Whether you plan on returning to work 10 days or 3 years post birth, be prepared to ride the highs and the lows that will come. Here I hope to share just some of the wisdom I have gained from doing it myself and of course, the advice that I in turn received, from the countless woman who have done it before me.
#1 Get Your House in Order
With your time more precious than ever, now is the time to tick off that long to-do list. If you don’t have a list – write one! Don’t procrastinate now, tackle 1 project at a time and try to not make the project too daunting, go for small wins. For instance, pack or giveaway toys & clothes that your child has outgrown, or perhaps organise toys and place in individual storage boxes, even better, freeze family meals (lasagna, meat balls, pasta sauce, puree fruit/vegetables) as back up dinners when you just can’t be bothered – which will be often!
#2 Decide upfront on your work boundaries
First things first, put you and your family as the #1 priority NOT your employer. Many companies offer flexibility for returning mums but the conversation needs to start from you. Get a clear idea on your working week, working part time, either permanently or over 6 months to ease back into a full 5 days. Also consider your work hours, don’t be constrained with a standard 9 to 5 working day, start early to finish early or work from home 1 day week. Then when you eventually start back, block out your calendar on the times that you aren’t in the office so that no-one books a meeting when you’re not around. People will soon get used to working to your timeframes and you will soon tune out those that don’t.
#3 Don’t Doubt Yourself – Have Confidence!
It’s likely that you won’t come back to the same people and dynamics that you left with. People and companies evolve so it will take time to settle back in and find your mojo again. Just remember, your intelligence hasn’t worsened in the time you’ve been with the kids, in fact, your emotional intelligence has improved out of sight. Wrangling and negotiating with kids is much harder than the office politics that you will soon face. To help the transition back it does pay to keep abreast of industry and company news, sometimes it’s as easy as staying on a subscriber list or meeting up with colleagues for coffee to keep in the know.
This is for the mum who wants to exclusively feed their child breast milk or mum’s that really weren’t expecting that weaning would take so long. First step is talk with your boss or HR on how they will support you expressing at work. Ideally there will be a private, lockable area (hopefully not the bathroom – it’s not pleasant) where you can relax and sit for your expressing session. Next, make sure your have a battery operated breast pump; a double pump wins over a single one, as it will get the job done twice as quick.
In all this preparation to return to work don’t forget about looking after yourself. Usually we place ourselves at the bottom of the to-do list and you end up suffering for it. Exercise does amazing things to release stress and happy endorphins, time your session either in your lunch break (it could be a walk around the block) or before the kids wake up in the morning – trust me it gets easier and sets you well for the day ahead – or when they go to bed. Then at the end of the work day follow what Elsa from Frozen sings so beautifully about, ‘Let it Go!’. Go home, forget about work and enjoy your beautiful family.
#6 Husband Help
Don’t wait until you go back to work to involve your husband in the day to day life of raising kids, start as soon as possible. Without both of you working as a team it will make life that little bit more stressful. Start by making sure he is confident looking after the kids by himself. Remember it’s not babysitting it’s parenting! Give him a chance to buy and cook dinner one night a week or shock horror put some loads of washing on, dry, fold and put away. Just remember to bite your tongue when it’s not done exactly to your liking, it may not be perfect but it’s better than not doing it all!
#7 Prioritise play time with the kids
I know it‘s hard but make a point of NOT looking at technology, emails or voicemails for a certain amount of time each day and across the weekend. Whilst it’s tempting to see what people want, it won’t kill them or you if you delay your response. When I do heed my own advice I get so much more out of my time with the kids, more giggles, smiles and happy memories that I can bank for when I’m having a bad day at work!
#8 Feel connected with your baby when you’re not around
When I left my first baby (at 5 months) to go back at work I found it absolutely heart breaking. I felt that I had left my right hand at home and all I wanted to know was what she was doing every second of the day. It was a wise friend that suggested I use a common daily diary (which I still have today as a keepsake) that the nanny, grandparents and nursery used. This diary detailed what she ate, drank, how long she slept and even her bowel movements! Some people may think it’s a bit much, a bit anal – but when I came home each night I loved looking in that little red book to check out what had happened and to prepare myself my the night ahead. I’ve even carried on the tradition and have a new book for my 2nd baby!
#9 Surround yourself with Inspiring Working Mums
A dear friend who was also on maternity leave introduced me to a fabulous melting pop of intelligent, inspiring mum’s, called “Mum’s Society”. Every month a brunch is held (with nanny’s to look after the kids!) where you could listen to inspiring women with kids that help guide you through this life of balancing home life with work life. Find the time to connect with other mum’s who you can relate to, either through your mother’s group, local play centers OR even join a fruit/veggie co-op! This can became your salvation and a source of unexpected good advice!
#10 Book a Holiday!
Time will pass you quickly and before you know it 6 months would have passed. The best thing I ever did was to start planning my first holiday before I went back to work. It gave me something to look forward to in those first couple of months and guaranteed some quality time as a family. Remember you have 4 weeks annual leave a year so use it!