What I’ve learnt about returning to work after parental leave

returning-to-work-after-parental-leave

By Michelle Christie

Yesterday Mother’s Day was celebrated in many countries, and today it is the International Day of Families. These are occasions for all of us to pause and reflect on our own families and the people who are most important to us. 

I know that my own priorities certainly changed when I became a parent last year. My baby daughter can’t look after herself, so making sure she has everything that she needs is now the most important thing for my husband and me. That includes managing our working lives around childcare and family time, and making sure we’re all fed and clothed.

That sense of priority really helped me when I returned to work after parental leave. If you’re clear on what really matters – and where you are prepared to compromise – it makes the transition much smoother. 

To assist parents who are returning to work, I have put together this checklist. It’s informed by my own personal experience, as well as insights from the many professionals I have advised during my 10+ years working in recruitment. Feel free to share your feedback, and add tips of your own, via LinkedIn.

1. Don’t be a stranger

Stay in touch with your employer while you are on parental leave. Depending on your comfort level, there are lots of ways you might do that: Pop in to see your colleagues with the new baby. And/or organise off-site coffee catch ups with colleagues. And/or attend work events or functions.

2. Talk, talk, talk

As any parent will tell you, it can be tricky securing childcare to suit your work plans. The earlier you begin planning, the better your chances will be. So, talk to other parents about childcare providers and how they manage this. Talk with your husband, wife or partner to work out exactly what your childcare requirements may be. And before you lock anything in, talk to your employer too. With a bit of advance notice, many employers will offer some flexibility for working parents, to fit around childcare drop offs and pick ups. 

3. Be kind to yourself

If you hadn’t been running for six months, you wouldn’t go and run a marathon. Instead, you’d gradually build up your fitness. The same principle applies with returning to work. On day one, you don’t necessarily have to go directly from maternity leave in to full-time work. Consider easing yourself back in part-time, to adjust back into the working environment, and build up from there. This is the approach I took and it made all the difference to my transition going back to work as a mum.

4. Be honest with yourself

Once you do start back at work, you’ll get the chance to test your organisational skills like never before! You have seven days in every week to feed everyone, keep family commitments, share some romance, enjoy a social life, clean the home, stay fit, commute, and perform at work. It’s impossible to be perfect at everything. So be honest with yourself, work out what your priorities are, and learn to compromise on the ‘nice-to-haves’. Which leads us to the next tip…

5. Outsource

Nobody in the world can work full time and be at home full time too. So, cut yourself some slack. Consider outsourcing a few things. Maybe the dry cleaners could take care of your ironing for a few months, or perhaps the local takeaway could deliver your dinner on Friday nights. Personally, I’m thinking it might be time to employ the services of a cleaner to tidy the house once-a-week!

On a final note, I would say that being a working parent is incredibly rewarding. My professional life and family life are both a labour of love. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s always perfect. But if I had one word of advice for parents who are returning to work it would be this: Prioritise.

Michelle Christie is Director at Robert Walters in South Australia.

 

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