Returning to Work After A Baby: Tips & Experiences
Having a baby is a funny old thing. In the eyes of some, you immediately age about 50 years, but, in your head, you feel just as young as you ever did. It’s just now you’re responsible for this little human...that you grew inside you, all by yourself, which in itself should seem so natural, but it still feels very surreal, and a little bit like something out of an Alien film when I look at my 1 year old son and think about how he used to live in my tummy!
How Things Change
I knew having a baby would change things but everyone failed to mention just how much. I spent so much time preparing for labour and the actual birth that I hadn’t given much thought to what happens afterwards. I thought breastfeeding would be plain sailing because it’s so natural. How could something so natural be so bloody hard?!
That first week at home was hell. The weird thing is that the bit I found hardest was our flat being untidy and the housework taking a backseat. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the rest of your life suddenly lacking any sense of order or certainty that you focus on the only elements that you do have any sort of control over. There’s something about a lack of sleep that also turns you in to an irrational, sobbing mess, unable to get much sense of perspective. You get the hang of things further down the line, and you learn to let go of the small stuff, but, boy, it’s a smack in the face to start with!
The other part of maternity leave that I weirdly found incredibly hard was suddenly not having my own money. Being self-employed, my maternity allowance payments stopped before I wanted to return to work. Although society has long supported the idea of a husband financially supporting their wife whilst they care for their child, it somehow felt incredibly odd to me. I’ve always been fairly independent and, to a point, spent my own money as I pleased. Suddenly, I felt ‘owned’, ‘controlled’ and restricted in a way I’d never experienced before. Spending someone else’s money had me feeling like a child again for some reason - a very uncomfortable feeling when you’re a 35 year old looking after a baby!
Returning to Work
Fast forward a few months and it was time to think about returning to work. I wanted to start using my brain again, and be doing something just for myself. It also felt like an opportunity to get back to the old me, and, more importantly, earn my own money again. There are very few times in your life that you get to stop working for a substantial period of time. Maternity or paternity leave is one of those few occasions where you actually have the opportunity to step back and think about your career up till now, and what you want from the future. For me, the break from work offered me the time and space to realign my coaching business to focus solely on career change, as opposed to the more general life/career coaching I’d been doing before, which I’d started to not enjoy as much anymore.
It took me a while to get to a place where I felt OK about returning to work though. There’s something about not working for nearly a year that really impacts your confidence in your abilities. I remember walking along the Thames with my son in his buggy a while back, looking at Canary Wharf in the distance and feeling so unbelievably alone and completely removed from the workplace. The thought of walking in to an office full of people working hard on their computers, or sitting around a table talking in a meeting, felt incredibly daunting. I felt very out of touch, and I wondered what on earth I’d be able to contribute to the workplace these days. My brain felt like mush, barely able to string a sentence together for constantly watching the clock trying to work out when the next feed or nap was due. I doubt any boardroom would be interested in hearing that story! I felt I’d lost faith in my ability to rejoin the ‘real’ world.
Perfect Time For A Career Change?
My time away from work also got me thinking about what it must be like for those of you who are due to return to a job that you never really liked in the first place. Returning to work is hard enough - I can’t imagine the dread of returning to a career that you don’t even like. I remember a friend saying that she was so pleased to be pregnant because it meant she wouldn’t have to go to work for a while. That’s one way of stopping the Monday morning dread I guess!
I imagine being on maternity or paternity leave could be the perfect time to think about a career change. Having a baby can really help you see what’s most important to you in life, what you really value, and what you want from your future. Starting to consider these things make the perfect back-drop to reconsidering your career options. If this is you, get in touch and see how I can help you on this journey.
Tips for Returning to Work
So, what would my tips be for making a return to work easier?
- Push for, and make the most of, your keeping-in-touch days. Visit the office, say hi to the team, and catch up on what’s been going on business wise and socially. It’ll help you feel more in touch with the place so it doesn’t feel so foreign when you return to work.
- Chat to your manager about any concerns you have in the run up to your return. Discuss your childcare arrangements and figure out a plan for how to make it work. It might be that flexible or part-time working becomes an option.
- Talk to your partner and/or family members about how things might need to change when you return to work. Discuss what you both might need to do differently in your daily routines to make your return to work smoother. You might have a lot on your mind to begin with so anything that can ease the transition is bound to help. Think about childcare drop-off/collection times, and who will leave the office if you’re little one is ill and they suddenly need looking after etc.
For the employer:
- Give those on Leave the opportunity to meet new members of the team on a regular basis. Many of their old colleagues might’ve left by the time they return to work. Invite them to social events, team events, away days etc whilst they’re on Leave to give them a chance to stay in touch, feel included, and in-the-know about the business.
- Offer Career Coaching over their first few months back. This can provide a safe, confidential space to discuss unexpected concerns and work on any areas they want to develop.
- Check in regularly to see how they’re doing. See how they’re feeling about things, and discuss whether anything needs adapting further down the line to make things easier to balance.
- Be flexible. You might find that those returning to work are anxious or worried about their little one starting nursery, and leaving them for the first time. They might be concerned about letting colleagues down if their baby gets ill and they need to stay at home or suddenly leave early to pick them up. They might feel guilty that they have to leave work early each day to make pick-up time. They might be shattered from being awake all night with their little one, but might not say anything to you for fear of being judged. Try and be aware of everything they might be juggling just so they can get to work each day, and try to be flexible and understanding in your approach to managing them.
My little one is just over a year old now. I have no idea where the year has gone but it’s been a fascinating learning curve that’s opened me up to new experiences, and forced me to develop and adapt my thinking in ways I’d never imagined. Long may the journey continue.
Alice is a Career Change Coach for those who want to find a fulfilling career that’s right for them, and that they’ll enjoy. Her coaching is perfect for parents returning to work who want to change career but aren’t sure what they want to do next. Get in touch on 0754 559 2909 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to book an introductory session.
Last year, I was at a breaking point, with my brain going madly in circles. It was draining and exhausting. With Alice’s guidance and the exercises in place, I very quickly discovered where my interests, strengths and values lie – and realised the limitations I was setting on myself. Even amidst the global pandemic, I somehow managed to set up a new business, with many other exciting projects in the pipeline. Thank you, Alice!