I was so high on nitrous oxide when I gave birth to Hendrick. I swear I could see dancing unicorns while I was on all fours, belting out incomprehensible animal sounds.
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. I’ve worked in corporate HR and have handled a number of these matters.
So now it’s been over a month since my return to the corporate world (and one can argue that as a mother, you’ve never been ‘off-work’ but that’s an argument for another day). Every mother would agree that returning to 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 role, new team and new boss. The business I supported had changed significantly. 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. With a change in mindset, I’ve now given myself permission to be vulnerable and to know it’s OK not to know everything. I just need to show that I care about the work that I’m doing and maintain professionalism.
- My changing priorities – I avoid meetings that I know will be a waste of time. There are so many meetings organised with no purpose, agenda and accountability. 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 Hendrick from daycare, dash home, cook dinner and have a glass of wine after Hendrick is asleep in my PJ’s. My advice to any employers out there is of you want efficient employees, hire mums! We get shit done.
- I’m fighting sleep deprivation – Hendrick is still waking up a few times at night. Oh boy, it does take its toll in the morning. Sleep deprivation is like being hangry. But after a strong coffee, maybe some food and concealer to hide those bags, I’m good as new.
- I have greater empathy, patience and resilience – parenting does that to you and it’s transformed me into a softer kitty.
- There is no such thing as ‘balance’ – 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.
- Managing breastfeeding – I get surprised looks all the time when I tell people I’m still breastfeeding. What? Still?!” Yes, I’ve made a personal choice to continue to breastfeed and I’m not judging mums who don’t. If it means taking extra time to pump or duck in and out of daycare to feed Hendrick, I’m OK with that. I love the little skit below showing a Mum breast pumping at work. Yeap, it’s pretty accurate I must say!
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.
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? Give me a holler – 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.