, new protocols or people in the team. Discuss your role and what you and your manager see as your priorities and responsibilities. Changes to business over the past number of months will have affected your job and it will help to make sure you both have the same expectations when you are returning to work.
If you are planning to work flexibly, make sure you discuss the arrangements with your manager before returning to work. Your child will get sick and you will have to leave work early to collect them, or come in late because you were taking them to the doctor – make sure you discuss how best to handle these situations because they will come up!
2. Speak to colleagues and other working mums
Speak with the support networks around you about your return to work. Chatting with colleagues who have also faced the challenges of returning to work can be a comforting way to deal with back-to-work nerves. These working mums may become your allies and will also have some valuable advice about how to balance life in the office with motherhood.
3. Talk to your partner and share the care
Despite increasing their paid workload, many women continue to do a major proportion of the unpaid domestic work when they return to the workforce; 2.5 times more in fact. When women are home with the baby they are often delegated the role of running the household as well as being the primary carer. But when both parents are back in the working world, the distribution of domesticity needs to change. The days of finishing work and spending the rest of the night on the couch are gone and many women get run down trying to do everything. Most men are more than happy to do more around the house, but the work is already taken care of for them so they don’t think about it. Chat to your partner about how you can both share the care.
4. Practice saying NO
You don’t have to run the world right now (although you are welcome to if you want). Once you have chatted to your manager about the expectations and work priorities then remind yourself that saying no to ‘extra’ things is okay. Managing returning to work, and new motherhood is a big deal so don’t over-exert yourself. You’ll then start to not enjoy any of what you are doing. Know how much you can take on where your priorities at home and at work lie.
5. Have confidence in yourself
You gave birth! You have successfully cared for another human being based on practically no experience or training, all while being subjected to very little sleep – you can handle the workplace and that annoying office politics any day! You’ve worked before and even though you may feel like you’ve forgotten what one plus one equals, the knowledge is still there. Back yourself. And if you must, buy yourself a fabulous new outfit to give you some added confidence, or just because.
6. Revisit your professional vision
A lot has changed in your life since your child has arrived and its time to consider if this has effected your career vision. You may still want the same things, or feel confident to strive for more, or you may want to balance your working life with more family time.
And if you haven’t set a professional vision, now is the perfect time to do it! Reflecting on what you want and how you can get it will greatly benefit your career and discussions with your manager.
7. Do a dry run
This idea is one that some mums have suggested to me to help ease the nerves about returning to work. Personally, I’m way to lazy to dedicate a morning to this when I could remain in my pajamas another 2 hours watching the Today Show while my son throws blocks at the television. But for some ladies, testing out the new schedule before your first day can be helpful. Check if you’ve estimated enough time to stand in the shower not wanting to get out, staring at your cupboard wondering what to wear, picking Weet-Bix up off the floor and pinning your child down to get him dressed before racing out the door. Getting everything ready the night before can also be useful to avoid some of the morning chaos, but is unlikely to eliminate it.