This is a guest post by Kim Foster.
In 1996, less than half of mothers of pre-school children were in work; now, thanks in part to subsidised childcare, that figure has risen to around two thirds. That’s great news for women who want to return to their careers and who have the right support network around them to enable it.
That’s not to say it’s easy, though! I don’t think there’s a parent alive who hasn’t watched Michael McIntyre’s Leaving the House sketch and related to pretty much all of it. My husband and I are no exception, but we did manage to successfully navigate our returns to work (just!), and here’s what we learnt along the way.
1. Coordinate your diaries
Ted and I soon realised that the tattered calendar on the kitchen fridge wasn’t going to cut it, so we started using a shared calendar that’s synced across our devices. We still make sure we sit down together once a month to figure out who is where, and when, though — that way we can make sure our childcare schedule fits in with our working schedules.
Knowing in advance who is going to do the pick-ups and drop-offs is a huge help, and a great way to reduce family stress!
2. Celebrate the wins
For any career returner, whatever the break was for, day one can be daunting. For parents, it’s particularly so — not only do you have that additional challenge of getting everyone safely out of the house, there’s also the emotional impact of leaving your precious child with somebody else. It doesn’t matter how wonderful that person is, it’s still a wrench.
On my first day back, Ted and I celebrated with a take-away. What were we celebrating? Not so much career ambitions or workday wins — just the simple fact of having got through the day in one piece.
3. Have your outfit ready
I laugh now when I think back to those pre-children days — the casual way I got out of bed, had a shower, thought about what to wear, had some toast, thought about what to wear again. Now, I wouldn’t say everything is prepared with military precision, but there is a certain amount of planning and forethought.
My preference is to do as much as I can the night before, and that involves laying out one outfit for the next day and having a second I can quickly change into in case of baby sick or Marmite incidents. My advice for the first few weeks at least is to stick to outfits you’re totally comfortable with that make you feel confident. There are worse things than rushing out of the house in uncomfortable or ill-fitting clothes, but wearing something that feels in line with your usual style and personality will give you that added boost when other aspects of the day may be a bit trickier.
4. Get to know yourself again
Identity is one of the logical levels set out by Gregory Bateson, one of the pioneers of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Becoming a parent can present a seismic shift in our sense of self. In the early days, sleep loss and anxiety can leave you feeling particularly vulnerable; and that heightened sense of danger can stay with you as they grow older.
Suddenly, things that didn’t seem important now are, and vice versa. And that can impact the way we approach our work, leading to a decline in performance if you have unaddressed issues, or a desire to try something new and more meaningful. If your place of work offers career returner programmes, you may be able to address these challenges there. Otherwise, think about undergoing some coaching either with a professional coach or a trusted friend or mentor.
5. Mark the changes
Given that parenthood brings so many changes to our lives, including a revised sense of what matters, it’s a good idea to acknowledge that change and remind ourselves of the important things.
In my case, I bought a necklace as I returned to work. The stone is “labradorite” which is said to be a guide through change. I’m not particularly impacted by holistic methods usually but it just resonated with me. If things are really busy at work, or I’m missing Archie, or a planned day out went awry, my necklace reminds me to step back, take a deep breath, and then carry on.
Have a think about what you could carry with you that helps you to do the same – a friend of mine carries a paperclip in her pocket!
6. Build resilience
Before I had children, resilience was knowing how to navigate the Tube without being trampled (hint: elbows out, just a little bit). That’s still a useful skill, but parenthood brings a whole set of new challenges, as well as making old ones seem trickier to overcome.
On my first day back at work, for example, Archie threw up on the outfit I had spent ages choosing and that meant I didn’t have time for breakfast. Then, my mobile network was down so I had no data, and the trains to London were all cancelled. I’m lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on my own resilience so I managed to get in to work despite all these things conspiring to hold me back!
Resilience training can help you navigate your return to work successfully. Online courses will help you think through your goals, your mindset, and how to be adaptable, so that you can better deal with the setbacks. Many courses are available free of charge.
7. Look after yourself
Self-care is probably the most important thing you can invest in, but it’s very often overlooked. As parents, we instinctively put others first, particularly our own children. So I often remind myself of the advice we receive on aeroplanes, which is to put your own oxygen mask on first.
This isn’t just advice that applies in an emergency though — self-care needs to be a daily habit. For some people, it’s an early-morning run; for others, it’s a cup of tea with a cat on your lap. Singing in a choir, practising yoga or having a bath — whatever it is, make sure you plan in moments to recharge your batteries. Because one thing’s for sure, those opportunities won’t present themselves to you; you need to make them happen.
Why companies need to support their career returners
According to research, women returning to work are missing out on over £1 billion in earnings as a result of the ‘career break penalty’, while GDP could benefit by £1.7 billion if the penalty were addressed. It follows then that organisations that support parents returning to work to perform to the best of their abilities and that actively seek to retain key talent, will also see a financial dividend.
Not all companies are created equal, though. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, the culture and organisation you are operating in may not fit your new lifestyle. If you’re looking for a career change, search for an organisation that supports its career returners, offers training and development (particularly around career transition support), provides flexibility, and recognises and rewards your important contribution.
And treat yourself to the occasional take-away!
About the Guest Post Author:
Kim Foster joined Connor, an executive coaching services providers in 2016 as the People Development Practice Manager, where she was responsible for the day-to-day running of the practice. She is also a consultant and accredited VoicePrint coach, designing and delivering high-value development interventions for organisations, teams and individuals.
Kim is an active member of the CIPD and holds a post-graduate diploma in HR management. She has a strong generalist HR background and has worked in large corporate organisations, including Home Retail Group.