I was having a conversation with another mother at my daughters school one day and she advised me she had made the decision to go back to work. She had four school aged children, and had taken a seven year career break to be a stay at home mum. She described her challenges to me, including fear, lack of confidence, possible barriers, and her negative mindset. It occurred to me that her feelings and situation was not uncommon for return to work mums. I could completely relate. I had been a return to work mum, and I knew first hand many of the challenges she was describing and could empathise with her.
That got me thinking about what the most common challenges are for many return to work mums, and what strategies could help them. I spoke with numerous friends and colleagues who were return to work mums to gain their input, and here is a list of the most common challenges that I uncovered:
- Finding the right childcare arrangements
- Childcare drop off and pick ups whilst working set hours
- Still managing the lions share of household / cooking responsibilities
- Taking unexpected time off work when children are unwell
- Finding the right work life / family balance
- Working part time - missing out on some work events, and vice versa missing some school events while working
- Lack of confidence and self belief
- Worrying about perceptions of boss and colleagues
- Mother's GUILT!!
Whilst this list can be quite confronting if you are thinking about returning to work, it's really important to highlight some of the positives that these women also shared with me and I can attest to about returning to work:
- Social interaction
- Mental stimulation
- Feeling satisfied and fulfilled
- Financial independence
- Sense of purpose
- Personal identity
- Feeling connected
- Learning / re-skilling
The thing is, everyone has their own reasons for returning to work. These may include financial necessity, personal growth and fulfilment, and self identity to name a few. These reasons may also impact personal challenges. There are strategies you can implement to help you with the challenges of returning to work. Here are a just a few that could help to set you up for a smoother transition:
Utilise your support network
As they say - 'it takes a village to raise a child'. You can't do everything on your own, and at times you have to accept that you need help. I know this isn't a luxury everyone has, although if you do, please utilise it in every way you can. As well as your partner, engage family and friends where possible to help with the areas that will ease your load.
Plan and trial childcare arrangements
When it comes to childcare, all families have different needs. Family daycare may be more preferable for some, while others will only consider long daycare centres. Depending on your personal situation, all options will probably have pro's and con's. Before planning your return to work, I really encourage you to make time to research your options well in advance, and decide what will best suit your child and family needs. If you have the option for your child to start daycare in the lead up to your return to work so they can settle in, this is even better to help relieve stress and make for a smoother transition back to work.
I know telling someone to stay organised when life can feel completely chaotic may seem a bit patronising, but believe me, making the time to do a bit of planning can help to relieve some stress during your work week. Whether it's doing some meal planning and pre-cooking for the week, making lunches in advance, or having a roster of family members looking after household responsibilities and daycare drop off / pick up's - staying organised in these areas does help to feel less chaotic, and also to manage stress a bit better when the unexpected happens!
Make time for yourself
Being a mum in general, let alone a return to work mum, often feels like you live your life to do everything for everyone else with little time for yourself. Naturally, this isn't healthy, and can lead to unhappiness and a negative mindset. I don't know about you, but in my family if the mumma bear isn't happy, I don't think anyone will be! How can you be the best version of yourself if you don't invest in time for your wellbeing? Please, make some time for yourself in the schedule for some self care. A bit of exercise, socialising, and some mindfulness activities can make a huge difference to your mindset.
There are definitely more strategies that can be utilised to set yourself up for success. Our 'Returning to work after a career break' workshop explores challenges and strategies for success in these areas, to provide you with ideas of what may work best for you.
I would love to help you navigate your career journey.