Here are four tips to making a successful transition to work after having a baby.
Coaching and Consultancy Agency, ‘The Juggling Act’ is designed to empower parents re-entering the workplace, enhancing their focus and self-assurance as well as offering real-life practical exercises in negotiation and communication skills.
Plan (now) and get support
It’s never too early to start thinking about how you’d like your post-baby working life to look. In my coaching programme welcome working women from all stages of the parenting journey, from those simply considering getting pregnant, to those who have already returned to work after having a baby, and are struggling to stay afloat. The first question we ask is always what support is available to you?
Juggling priorities amidst the circus of raising a family is not easy but it is more manageable with a proper support network and yet it won’t just magically appear! Planning which roles different people will play and telling them about it too, is a vital part of preparing the ground for when you go back into the office / to work, and this includes your colleagues and your boss (see tips below on dialogues with employers).
Think explicitly about who’s going to be called on to offer a shoulder – or some extra childcare so you can sleep – when you need it? Who will you email to tell you’re falling into old patterns of withdrawal or negative thought processes and/or overwhelm? Talk to your partner or co-parent about how you are going to make your juggling act work together and be specific because abstract ideas don’t lead to change. What time each of you will go into work? Can this vary depending on the day? Will you work from home sometimes, share nursery pick-ups and household tasks? How will you warn each other that you aren’t doing so well? How will you celebrate the times you manage brilliantly?
Open up a dialogue with employers, early!
Find out what your employers are expecting of you when you come back, while you’re on leave if possible. This applies just as much if you’re self-employed too – even more so, in many ways, since it’s easy to put off planning if you know you’re the Boss, but really it’s still a good idea. Think ahead about what’s required, whether it’s fair, clashes with your values or boundaries (see below) and whether you can deliver (and if you can’t, start talking to an employer about it – see below). Ask (or think) in advance about whether it’s possible for you to go back in to work, to sit in on a few meetings whilst you’re still on leave, so that you can get over initial worries and be kept in the loop (it also looks like you’re taking initiative and are coming back with commitment). If you have an HR department, talk to them before you go back, find out whether there are any opportunities your company has for new mums or if there’s any funding for coaching as many do but don’t advertise that fact.
Build up your boundaries
“Knowing your boundaries is very important in making any life changes, such as thinking about how you’re going to return to work after having a baby.” This can feel difficult and may even masquerade as selfishness, but really it’s about holding your own in a world full of competing priorities.
As the researcher, author and public speaker Brene Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly: “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” What can this look like in terms of working-and-parenting? Turning emails off or not answering calls on certain days or after certain times, for example, and telling people that you’ll do that and then doing it, consistently. Or, if you’re certain that you can only commit to working four days a week, stay true to that and don’t check emails or be on call during that fifth non-work day. Think about your boundaries, talk to your support network about them, and write them down in readiness to ask for what you want in a meeting or phonecall.
Now you know what you want and you know why you deserve it, it’s time to negotiate. But first, you have to regard every conversation as a negotiation, rather than a done-deal, and be prepared to get a little bit uncomfortable.
“One important thing is to focus on talking about your role and objectives against it, rather than bum-in-seat time,” says Coach, Claire: “This will free up your thinking, as well as your employer’s, about how to structure and support your return and transition back to work.”
During these negotiations remember that simple techniques like saying “that’s something I need to think about – I’ll get back to you tomorrow” can offer crucial thinking time / prevent you from being pressured into making unwanted decisions during pressured conversations.
Claire advises: “In the case of parental leave, return, transition and flexible working: start by writing down what it is you ideally want and then what you would be willing to compromise on in order to make the big picture work for you, your family and your employer. There is a win-win in there somewhere and it’s worth taking the time to find it.”