Let’s face it, returning to work after maternity leave can be daunting. Even though you may be returning to the same employer, and usually the same role, it can feel like a much bigger step. Such huge changes have happened in our lives since leaving work to start maternity leave, and the focus has shifted to our baby and newly expanded family. It is not surprising then that we can, temporarily, lose sight of our ‘work self’ and be uncertain as to how we will balance our roles at home and at work.
The good news is that the settling in process is usually swifter than most returning women expect. Many report that they feel completely back in the swing of things within a matter of weeks. That’s not to say that the return to work is all plain sailing – far from it – but often the things we worry about (“Can I remember how to do my job?” or “What if I’ve forgotten everything important?” or “Will I be out-of-date?”) are usually not the things that trip us up. Once we are in the office, sitting in front of a computer or chatting with a client, the details quickly come back into focus and we are soon up and running.
The bit that catches most returners out – and the bit that can take longer to resolve – is the emotional side of the return to work. Mums often run through a gamut of emotions around their return – worry, sadness and guilt are all very common. This is a huge change for you and your family, the end of one phase and the beginning of the next. Most returning mums report that it does get better over time, especially when they realise that their child is happily settled with their nursery/nanny.
In the meantime, how can you make those first days back at work a bit easier, a bit simpler, and a bit less stressful for you and your family?
Here are three practical tips that we regularly recommend to returning parents:
1. Start Midweek
Why? It is very likely that your boss and colleagues will mentally write-off your first days back in the office, waiting until your first full week back to bombard you with work projects and meeting requests. Starting midweek gives you a small window of time to schedule some informal catch ups, and to ensure your technology and security access are successfully reactivated, so that you can hit ground running in your first full week.
A midweek start also means that you only need to make it through two or three days of organising the commute, work, bag packing, outfits, meals, childcare arrangements, clock-watching, tears at departure (theirs and/or yours), etc. Then you have the whole weekend to assess how things are going and make any necessary tweaks. And most of us mums can power through two to three days of anything. After all, we’ve survived life with a newborn!
Get ahead of the game: Clever mamas usually try to start their childcare arrangements slightly earlier than their planned work start date. This is a great idea as it lets your child/ren adjust to the changes and, if needed, you can be around to ease them through it. If budget or timings don’t allow it, you might ask a friend or relative to help with a few hours of babysitting, so you can at least do a dry run of your new drop-off and commute routine, to ensure all goes smoothly on those first mornings back at work.
2. Clear Out Your Email Inbox
Your inbox will be full of emails about things that were important when they were sent but probably aren’t now.
So, before you start trying to catch up on months of missed emails, move your entire inbox into a new folder called ‘Maternity Leave’. Do it now before you are tempted to just have a quick look through them!
Then do a search of emails only from your boss and the HR Manager who is involved in your maternity leave. Look at anything received from those two people in the last four weeks. Ignore everything else.
You will learn more by speaking with people – and you’ll find it easier to pick up on the politics and nuances by meeting face-to-face or phoning a colleague – than by reading hundreds of old emails.
A sure-fire way to never feel back on top of it all (and to feel completely and unnecessarily overwhelmed) is to start 3/6/9/12 months behind! Start with an empty inbox.
Get ahead of the game: If you are planning your maternity leave now, or have a ‘Keeping In Touch’ day coming up, make it clear to people that you will not be reading past emails when you return to work. If there is something urgent, they should contact you when you are back. This approach is also beneficial for your boss/colleagues – their ‘now urgent’ task won’t be lost in a sea of thousands of ‘no longer urgent’ emails.
3. Live the Easy Life for a Week
…or longer if you can. Your career re-entry is a project in itself and you need to make a few allowances to make it as easy as possible for your whole family.
Practically, this might mean taking a taxi from home to the nursery, to the station, or to your office. Yes, you will normally walk, get the bus, or drive and park but it will take longer and the timings are less predictable. It might mean asking a nursery friend, or a nursery teacher, to collect your little one on their way past to save you doing the nursery drop off. It might mean getting a meal delivered every evening, or delegating the dinner preparation to your partner. It might involve asking a cleaner to do extra hours, or asking your nanny/babysitter/partner to help out in the morning or evening even if you expect to manage these times yourself once you are settled in at work.
This is not forever. It’s just a little extra help to make your re-entry smoother. You are a wonderful mum, you will be great at your job, but you don’t have to be Superwoman on the very first day back. Take is easy on yourself and make it as stress-free as possible for your whole family.
Get ahead of the game: Stock up your freezer and cupboards, and have your partner/nanny help make meals that the whole family will enjoy so that you are not scrabbling around after work, when everyone is tired and hungry. Also, look at all the things that need doing each day and discuss with your partner how you can allocate them – so that you are both doing your fair share.
We hope these few practical tips will help ease you back into the swing of work. Please do let us know how you get on with your return to work, and please send us your tips or suggestions that that might help a fellow parent in returning to work.
A condensed version of this article first appeared on the Mums In the Woods website. Mums In The Woods is a community for parents in the St John’s Wood area of North West London to share knowledge and ideas. Runneth is delighted to run regular career and start up workshops in association with Mums In the Woods.