The Founder of Works for Everyone, Emma Mclean, shared some ideas with us on how to navigate returning to work after becoming a parent. It is a unique and transformational time in your life. As both a working mother of three children and a career coach for mums going back to work, Emma knows from her own first-hand experience and her client’s insights that working and having a family is hard. But there are things we can do to take back the control and make the experience of going back to work easier.
The thought of returning to work after having a baby can fill your mind with a lot of questions. Can I even do my job anymore? What does it mean if I don’t love my job anymore? Can I be a good parent and be a good employee? Will my baby adjust to day care? How will they keep their sleep routine going? How is this all going to work? It can feel exhausting to have all these thoughts running around your head. And you haven’t even gone back to work yet. If you have similar thoughts in your head, take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone. Having a baby and returning to work is a transformational time in your life. It is like riding a rollercoaster, you’ll have good days, even great days and you’ll also have days where the wheels just fall off. It is a time for you to dig deep into your self-compassion and keep moving forward.
Play To Your Strengths. If you find yourself having a confidence wobble when thinking about returning to work, the quickest way to move through that feeling is to play to your strengths. Remind yourself of your strengths and make sure that your first few weeks are all about leaning into those strengths. Strengths are those things that when you use them, you feel like the best version of yourself. They are the things that you are both good at and you enjoy doing it. Have a think about what your strengths are and start to write them down in a journal. Sometimes it is hard to think about what your own strengths are, so to stimulate your thinking, ask yourself:
- What do people at work compliment me on? This will give you big clues as to your strengths.
- Can you remember a time at work when you felt the happiest? What strengths were in play?
- What things so you enjoy doing so much that they don’t even feel like work?
Share The Load. It is true that women can do anything but what is also true is that we can’t do everything. If you have been the person running the daily operations of the home, that unpaid work does not go away when you go back to paid work. If you are parenting alone, this transition back to work is going to be a change that you’ll need support with. Think about how you could share the load with friends and family. Are there ways to share pick-ups and drop-offs? Do not be afraid of asking for help and being specific about what would be helpful. As Brenè Brown says – “clear is kind, unclear in unkind”. If you have a partner at home, then this is the time when you need to take your inspiration from the word, partner. A partner shares things equally. Going back to work is a great opportunity talk about the unpaid work that happens at home and how this will be shared out amongst you both. Unpaid work to divide up includes: laundry, cooking, groceries, pick-ups and drop-offs at daycare, meal planning, dishes, cleaning, calendar organisation, and other tasks. Unpaid work is incredible important work in a family but we don’t talk about it enough. It is almost invisible and we need to make it visible through conversations. These conversations can be tricky but lean into them as otherwise you may start to resent feeling like you are the only one starting a second shift when you walk in the door with a crying baby at 5.30pm every night.
Check Your Expectations. Through Emma’s work she has observed that the expectations that present problems for her clients are the ones they have for themselves. Often they imagine that their manager has high expectations of them and they worry that they are not meeting them. But when you dig a bit deeper, these expectations are actually coming from themselves. If you are worried about expectations and whether you are doing a good job, the quickest way to solve this is to ask your manager. Schedule a catch-up with them when you first get back to understand what their expectations are of you, what outcomes they need from the role and how you can seek feedback from them on a regular basis. If you still do hear those words of doubt, it is good to remind yourself that some of the most productive, creative and fantastic leaders are working mothers, so you’ve got this.
Returning to work is a transformational time in our lives. It is hard. Share how you are feeling with your colleagues, friends and family. Talking about how hard it is may not make it any easier but it will help you to feel less alone. There will be ups and there will be downs, the main thing to do is to hold your course. You’ve got this.
Emma Mclean, Founder, Works for Everyone