There are a lot of conversations in social media and in the workplace about preparing for maternity leave, but I noticed there weren’t many discussions about what it was like to come back. For some, this is the biggest challenge. And it is an essential one to overcome if we are to have a truly gender-equal workforce at all career levels.
I hope my journey of returning to work after my second period of maternity leave will inspire others. And, not just those who leave for maternity or paternity; whatever the reason for a period of leave, coming back to work can be thrilling and daunting at the same time. Here are my five top tips:
- It’s normal to feel a mixture of excitement and guilt at coming back to work. Remember the emotions you felt on your first day back at school after summer break? The butterflies in your stomach, seeing classmates you haven’t spoken to recently and playing ‘catch up’? Adults can experience the same combination of nerves, excitement, and even guilt when returning to work after a leave of absence. This is normal – don’t worry about it, just jump right in.
- Make sure family time is quality, device-free time. Try not to be checking your laptop or mobile too often. Guilt comes from both directions, unfortunately, you feel guilty when you return to work and seeing your team who has been hustling in your absence, and guilty to leave your family at home to work. For your family, what’s essential is that you make the most of the time you have with the kids outside work. You’ll miss them during the day, so when it’s the evening or the weekend, set clear boundaries and focus on that precious family time.
- Don’t expect things to go perfectly smoothly – children, and parents, are pretty unpredictable things. We try to prepare for all scenarios, but sometimes issues cannot be foreseen. Expect something to mess up even the most perfectly laid plan and you’ll be less stressed when it does.
- Have a chat with your manager when you come back. Set expectations up front and make sure you have some flexibility over the first few days or few weeks while you’re adjusting.
- It’s definitely worth it! And achievable. If Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s first female prime minister can do it – you can too.