It’s rare that your life, and let’s face it, your whole self, changes as dramatically and as quickly as it does when you welcome a baby into the world. After several months comfortably cocooned in a sleep deprived love bubble with only your pint-sized CEO to answer to, it’s little wonder that returning to the workplace after maternity leave can be scary and tough.
I have recently returned to work after the birth of my second child Bodhi, so I understand some of the challenges that returning to the workplace after maternity leave can throw at you. Based on my own experience, I’ve compiled a few key things you may wish to consider if you’re in the same boat.
Nurseries and other childcare providers often have limited availability so the earlier you book a space, the better. By arranging a few settling in sessions before you return to work, not only will your baby be better adjusted when they start, you’ll probably to feel more secure leaving your precious bundle for a few hours. If eligible, you may be able to save 20% on your childcare costs by registering for the government’s Tax-Free Childcare scheme.
Whilst on the topic of childcare, when your baby is new to a setting, they’ll pick up every germ going, so be prepared for an initial 3- 6 months of snotty, pukey misery. Buy Calpol. All of it.
Believe it or not, it’s normal to get FOMO from normal office life during mat leave. Keeping in touch (KIT) days are a great way to keep in with the team. Some employees can work up to 10 paid days (20 days for Shared Parental Leave) during their leave, just ask your HR representative if this is an option for you.
I participated in a less formal version of KIT Days which involved pub lunches and curry nights with Talent Locker, which I also wholly recommend! Maintaining a level of contact with my team really made the thought of returning less overwhelming.
If you’re petrified at the prospect of how you and your baby will adjust to the new routine, a phased return to the workplace might also help. Some organisations offer this option as standard. Otherwise, you could ask to use your annual leave to work a shorter week for the first month or two or reduce your hours on a temporary basis to help you adapt.
To help balance your job with your family or childcare needs (and perhaps for the sake to your own sanity) flexible working also could be an option for you. All employees are entitled to request changes to their hours of work, days or work or place of work after they have been with the company for at least 26 weeks. You should make a written application and think carefully about how it would work in your role. Many employers are happy to negotiate new terms with returning parents.
Back to work plan
The initial days of returning can be emotionally, mentally and physically draining, that coupled with a touch of baby brain (yes, it’s really “a thing”) may make it tricky to absorb heaps of information and you may struggle get your groove back. Ask your boss for a comprehensive handover and back to work plan and schedule regular reviews to agree short-term objectives and to talk about your longer-term career plans.
On a practical note, if you’re breastfeeding at the point of returning, be sure to check that your workplace can provide a clean, private room, access to a fridge and time off to express.
The dark cloud of shame commonly referred to as ‘mum guilt’ will have you believe that your life is now 100% about your offspring. In reality, it’s vital to plan time for self-care to recharge. This will help reduce mental stress and the chance of burnout. Making a plan that incorporates at least a bit of ‘you time’ in your new, back to work routine may help with this. Treat yourself to a lunch break massage or even just take a walk. That precious 30 minutes of dependant free time might just feel like a luxury spa holiday.
Be kind (to yourself)
Being a working parent is far from easy. Juggling a new routine of keeping a tiny person alive, still attempting to smash it at work, and possibly a sprinkling of hormonal fluctuations thrown in for good measure, will at times, fool you in to believing that you feel like you’re failing. You can’t be all things to all people, all of the time. So, it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself and most importantly exercise self-compassion and be kind to yourself.
These are just a few of my takings. No two situations are the same and ultimately only you know what’s best for you and your family. There’s government support available (inclusive of shared parental leave, surrogacy, and adoption) that can help offer flexibility for how you manage your leave and return to work.
Your HR representative and employer can also work with you to get a suitable plan in place and hopefully make the adjustment a little easier so don’t be too proud to ask for help or advice.
You’ve got this.
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