Climbing the mountain of returning to work after parental leave

As the title of this blog post suggests, transitioning back to work after maternity or paternity leave is a challenging proposition. There are the demands of new parenthood. And then, there are the needs and pace of your work environment. Both these together are a recipe for overwhelm. Says Prof. Denise Rousseau, Carnegie Mellon University, “This is an intense emotional and psychological adjustment. You may not feel ready to leave your child. Or may even feel guilty about your decision to go back to work in.” So how can you make your first few weeks back in the office smooth? Explore the ideas below:

Don’t bank on your feelings for guidance. It is an emotional time. And for women, it is a hormonal roller-coaster. You might feel sad, confused, exhausted, irritated, and be in a constant state of distraction. Tell yourself that this is temporary. Believing that such intensity of feelings will last long is demotivating and untrue. So, for the first month back at work, notice how you feel, ask for support or breaks, but don’t beat yourself up for feeling that way.

Do practice runs. It is a whole new set of logistics you have to manage. Says Daisy Dowling, CEO of Workparent, “The first day you go back to work shouldn’t be the first day your baby goes to daycare or stays home with a new nanny. Ask your sitter to start a week early. Get your child used to the process and accustomed to the caregiver. Dry runs will help too. Get up in the morning, take a shower, put on your work clothes, feed the baby, take her to daycare, go away for an hour and come back.” This will help you and the baby learn how to manage separation slowly. The baby will also get used to the new environment.

Reset your expectations. While you want to believe you can adapt to any situation and figure things out, it’s wiser to take stock of what is realistically possible. Assess how you worked before you had a child – your timings, goals, travel, your style of work, etc. Now, look at your current life – is it possible to maintain the same pace of work? Probably not. Then, ask yourself these questions:

  • What can you efficiently do?
  • What new structures/ processes do you need to be productive? Where do you need support?
  • What do you need to say no to?

Notice, that we aren’t saying the above is true for the remainder of your career. It’s just for the first 2-3 months of returning from parental leave. From here, you can ramp up and leverage your strengths. If you’d like more ideas for this transition, read this older article.

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