The working parent… return to work tips…
Returning to work after any time away can be daunting… I have experienced this twice in recent years, taking two 12 month breaks after welcoming my kids into the world.
The first time around was probably the biggest shock to the system… that first foray into parenthood is like nothing else: the change from being child-free with all of the flexibility, spontaneity and time that is yours to suddenly working around and prioritizing the schedule of your (unpredictable and ever changing) little human and greatest love. It is all encompassing and just as you are getting the hang of it you suddenly have to make it work alongside managing and enjoying a busy career again.
Here are some ideas to help make the transition easier:
Childcare - the choices are huge, you need to do your research and work out what is going to be the best fit for you in terms of your values, your budget and the logistics. Daycare close to home or close to work, au-pair, in-home care, relatives – getting this right will make your day run a whole lot smoother and help to alleviate worries about being away from your little one. You may need to tweak things as you go if something isn’t working and that is okay too.
Communication – being able to bring your authentic self to work is really important for your mental health - you don’t have to be superhuman and it is okay to let people know if you are finding the transition difficult or if you are dealing with a week of no sleep. Perhaps trialing different ways of working, or different hours could be a great idea to ensure you are as happy and therefore effective as you can be – both at work and at home. This cannot happen without a lot of open communication with your manager and team as well as your personal support network.
Work / Life Balance – does this really exist? Being a parent and being an employee/colleague are both elements of who you are – there are times when one or the other will take a lead. The trick is having the flexibility to be able to switch between both as seamlessly as possible and integrate them when you need to. Whether it is juggling a child who is unwell, making it to that important school assembly, the huge work project that needs more of your time or the early morning meeting – it will be a case of give and take to fit it all in and make it happen. In 2020, I would like to think most workplaces encourage a culture that recognizes you for more than just the role you play in their business and support who you are outside of work just as much.
Self-care – a big learning for me was to not neglect time for myself, especially in the early days when it just felt like there was no time between looking after a young child and trying my best to achieve at work. Finding some time to exercise (even if it is literally a 10-minute walk in the fresh air at lunchtime) and eating well will help both mentally and physically. Making the effort to join in on work social events will help you to remember who you were before kids came along too (and is heaps of fun!).
Being a working parent is ultimately going to be different to your pre-child life - but that is okay and if anything, it can be better than it was before! Developing an ability to structure your day and week effectively to fit more in and to allow you to enjoy a great homelife is for the most part a huge positive…yes there will be days or weeks when it feels really difficult but with perseverance, communication and an acceptance of the changes it can and will work for you, your family and your career.