RETURNING TO WORK AFTER CHILDREN: TWELVE TIPS FROM OUR EXPERTS
Acknowledge your new skills: Being at home with kids develops your people skills, your creative problem solving, your ability to multi-task, and your time management like no job I've ever had. These skills are not really understood or acknowledged in the workplace, so you wouldn't tend to get the respect and credibility that you deserve if you cited them at interview or on your CV; but you should approach every job with your head held high.
A RETURNING MOTHER SHARES HER TOP TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING BACK TO WORK AFTER MATERNITY LEAVE
As your back to work date rolls around, get into a positive mindset about returning
A lot of women feel fearful about leaving their babies and returning to work, and if you spend most of your time with your mummy friends, there’s a real danger that group-think takes over and you end up dreading the day when you have to put your baby into childcare and head back to the office. I spent a lot of time really focusing on the positives of restarting my role: feeling mentally stimulated again in a way I hadn’t been for over a year; the huge personal satisfaction I always get from completing a task well; enjoying the adult interaction of an open plan office; reconnecting with the old me that’s more than just a mum; and the little things too like getting to drink a cup of tea while it’s still hot! I actively coached myself into having these thoughts with the aid of a lot of self-talk.
If you’re struggling, reach out to an empathetic person from your HR or learning and development team who can coach you gradually back into the workplace.
Recognise what you’re taking back to the workplace with you
A lot of mums suffer a bout of low confidence as they head back to the office. I spent a lot of time thinking about the many ways in which motherhood was going to make me an even better employee. I’d faced multiple challenges in the 12 months I’d been off work, and as a result I felt stronger, more decisive and certainly more resilient. Once back at work I found myself to be more assertive, able to better see the bigger picture and much better equipped to deal with situations that might once have stressed or frustrated me.
Plan your first few weeks very carefully
However good you feel about returning to work, that first time you drop your child off at childcare is absolutely heart wrenching. I took the advice of a best friend and staggered my little boy’s induction into nursery, starting with a few hours here and there from around two weeks before my return date, and gradually building up to a whole day. This meant that by first day back in the office, we had a morning routine, the tears – both his and mine – had gone, and I could arrive at my desk feeling professional and ready to focus, rather than worrying about how he was doing.
I also created a timetable with my husband around baby pick-ups and drop offs so that I wasn’t shouldering all the responsibility. And for the first few weeks back, I deliberately avoided making any other evening plans or seeing friends, aware that I’d need a lot of rest time. The only exception was that I took up yoga, which ticked both the exercise and mindfulness boxes.
Direct how you’d like your handover to work
I had a great replacement, who enabled me to take the handover period at my own pace. Those early days of returning are incredibly tiring, both mentally and physically, so it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll absorb tons of information in eight-hour sittings. Take regular breaks and don’t be afraid to ask your replacement to provide notes or repeat areas of the handover if you need it.
TOP 10 TIPS ON WORK LIFE BALANCE
Leave as little as possible to the manic mornings: pack yours and your children's bags and get children's clothes and your own clothes ready the night before. Buy enough school clothes and children's socks and underwear so you're not a slave to the washing machine every evening. Have a 'grab and go ' place in the hall for keys, purse and all the things you need. Oh - and if your children are school age tip out their bags each evening to check for any letters they have forgotten to give you so you don't end up baking cakes for the cake stall the next morning at midnight or hurtling round at dawn trying to find a lost trainer as their gym days have been changed.
Give yourself a break
You can only do what you can do. Be kind to yourself and don't be too hard on yourself. It doesn't matter if your home's not immaculate and your children aren't fed super-nutritious, cooked-from-scratch food every day. There will be days when you feel guilty and wish you could be the parent helper on the school trip when you had to work and equally there will be days when you feel guilty as you were knackered after a night with a poorly child and didn't feel you gave it your all at work. That's just life. It happens to us all. Don't beat yourself up about it.
"THE SUPERWOMAN FALLACY: WHAT IT REALLY TAKES TO BE AN ACADEMIC AND PARENT"
Melissa Terras is tired of being called superwoman because she has three young children and a job. Here she takes apart the myth and says there's no such thing as 'work-life balance'
I'm not superwoman ... I have a supportive partner
I'm not superwoman ... I have flexible working hours
I'm not superwoman ... I don't work in a lab-based discipline
I'm not superwoman ... I can afford help around the home
I'm not superwoman ... I take as many shortcuts as possible
I'm not superwoman ... I use all the technology I can to make this easy.
I'm not superwoman ... I travel a lot with work.
I'm not superwoman ... I live near family and friends
I'm not superwoman ... I work incredibly hard