Childcare booked – check. Return to work date agreed – check. Sense of calm and wellbeing? Not quite there yet.
Going back to work after maternity leave is a time of mixed emotions for many mothers – for some it’s a worry, for some, it’s exciting. And for most, it’s a lot from column A and a little from column B.
Among the many worries: what childcare should I choose? What if my child doesn’t settle in crèche? What if I’ve forgotten how to do my job? What if my job has forgotten me? And how on earth will I manage the morning rush, the commute, the drop-off, the pick-up, the dinner, the bed-time – and oh yes, the small matter of the job?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But there are practical tips that can help to make life easier, before, during and after the transition back to work.
1. The final countdown
It’s not earth-shattering, it’s not exciting, but it’s all down to planning:
- Plan your return date – maybe don’t go back on a Monday. Have a shorter week for your first week back – ease in. It will be more manageable for you, and for the kids.
- Plan your new routine – what time do you need to leave the house in order to fit in a crèche drop? Think about adopting the routine that your childminder or crèche will follow so that your kids get used to set mealtimes and nap-times in advance.
- Plan for crèche-itis. It’s an unwritten rule that every child who starts at crèche will pick up an infection of some kind within the first few weeks. If you’ve just gone back to work, it’s awkward to ask for time off. So agree with your partner or a family member that they’ll take time off for the first few sicknesses, and take the pressure off yourself.
2. The confidence gap
Quite apart from the practicalities of childcare and the busy new routine at home, it can be a difficult transition in the workplace too. Many women find their confidence takes a dip when they go back to work. If someone else has been covering your work for the last year, it can be difficult to know where and how to fit back in. A feeling of being in limbo; of not having a home or a purpose or a value. Some tips that can help avoid that confidence dip:
- Stay in touch with work – not every week, not even every month but whatever feels comfortable to you, and enough to ensure that you don’t have The Fear when going back. If possible, meet with colleagues for lunch or have a coffee with your boss a few weeks before going back – it can make that first day far less daunting.
- Give yourself time to settle back – leave your out-of-office response switched on for the first day or two, so that you have a chance to read e-mails and re-acquaint yourself with the world of work, before people start to look for you again. They managed without you for months so another day or two won’t hurt.
- Don’t fake it till you make it – if you’re experiencing a confidence dip, and especially if there are new projects or processes in place, this is your one chance to ask questions, to admit you don’t have all the information. You’ve been out of the office for months; nobody will be surprised that you are out of touch with what’s going on at work and need an update.
- This is also a chance to re-confirm or re-define your role if necessary. Meet your boss and ask for some guidance – knowing what’s expected of you will remove uncertainty and build confidence. Should you be aiming to slot back in where you left off, or is this a time to make a change? But only do this if you are open to whatever change your boss suggests! It may suit your new parental responsibilities to stick with your previous role; to stay under the radar for a few months.
3. The practical stuff in the home
Over time, parents pick up tricks to make life easier, and while there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, there are some tips that work in most households:
- Get everything ready the night before – school-lunches, crèche bags, outfits for children, clothes for you. Tasks that take five minutes at night somehow become much more daunting during a rushed morning, especially after a sleepless night.
- Have a dinner plan – maybe eat at lunchtime if your kids eat at crèche, or batch cook at the weekend, or buy a slow-cooker, or find some easy-to-prepare recipes that won’t keep you or your partner tied to the kitchen during the small window between work and kids’ bedtime.
- Get a cleaner if you can, do your groceries online, and stock up on essentials like socks and underwear for the kids, so that an inability to get to the bottom of the laundry basket doesn’t cause Monday-morning stress.
Don’t let housework and cooking eat into time with your kids any more than is necessary – your house might not be spotless, but you’ll feel better in the long-run.
4. Supersize your lunchtime
Back at work, there are lots of things you can get done at lunchtime, to free up time at home:
- Do your online grocery shopping, your online banking, or much nicer; book a holiday
- Get those health insurance claims in, book kids’ medical appointments
- Do something for yourself – get your hair done, take a Pilates class, go for a walk or a run,
Or just do something you can’t do at home anymore; read a book with a hot cup of tea.
5. Be good to yourself
Going back to work after maternity leave can be exhilarating, but it can be challenging. So you need to look after yourself, in the midst of taking care of your children and doing your job.
- Sleep: staying up late on Facebook might be fun at midnight but it won’t help you at 6am, and it especially won’t help if your child doesn’t sleep through the night.
- Relax: don’t plan lots of big nights out or commit to weekends away for the first couple of weeks back at work – it’s easier to keep it to just work and home, and build the social life back in later.
- Treat: if coffee is your thing, a mid-morning cappuccino could be your new ritual, or a Friday night take-away or Saturday afternoon cake.
- Talk: connect with others in the same situation – trying to balance work and home. You may find tips that you can try, or you may just find it therapeutic to know you’re not the only one juggling.
- Shop: nothing aids return to work like new clothes. Shallow maybe, but almost universally true.
And most of all, give yourself a break. If you need to leave Peppa Pig on a bit longer so that you can have a cup of tea and breathe deeply for a few minutes, do it. If you need to promise chocolate to a roaring pre-schooler so that you’re not late for work, the world won’t end. We’re not in this for the parenting prizes – it’s OK to just muddle through – we all need to give ourselves a break sometimes and take the path of least resistance.