Parent Coach Aoife Lee shares her advice for mothers returning to work after maternity leave.
Having a baby is one of the biggest changes any new parent will embrace. Being on maternity leave can be a different experience for each and every mum: taking the good days with the bad; the questions on if we are doing things the right way; feeding, sleeping and lack thereof; and not forgetting to take care of ourselves, too, or letting someone else do that for us. We mums all know what it felt like and how we managed.
For many, the next stage is ‘when to return to work?’. This can be an anxious time for lots of mums as some feel ‘I don’t know how I’m going to manage it all or be away from my baby’, while others feel ‘I loved being off with my baby but I can’t wait to be back to work and feel like me again’.
These contrasting situations are the reality of motherhood, and can also vary between a first-time mum and one that is returning after their second or third child because they possibly know what to expect.
There are so many emotions, adjustments, challenges and decisions that come with returning to work after having a baby. Regardless of how much time we have been away from our workplace, how many children we have, what childcare we need, how much has to be done at home and work on a day to day basis, the same concerns and challenges come up for us all.
Working full- or part-time while also keeping things ticking over at home is a way of life for many families. It is a true reflection of today’s living that resonates with majority of parents and children, a reality that can often overwhelm us as we balance a working schedule, hoping that our employers recognise that family is a huge part of our lives.
Tracy Gunn, who is founder of Mumager, runs one-day ramp up workshops and in-house sessions both preparing mums returning to the workplace or who are currently working, by providing practical tools to help them focus on what’s important to them as a parent and a worker. She explores boundaries, feelings of guilt, managing difficult conversations and building resilience.
The two main worries that come up during these workshops are feelings of guilt - whether that's because they are returning to work or because they can’t do the long hours they previously committed to and feel that they're "leaving early" (when actually, like many parents, they do extra hours at home).
The second is juggling family, work and their home life. Tracy shares that "there is a very real feeling of trying to keep everything going. This often results in ‘always being on’, feeling exhausted while finding very little time to yourself".
This very much resonates with the working parents I meet on a daily basis. One aspect of my job as a Parent Coach is supporting parents both at home and in their workplace through parenting wellness seminars, and I am seeing an increased amount of support from employers for parents. However, as Tracy says, "although companies are doing a lot for parents there is still more to do".
Parenting seminars are a great opportunity for working parents to be with their colleagues and hear that the grass is not greener for everyone else, and that we are all having similar worries and concerns.
For many parents, it’s important to reassure them that they are one of many feeling exactly the same way, and although the emotion of guilt is part and parcel of parenting, it is about empowering the parent and letting them know that there are ways of making it easier.
Tracy’s advice for a mum who is due to return to work suggests
1. Ask ‘what is most important to me right now?’
I do believe we can have it all, just not necessarily all at the same time. If we try to be all things to all people we end up feeling frustrated, exhausted and pulled in too many directions.
By figuring out your priorities you can then make conscious choices about what you spend your time on, whether that’s your career, relationship, friends, family etc.
Remember that this is a moment in time. Your priorities will change and evolve. Pace yourself in life at work and home, it’s not a race.
2. Re-negotiate roles at home.
Whilst on maternity leave you may have taken on the lion’s share of childcare and household chores; however, that isn’t sustainable when you go back to work. Decide upfront how you’re going to work as team.
3. Start as you mean to go on.
Be clear about your boundaries. If you need to leave at 5pm – leave at 5pm. If you’re taking a day of Parental Leave – take it. Avoid the temptation to work whilst your baby naps. Doing this only gives out mixed messages to your colleagues about what you can/can’t do.
4. Have a conversation with your line manager.
Talk to them about how you’re going to handle things when your baby gets sick (because they will get unwell). Decide whether you can work from home or not. Will you make up your hours? How will you and your partner balance it between you? It’s better to be ahead of the game then panic on your second week back when you have to ring your boss to say you can’t come in.
I have found over the last number of years that once parents find a balance whether that be creating rituals, routines and a way that encourages everyone, it is a comfort and a relief in itself. Different working schedules with an age range of children bring different needs. What is necessary to take into account is creating a work-life balance that will work for you and your family.
Remember to be kind to yourself. It’s really important to look after you and your own wellbeing. The more relaxed and content you are as a person and a parent, the more present and recharged you will be for you and your children.
This may mean paying extra attention to how you manage your own work and home time, I know this is easier said than done but sometimes when we take ourselves out of a pressurised situation it gives us an opportunity to look at what’s best for us and our family.