All good things must come to an end and spending hours watching your baby smile and giggle while on maternity leave is no different. Babies don’t stay babies forever and there are bills to be paid! The return to work after maternity leave can be a scary thing. You might have been out of the work for a year or more. Your circumstances have changed and likely so has your workplace. As an HR Manager in a previous life, I often saw the return to work situation handled so poorly but I also saw it handled perfectly. To help you have a smooth transition back into the workplace, and have a good return to work experience, I have a few simple tips…
Know your maternity leave and return to work rights
We’ve all heard many a tale of women being discriminated against upon returning to work after maternity leave. The sad reality is that this does happen. But the best weapon you have is knowing your rights. In Australia we are lucky to have such generous provisions around maternity leave and return to work so familiarising yourself with these is an important first step. Fair Work Australia is your first port of call to understanding your rights. Do some research so you go into any return to work conversations with your employer knowing exactly where you stand.
Ditch the guilt around care
As I walked out of the daycare centre on the first day of dropping off my daughter, I pulled my sunglasses down over my eyes to cover my tears. What if she hated it? What if something happened and I wasn’t there to help here? What if I was making the wrong decision? Two years later and she is thriving, learning new things every day and developing social skills with her friends. Whether your child is in a daycare centre, family daycare, or being looked after by a nanny or other family member, ditch any guilt you might carry about not being there with them. As long as you know they are safe and well cared for, there is no need for guilt!
Focus on yourself
Returning to work can help mums in so many ways. Reclaiming your identity as a woman and not just a mum. Spending time with peers and gaining mental stimulation from your work. If you have a commute to work, you can use this for things you love – reading, knitting or perhaps just sitting in the quiet of no one climbing all over you! So often as mums we spend all of our time focusing our attention on our family and their needs that we forget our own. Whether you are returning to your dream job or one you hate, try and look for ways that you can focus on yourself during your time away from your kids.
Be honest with yourself
If you aren’t honest with yourself about the realities of your situation and how that will change when you return to work then you are setting yourself up for failure or burn out. Ask yourself some questions: how many hours can I reasonably work each week and not burn out? How much of a pay cut can our family afford if I am to reduce my working hours? Is my employer supportive of me as a working mum? Is my partner and family support network supportive of me? You might not have as much choice in your return to work as these questions reveal you need, but by being honest with yourself, at least you can put plans in place.
Have a really solid plan in place
Think back to your first day in your last new job. How much did you plan for it? Perhaps you laid out your outfit the night before and triple checked the train timetable so you wouldn’t be late? Maybe you even popped a shiny new notebook in your bag in case you needed to take notes. But, as with anything mum life, a bit more planning is required when returning to work after maternity leave.
Likely while you have been on maternity leave you have taken on more of the household responsibility – will this need to change when you go back to work? Who will do daycare drop off/pick up? What happens when your little one gets sick? What steps can you put in place to make mornings run more smoothly to get out the door on time? And what about things you can do to unwind at night? Thinking ahead and making changes were needed will put you on the right foot from day one. You might not get it right straight away but taking some steps to predict challenges and changes is the way to start.
Take it easy
You might be feeling happy about the thought of returning to work or it might be filling you with anxiety and dread. Either way, be kind to yourself and give yourself time to settle back in. Things change quite rapidly in the workplace and while you have been on maternity leave you have probably changed also. Even if you have remained in contact with your workplace and are across changes, the transition can take time. Focus on why you are there to help you get through the day away from your babe. Whether it is simply to pay the bills or because you love your job. An open mind will also help!
Are you returning to work after maternity leave? What concerns do you have? Have you already done a maternity leave return to work? What other tips would you add?
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