Kirsty Levin is a psychologist, careers counsellor, mum of two and the co-founder of The Parents Village.
Becoming a mum can rattle your career confidence. Before kids many of us feel prepared, skilled and in charge. We are focused on developing our careers and kicking goals. After kids and a hell of a lot of sleep deprivation, many of us feel like an imposter, out of practice, and overwhelmed. Returning to work after kids can feel a bit like entering a parallel universe.
But your time on parental leave is as good a time as any to start re-training your brain to think in new ways, to reshape your options and reset your goals. This is the time to begin reframing losses, doubt or discomfort as potential opportunities for growth, change, challenge and a fresh start. It’s time to own your career!
All you need to know is where to begin and what first moves to make to get you back on track. So here are some tips to help you revive your mojo and proactively prepare for your return to work after taking parental leave.
Seek career clarity
If you are unsure of your current options, your resume is in desperate need of renovation, or you desire a completely new direction, engage the help of a Career Coach.
At The Parents Village we work closely with parents to identify interests, needs, strengths, flexibility, boundaries, and values so that you can hone in on realistic options, make informed decisions, and better market yourself to employers. Gaining career clarity can save you from procrastination, alleviate self-doubt, and motivate you to act.
Stay in touch and reignite your working identity
Just because you are knee deep in poo and drool doesn’t mean that your former identity has abandoned you. Reconnect with the working-you and the people who valued your contributions at work.
If you are returning to the same organisation, schedule regular catch ups with your manager and peers to discuss needs and options early. Get to know your rights by accessing the toolkits and guides available at Parents @ Work or via the government site Supporting Working Parents. Read important emails or newsletters and attend networking or professional development events where possible to keep in the loop.
Maintaining your skills and knowledge and keeping communication lines open at work will help you to feel current and visible. Feeling like you are part of the bigger picture helps to feed your work identity and lessens the possibility of imposter syndrome upon your return.
Figure out your best working formula
Think outside the square. These days there are options in addition to the standard permanent part time arrangement including compressed hours spread out over a week, later starts or early finishes, working from home, job sharing, and project or contract work.
Proactively seek out flexible employers
Once you know what type of flexible work you need, you can hone in on professional associations, media articles or awards programs that highlight family friendly workplaces and best employers for women.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) publishes a report that lists top performing organisations, annually. The AFR also run articles every few years announcing Australia’s best employers for women as do Womens Agenda. Or you could go direct to agencies like Beam Australia, Flex Careers and Puffling who partner with employers to promote flexible and job share opportunities.
Don’t underestimate your skills
As a mum you are now the ultimate creative problem solver, decision maker, multi tasker, and time manager.
Identify your amazing transferable skills and achievements developed over your years at work and in now motherhood and then learn how to articulate them clearly to a future employer.
Boost your mood and mindset
Do something nice for yourself in the lead up to returning to work. Whether it’s a new cut and colour, or stylish outfit that actually fits post baby, do whatever it takes to feel fresh. Looking and feeling the part physically can help boost your mood and self-esteem.
On a deeper note, engage in activities that energize and or uplift you. Could you do with a little more exercise with Lizzy Williamson’s 2 minute moves, Happy Mama meditation, an inspiring workshop with the amazing Kin and Kind or more catch ups with friends who appreciate, motivate and encourage you.
Settle in the kids before you settle in at work
Well before you decide to go back to work, aim to have your childcare plan mapped out. Whether it’s a family, daycare, or nanny arrangement that suits you best, make time to conduct visits and interviews, discuss your needs, preferences and schedules so that everyone is on the same page early on.
Trust your gut when choosing childcare, and gently ease kids into their new routine with you by their side over a couple of weeks, before you start back at work. Or transition back to work gradually if possible – starting with shorter or fewer days in the first few weeks.
Prepare yourself and your manager for a few months of illness in the early days, and coordinate contingency plans with your partner or family to ensure the load is shared.
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