Returning to work after a break for parental leave

The last couple of weeks I have focused on preparing to leave work in advance of taking maternity/paternity leave but I would like to spend the last weeks in November to look at how you prepare to return; if you choose to do so.

I have spoken to a lot of mums (and some dads) about going back to work after having a child. Each one has a different story to tell about how they approached it, the feelings they felt and how they felt the process went overall. Here are a compilation of the top ten tips from parents returning to work:

  1. Be clear about what you want. Do you want to return full/part time? What does that mean to you? By understanding what you want you can be clear with your employer and are more likely to be successful in negotiating your terms. You may need to put a business case in place in some cases.
  2. Talk to your employer about your plans to return to work in plenty of time, particularly if you are asking to change your hours. Ask about flexibility and set a date to return (coming back mid week is a great tip). If you would like to use holidays/kit days make sure you discuss these as options and if you are breastfeeding talk to them about the facilities available to you to express during the day.
  3. You are not alone in feeling like you are experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions. You are and it is completely normal. Putting plans in place to help you feel comfortable about leaving your child with the right person/people as well as creating strategies which work for you and your family can help. Let go of the guilt and take one day at a time.
  4. What are your priorities? Set them and stick to them where possible. You may even learn to say no! The first time you have to leave a meeting before it is finished in order to pick up your child can feel very uncomfortable, by understanding where your limits are you can be clear with yourself and your colleagues and make the conversations easier.
  5. Have a practice run. Have you attempted to get yourself and the baby out of the house 7.20am? What is the traffic like? Can you make your train? Create strategies which work for you – I am a morning person and get up much earlier than everyone else so I can get ready in a relaxed manner and then get my daughter up. Other people prefer to get it all ready the night before.
  6. Understand you can’t do it all. You and your partner cannot work full time as well as keep the house pristine, eat home-cooked meals every night as well as everything else which needs doing – something will have to give. Find help for the things you need and can afford- online shopping delivery, hire a cleaner or get your ironing done. If you need help, ask. 
  7. Allow time to adjust; be patient with yourself and those around you. This is a big change and probably nothing like you have experienced before. Take one day at a time if needed. Speak to a maternity coach or mentor if you can afford one/find one – they can help you get a sense of perspective.
  8. Embrace the positives. Returning to work can bring a chance to eat without being interrupted (same for loo breaks!), have adult conversation, feel like you are making a difference and re-affirming your identity as something else other than your child’s parent.
  9. Accept your projects have moved on. Whilst it might be nice to slot right back in where you left off, you have changed, the company might have and it’s likely the projects have too (although not for every case!). You may need to pick up a project part way through or do a completely new role or project. Either way accept the change and see tip 8.
  10. Trust your skills. If you were able to map out your skills before you went on maternity leave then review them but if not stay calm. It can feel like you have lost all your skills, I promise you that you haven’t, they are still there, albeit you may have been using them differently. You might have forgotten passwords and your phone number – that’s ok, they can be reset.

Whilst I have written this with parents in mind the advice above is broadly useful for returning after an illness or career break. 

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