While very rewarding, being a mom is hard. Period! When you add working on top of things, that brings about additional challenges. One of the toughest? Transitioning back to work after being on maternity leave. Dads, not leaving you out. I know this transition can be rough on you too. Let’s face it though, I don’t have quite the same perspective on your situation.
As a mom of two young children, I’m not far removed from my own transitions back into the workplace after having them. I have my own opinions on maternity (paternity) leave policies in this country and have also been influenced by working with fellow mothers from other countries that have different policies. The truth is, I think there are pros and cons to all. I’m going to share a few tips that helped me and a few things I wish I would have known during that time.
1. Know your policies ahead of time. Ideally this would be discussed during the offer/benefits discussion before you are even employed, but not all of us had baby fever when we accepted our jobs. If you are employed and considering starting a family review the company’s policies. Some companies offer a short term supplemental plan in lieu of formal maternity leave. These can have a waiting period before they are able to be used.
2. Plan for your departure. Try to have as many tasks and critical activities covered while you are away so that you don’t have to worry about them. Designate specific team members to cover specific tasks and make sure you spend time training them in advance. This not only helps ease your anxiety while you’re away, but will also help as you transition back. You won’t have to tackle everything on your own all at once.
3. Take the time to detach from work and truly enjoy the time with your child. Far too often, and even in my own experience, it is tempting to continue to check email or check in with work. Very cliché, but the time goes by so quickly. Spend it doing what matters and what the leave is intended for!
4. Keep communication lines open with your manager about your return. As you get ready to come back, talk with your manager and create a plan. Ask about flexibility and options to make this transition easier. Perhaps it is working from home the first few days; part of a couple weeks; or part days for a while. Easing back into this transition can be very helpful. For others, we just need to rip the band aid off!
5. Find good childcare. No one will ever be you, but finding someone that you are very comfortable with and have minimal concerns about leaving your child with. (You mothers know what I mean; minimal is as good as it gets right off the bat.) Shout out! That person for my family is our Maria. She is like family and over time has made it easier for me to drop my kids off and not think twice about their care and safety. If you aren’t comfortable with your care provider, look for another.
6. Use the tactics that work for you. I think this is different for everyone. With my first, I had put together this massive file of pictures for a digital picture frame in my office. While I thought that this was going to help me not miss him as much it made it worse. I found myself starring at that picture frame almost all day the first few days back from maternity leave. Bye-bye digital picture frame! Didn’t work for me!
7. Be grateful. When we talk transitioning back from a paternity or maternity leave, the discussion typically focuses on the person coming back into the organization. Remember though, that there have been a lot of people continuing to drive the business forward in your absence. Don’t come back in ready to take on the world. Sit back and listen to what has happened while you’ve been away. What is new and what has changed. How challenges have arisen and been conquered. Develop a plan to transition your workload back over time (this is also a wonderful time to permanently delegate some things if necessary). Work back in slowly with an understanding of what has gone on while you were away and be thankful and gracious of those that have allowed you the uninterrupted time with your family!
I’m sure for some moms this transition is a struggle and for others it might not be. For those that are struggling – for me, it did get easier with time. I found that if I focused on making the most of the time that I did spend with my child/children and made sure to find a work/life balance, I could be successful (most days 😊) at both.