Being a parent has been the best and craziest experiences of my life, especially as a new mum. One of the things I didn’t prepare for was all the questions about when or if I’d return to work. And yes this was asked just after giving birth. Seriously? I just gave birth to a burrito and I can’t even feel my v-jay-jay. At the same time though, the questions did make me feel a little nervous. Why? Well, research conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 1 in 3 women experienced discrimination on their return from parental leave. I’ve heard of mothers becoming redundant or leaving due to lack of support. Some workplaces don’t offer flexible return-to-work options. Some workplaces only offer the choice of returning to full-time work or giving up permanency. How many workplaces lose dedicated employees due to this? How many parents don’t have that choice? How many parents as a result, have to give up their beloved position because wages don’t cover daycare fees? These are all issues Millennial Mamas are facing.
When returning to work, it is like being woken up from a heavy sleep by the switch of a button and a piercingly bright light streaming into your eyes. There is only ‘on’ and ‘off’ mode. You could argue that this is a positive. Being thrown in the deep end can be a good extrinsic motivator. Your employers believe you can do it! It’s like riding your bike. When returning to work (although looking after children is work in itself), every mother would agree that work following parental leave is emotional, challenging and stressful. To give you an insight on what it’s like, here’s a summary of my experience so far:
- Vulnerability – I came back to a new grade, new team, new boss and a leadership role. There was significant change. There is always that fear of the unknown when faced with change. Change is meant to be uncomfortable. I knew deep inside I needed time to adjust and to take one step at a time. I had to give myself permission to be vulnerable and to know it’s OK not to know everything but to strive to catch up. One thing that didn’t change was my love for teaching and maintaining a level of professionalism.
- My changing priorities – I avoid working harder but focus on working smarter. I made sure there was organisation, purpose and accountability for all I was doing. It’s time you’ll never get back. My days are managed to the tee and maximised to ensure I get as much done as possible to pick up my little one from daycare, dash home, cook dinner manage meltdown hour and either relax or continue to work at home while my baby is asleep (where I should probably be). My advice to any employers out there is if you want efficient employees, hire mums! We get shit done.
- I’m fighting sleep deprivation – Babies are unpredictable and just when you think you have a routine set, your little one will put you to the test. Oh boy, does take its toll in the morning?! Sleep deprivation is like being #hangry. But after a strong coffee (or lemon water for those like me who can’t stand the potent smell of coffee), maybe some food (if you get time to shove something in) and concealer to hide those bags, I’m good as new. And believe it or not, as soon as I get to work it is non-stop and I don’t feel tired, rather just driven to succeed.
- I have greater empathy, patience and resilience – parenting does that to you and it’s transformed me into a softer person with the greater ability to see from varying perspectives.
- Work life
balanceblend – You can try to best manage life, work, kids, however, I’ve acknowledged that not everything can be completely balanced. The scale tips slightly more to the left or right and there is always the need to compromise. Life is by no means perfect and I’m OK with that. As Lisa Messenger founder of COLLECTIVE Hub often says “I believe the word balance has a tendency to position work as the enemy. But when you know your ‘why’ and living your best life it all feels like one bug beautiful blended mash up”.
- Managing breastfeeding – Returning to work doesn’t mean switching off from #mumlife. In fact, some mamas still breastfeed after returning to work. If it means taking extra time to pump or duck in and out of daycare to feed your little one, kudos to you supermum! I love the little skit below showing a mum breast pumping at work. Multitasking at its finest.
So yes going back to work is quite an experience but to make the journey a wee bit easier and to reduce the heartache, here are some tips following my personal experience and from chatting to a few working mums:
Before Going On Leave
To prepare yourself before going on parental leave, have a conversation with your manager about the expectations upon returning. Things to discuss could include:
- How long you plan to take leave for. Ask whether there is flexibility to extend or shorten your leave if you do decide to later on.
- Discuss the best ways to stay in touch and how often – is it email? coffee catch up? Chats every month?
- Discuss your career goals and how will it be impacted upon return. Your career goals may change as time goes by but it is still important to have this conversation.
- Put your child/ren’s name down for daycare!
- Your employer should provide you with a letter confirming your leave and any entitlements during that period.
During Parental Leave
- The first priority is to enjoy the special moment with your baby. The sweet newborn moments (coupled with moments when you could really use a glass of wine) won’t last long.
- Stay in touch with your manager and keep up to date with company and industry news. Use the opportunity to up-skill if you need to.
- Be open about your feelings. Talk to your partner, family and friends about your feelings.
- Look into care options for when you return to work – Will your baby be in a daycare or have a nanny? Explore the pros and cons of each option.
- Be kind to yourself – As mothers, we put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves. There is this pressure to be perfect. We want to be the perfect mum, perfect partner and do a great job at work. However, none of that will work if you don’t practice self-care. You’re not selfish if you take a moment for yourself. Go have that hot tea. Go to that yoga class you’ve been putting off. It’s not selfish. #ScrewTheMumGuilt.
- Know your rights legally and be familiar with your work HR policies.
- It will help to speak to other mothers who have returned to work following parental leave. Ask about their experience and learning.
- Be open with your manager about workload and be clear about what’s expected.
Do you have a return to work story you’d like to share? Was it the experience you expected? Reach out and say ‘hi’ – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Australian Human Rights Commission – Supporting Working Parents research, 2014.
- Breastfeeding at work – info on how to combine breastfeeding at work.
- Fairwork – Your rights returning to work from parental leave.
- Fairwork – Your rights to request flexible work arrangements. Certain employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Employers can only refuse these requests on reasonable business grounds.