What to expect at work and at home?

Time flies when you are home with your baby – is it the new family member that demands your constant attention or the fact that your days look similar, Monday through Sunday?
What in the beginning seems like an endless battle of sleepless nights and the marriage of unconditional love and exhaustion, soon becomes a routine – and before you know it, your leave is up and you are getting ready to go back to work. What to expect? How to balance parenthood and professional life?

It’s such a personal experience that no one can give you a script to follow.

It’s also pointless to compare yourself with other women as each of us has unique motivations, value systems, beliefs, as well as opportunities to hire child care. We all have different aspirations – for some going back to work ASAP is required if they want to keep their jobs, for others there is more flexibility.

How do you navigate the new waters of your life? Here are some things to consider (as much as they seem obvious, you may not have thought about them in the first months when you are still recovering physically and psychologically).

Before you go back:

  • Keep in touch days – some companies offer (paid) KIT days – for instance in the UK you can use up to 10 days to go back to work during your leave to attend important meetings / conferences / trainings – only if you wish to do so. Some women find it easier to stay in touch every couple of months instead of taking a full break.
  • Bring your baby to work – to ‘familiarize’ your team with your new life and the fact that you are now a mom!.
  • Plan your new routine and figure out the logistics – have your baby stay with your nanny or in crèche a little earlier, and have Plan B, just in case the baby (or the nanny) gets sick.
  • Start back midweek – Wednesday is perfect as the weekend is just around the corner.
  • Consider any flexible arrangements possible – such as working from home or working 4 days a week. Some women use a part of their holidays to have Fridays off for a period of time to help them adjust.
  • Have your support group – it won’t be the easiest thing and there may be a time when you’ll want to quit, and maybe you eventually will. Have someone to talk to who has been through similar things and can assure you it will  get better and easier.
  • Consider maternity coaching.

Once you are back – Work Life:

  • Going back and taking control over your old responsibilities may make you feel anxious and uncomfortable – after all your work was performed by someone else when you were away. How to handle that? Take some time to dive deeper into your role, acknowledge eveyone involved in doing your work (and thank them!) and find out as much as possible about the new improvements and developments. You have a unique opportunity to think outside of the box and maybe add some useful solutions given both your experience and your time away. It may be more tricky if your colleagues assume the responsibilities are now theirs – especially when there are clients involved. Think about your motivation to take them back. If you genuinely love that then you should be able to reclaim them. If not, maybe it’s a chance to move towards a different role?
  • Dealing with the impostor syndrome is especially tricky after an extended career break. Women often suffer in silence – it’s the elephant in the room as all the mothers go through similar challenges, some hiding it better than others. Try being open about your difficulties and ask colleagues / managers / mentors or coaches for help. We feel guilty if we negotiate some flexible arrangements and try to overcompensate by working late or saying yes to additional projects. It’s a short-sighted strategy as it may soon leave you feeling burned out.
  • Scaling back may be a good option for a short while. Instead of taking on as many tasks as you used to have, how about you commit to say 70% and take it from there? Or work 4 instead of 5 days a week? It may be a good solution if you still don’t think you can perform your best. Science shows that women who are too ambitious as soon as they are back are at a greater risk of quitting their jobs soon as they feel overwhelmed. Something has to give and it doesn’t have to be you nor your career.
  • Being strategic about your visibility during and after your maternity leave. While on maternity leave it’s a good idea to keep in touch with some of your colleagues – it doesn’t mean working, simply grabbing a coffee or lunch. Women miss out on many opportunities as people assume they lost a big part of their ambition (we can blame the numbers – many women in-deed lose the interest in career progression), however if it’s not your case make sure to connect with the right people. It will also make it easier if you need to scale back later on – having your manager’s back is always helpful.
  • Letting go of perfectionsism – this one doesn’t need to be explained. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to recover and find balance in your new life again.

Life at home:

  • Feeling GUILTY. Ask any mother and you will hear about some sort of guilt. It’s not a rational feeling, and it’s very helpful to be specific (even writing down): why do I feel this way? It’s often our social conditioning and the roles women are supposed to fulfill that stop them from enjoying their lives a little more. It could be the fact that their babies aren’t with them at all times – but then diversity is good for their development, whether they are in crèche or with a caretaker (of course you make sure to find the best one!). It could be that you feel exhausted after working two shifts – and don’t have enough help at home. How about asking your partner to truly participate, not only help? Or hiring someone who can do it for you? It’s fascinating for me that there are rarely fathers who are overwhelmed with guilt. I know that biology is important and women are wired to feel more attached to their kids, however I feel that such a massive difference in how we feel is at least partly explained by our expectations. Men are expected to go to work and provide for their families, and as such they are free from guilt and can still be fantastic parents.It takes a village to raise a child, doesn’t it?
  • Quality, not quantity – the research shows that in any relationship – and the one we care about the most here is with our child – being fully present is the key. Children notice when you are on your phone or simply distracted. If you don’t have a lot of time use your weekends or evenings to connect with them. They’ll feel seen and acknowledged and you’ll know that you are not missing out on who they are becoming (as they grow so fast).
  • Having a real partner is so important – and if he can’t help enough, paying someone to do so. Many women complain that they don’t have their partner’s support and end up doing the lion’s share of housework. Don’t risk running flat on energy – and get ready before it gets too difficult.