What to pay attention to when you return to work after your maternity break

career development d&i strategies motherhood return to work self care working parents Feb 12, 2016

This is such a personal journey that there is no script to follow. There is no right or wrong way of balancing parenthood and professional life. Each person has their unique way of balancing the two, based on their own value system, needs, motivations and aspirations. The only criteria here is that you find your way, you understand your own value system, needs, motivations and aspirations; so that you design the best balance for yourself; so that you can thrive at home and at work!

Here are some tips to help you best navigate these new waters, where you become the queen of juggling and sharing yourself with many! Depending on how soon you return to work, also be aware that typically it takes 9 months for your body to return to normal, hormonally and physiologically.

As the Professional woman:

  • More than likely, your role was performed by one or many people in your absence. You wouldn’t be alone if you felt awkward taking back the controls. Start with speaking to those who stepped in, acknowledge and thank them for doing so, be curious as to any improvements they made and look at your role with ‘fresh eyes’. Are there any other improvements you would make now that you have the benefit of a break and a possibly new perspective? However it may be that colleagues who have assumed the responsibilities and/or clients/stakeholders in your absence; may not want to relinquish them. If this is the case, be clear on the outcome you want. Do you actually want those responsibilities back because you love them or is your dented pride driving the desire to take back the responsibilities? It could be a gift and a chance to step into something new if the latter. If you do like these responsibilities, then prepare before you have any conversations. Focus on the tasks/responsibilities rather than emotions, use open, positive language which allows the other person to feel acknowledged and co-create solutions. If it becomes more difficult, you will need to engage your Manager.
  • Having had the chance to reflect on your own professional aspirations, what do you need to commit to, to meet your own career goals? What conversations do you want to have and by when? Be kind and give yourself 4-6 weeks to adapt and reconcile your two worlds but then set some milestones for yourself – once you make a commitment to do something, then you will focus on doing so, without months slipping by and no action around your own goals. It is very important for women to believe that they can have a vision. Most women do not allow themselves to think that and yet it is empowering to know you have your own professional development plan and you are acting on it.
  • Successful women are often reluctant to share what they are struggling with. This may be because they or the culture of the organisation perceive it as a failure or weakness; it could be they don’t feel like they have someone they can trust or it may simply be that they don’t want to event start processing the emotional turmoil they may find themselves in. Firstly, be aware that you are not alone if this resonates! Post a maternity break, we frequently witness a decrease in an individual’s self-confidence, often reflected in less empowered decision-making and assertiveness on returning to work. The danger is that one will overcompensate for any flexibility requested, by delegate less and work hours late into the evening; thereby increasing the likelihood of overwhelm and burn-out. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap – talk to others (friends, colleagues, coach), find an internal mentor and sponsor, develop resilience skills, look to your self-care and find a way to overcome what the struggle is.

Post a maternity break, one of the biggest fears of female talent is losing visibility. Gain the skills of successful networking; so that you have the confidence to communicate your accomplishments, articulate your value proposition and create powerful conversations.

Life at home:

  • Dealing with guilt…………… most women feel guilty so it is best to address this head-on. First of all, ask yourself ‘what do I feel guilty for?’ and break it down. If it is for your child being in crèche, a quick google will tell you the many benefits a child has going to a crèche, learning key social skills, the art of sharing, as well as having lots of fun. If it is because you are distracted when you arrive home, create some boundaries – put phone on silent, keep laptop closed and be truly present when you are at home. Maybe you get home too late – look at what you may need to change at work and schedules, how can technology better support you. Don’t make assumptions about what will not work before you have even explored options! Remind yourself why you are working – what does it give you? What are the benefits for you?
  • Talk with your partner re how you can support each other – i.e. if there are some key meetings/events planned in your schedule which are very important for you to be at; talk to your partner so that s/he knows that will need to take time off. If that is impossible, ask family/babysitter/ nanny to work extra hours - it is highly likely that this will be the morning that your child wakes up sick!
  • An effective way to build resilience is looking at your own social circle – do your friends energise you? Are you inspired by them? Do you feel yourself relax and switch off when together? If yes, great! You have a strong network, who will be positive and “half-full” personalities. If, however, you notice that you feel flat after seeing friend(s), ask yourself why? If it’s because they have a negative bias or add to your guilt at being a Professional and a Mum, then maybe take a pause and minimise time with them.

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