4 Tips for Successfully Returning to Work after Maternity Leave
It’s not uncommon to have a bit of anxiety when it’s time to go back to work after maternity leave. A lot of changes have taken place. Maybe your professional life adds more stress to your life as a mother. Or perhaps you’re just dying to return to your old self when you were diving into your professional life, and though motherhood feels great, you need other ways to stimulate that brainpower. Whatever the case may be, here are some tips on making your return more successful and less stressful.
1. Make your self-care a priority
I’m willing to bet that you’re known for taking good care of everyone around you—your family, friends, coworkers, etc. You probably take their needs seriously and do whatever it takes to meet them. Who watches the watch(wo)man then?
Taking care of yourself first is a non-negotiable need, a priority you must make, especially as all the mental clutter from work adds up to the space. Protect your precious self, your mental health. Take the time to recharge your batteries and to regenerate. Daily. Think about it this way: How could you be of service to anyone else in the world if you’re in no condition to do it? Remember, you have to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others. The same principle applies here. So, take good care of yourself, what you eat, how you sleep. Bring some movement into your routine and make time for it. Your future self will thank you for this.
Finally, don’t forget to take your vacations—mandatory breaks you must be diligent about taking to preserve your sanity.
2. Get ready to roll on the emotional roller coaster
Changes may trigger many emotions: fear, imposter syndrome, guilt about leaving your baby for an extended period could be experienced. So, it’s crucial that you get on self-appreciation and self-love because some emotions might be uncomfortable to deal with. Make the space for them, acknowledge them, sit a while with them and remember your why, to be able to process those feelings adequately. And don’t try to figure it all at once, take your time and rest in the knowledge you are doing the best you can, for yourself and your family.
I deal with mom’s guilt by reminding myself I’m showing my children that being a working mama means being able to live a fulfilled life outside of being their mom; I’m setting high standards for both of them. Being a mom makes me more qualified to go after what I want. And those end-of-day rituals—another non-negotiable—with your kids make up (a little bit) for it.
3. Ask for help—and accept it
You have to be open to accepting help, even if it’s not in the way you expect it. It’s about what gets done, not how it gets done. Allowing myself to ask and accept help when I need it has helped me to get more done, ease stress, and expose my family to different ways of doing things. It definitely takes a village.
Some organizations are already good at proposing gradual returns to work for their employees. If you are not so lucky in your current organization, I suggest you work with your leadership team/HR to craft a schedule that could work for you, to support and accommodate you.
One example of accommodation is working remotely. This is crucial for working parents. It could be that you’re still breastfeeding, or you still want to be hands-on with your little one for a while. Another example is coming back to work gradually. Maybe you could start part-time for a month and full-time thereafter. Or rearrange your schedule to include time dedicated to your childcare needs. Flexible work schedules allow room for things to change in an instant and were lifesavers during the pandemic when juggling remote schooling with full-time jobs became the norm.
A third example is creating a support system both at and outside of work. Maybe you could share parenting responsibilities with your partner and/or delegate—from time to time—to extended family, close friends, nannies services, etc. Find a way that works well for you and your family when it comes to the distribution of labor, to avoid little grudges that could in time become big issues. And at work, make sure to build a solid network. I know of a group of parents at an organization that came together to help their HR teams revise their policies and accommodate not only parents but also caretakers. So, don’t hesitate to leverage your voice and experience to amplify the message, if given the opportunity.
4. Be ready for changes—which bring new beginnings
It may be your first return to work after maternity leave or your fourth one. I guarantee you that every time will feel different. I’m convinced that being a mom adds worth and value, especially to organizations. We bring transferable skills to the table that could apply to pretty much every work, tasks, or projects we’re currently on—you know, skills like patience, outside-the-box thinking, empathy, and fairness. And adding to those, dedication, focus, and excellent time management makes us working mamas ideal employees.
Being a mom doesn't mean we don't have career ambitions or would neglect our work. We are definitely masters at juggling multiple priorities at once. We just need a world with fewer stereotypes and more understanding for the times when we have to pivot at the very last minute—a sick child anyone?
However you feel about change, give yourself a lot of grace and go easy on yourself. A gradual change is definitely more manageable than a sudden one. And don’t forget, you’re a mom, rest assured that nothing—okay, very few things—phases you. You got this!
Gladys Simen is a life coach for moms trying to balance their work and family lives. She is a life enthusiast who has lived in five different countries, mastered two languages, and changed several professions. It took becoming a fabulous mama for her to tap into some big superpowers within herself. Formerly a quiet introvert, Gladys is now passionate about helping women live big, beautiful, shooting-for-the-stars kind of lives. Gladys considers herself an advocate for the working mama, and you can connect with her via her LinkedIn. You can also visit her blog to read her thoughts on parenting life as a working mother, or schedule a free curiosity call to create or reinforce an existing plan to transition back to work after maternity leave.