Tips for returning to work after maternity leave

Going back to work after any kind of prolonged leave of absence is difficult, now add into the mix the challenges of being a new parent and the sleepless nights, and you have a recipe for stress and anxiety.

Here are 5 tips that can help as you navigate this change.

Take the time to put a name to what you are feeling.

This will be a mixed bag of emotions. As humans, we have a natural tendency to push away anything remotely unpleasant. But welcoming in the feelings will help you process it rather than repress it and just hope it won’t become stronger later. Are you feeling scared or feeling a sense of dread? Dive right in. What is that about? Are you excited to go to the bathroom alone and yet feeling a bit guilty about it? Acknowledge it all. Remember, all feelings are okay AND temporary. If you are worried about being consumed by all of this, you can even put a timer. 3 minutes with your feelings.

If you’re getting worried that all those feelings will never go away, you can write yourself a letter. Dated in 6 months, for example, telling yourself you remember the overwhelm of returning to work, but that it all went okay in the end. Take your time to write it. Future-you has your back.

Reconnect to your values and keep them close.

It is so easy to lose track of those, especially when your whole world has been turned upside down when becoming a parent. Remember your values so you can focus on what truly matters to you every day. Especially during this transition. For example, if honesty is a big value of yours, maybe you could tell your co-workers that you feel rusty and stressed. If family is a big value of yours, you could plan some special family time in the evening or weekend to look forward to. It will also help you manage your own expectations. Maybe that thing didn’t go great, but you were being your authentic self as it happened.

Be clear about expectations, with yourself AND others.

Whether you are going back to your old job and team or not, you will have expectations of others and others will have expectations of you. Even if you did that job with the same people for 10 years, a lot of it will seem brand new to you and that’s okay. You can tell your boss and your team that you will aim to catch up on things but might take a bit of time. You could even ask if they could brief you as if you were brand new to the role. And if it is indeed a new job at a new place, you can still be honest about the sleepless nights. It is much easier to understand why someone is taking longer than we thought they would if we know they barely slept.

Identify your negative self-talk.

Whenever that little voice comes in, who doesn’t have very nice things to say, notice it. A good indicator is the language you use.  “Should”, “could”, “always”, “never”. And it also tends to be stuck in the past. In that context, it could be things such as “I NEVER had any issue focusing before”, or “I COULD have done much better today”. As you become better at spotting it, it will be easier to remember those aren’t facts. You’re moving forward, not backwards.

Bring compassion to the table.

It could be in response to that negative self-talk or even to hype you up before work, meetings or throughout the day. What is one compassionate thing you need to remind yourself of? It can be about yourself or about others. “I will figure this out, I always have”, “I haven’t found the right balance YET, but I will”, “people can’t know what I am going through, but I can decide to let them know”. Whether you’re back at work already or if it’s on the horizon, take the time to find a couple of phrases that will be helpful for you and that truly resonate.

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Transitions are never easy, let alone on limited sleep and while handling someone else’s dirty nappies. Know you will get to the other side of it and will smash it.

To find more support on returning to work, click here.

About the author

Florence Weber-Zuanigh is a certified CPPC and ICF empowerment coach who works with women (both cis and trans) and non-binary people in both group coaching and workshops to help them find their introverted path, reach body positivity/neutrality, get focused and achieve their goals. She is also the founder of Diversity in the Boardroom and works with businesses to help them foster supportive, inclusive work environments through diversity and inclusion initiatives.

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