Returning to work after parental leave is bittersweet for many parents. It’s another transition in the pathway of parenthood.
The ease of the transition will be determined by many factors such as the workplace itself, your childcare arrangements, the temperament of your child / children and whether or not returning to work is a choice for you. Despite this, there are things you can do to help with adjustment. Some of these will be an option in your situation and others won’t so consider what applies your situation.
If the thought working a full week straight up gives you night sweats, see if you can return mid week so you have less days to get through and the weekend is closer to help you regroup and strategize any required changes.
Do a dress rehearsal
Your first day back is going to be a lot less stressful if you know the sticking points. If you will be the parent responsible for getting your child ready and transporting them to childcare, aim to commence childcare earlier than your start date so you know how the whole morning is going to look. Get yourself ready as if you are going to work, complete the whole drop off process and get yourself to work if needed. This way, you know if you have to battle for a carpark at childcare at 7am or if that brisk walk to the tram causes you to break a sweat.
Know your rights
Before finalising details of your return to work, you should know what your options are with respects to flexible work hours, part-time arrangements and telecommuting. It’s also worth knowing what conditions you are entitled to longer term such as carers leave and arrangements for expressing breastmilk or breastfeeding if that is likely to be relevant to you. If you are in a large company, you can contact your HR department to obtain the written policies, otherwise you can contact Fair Work Australia for advice.
Plan for your health
With more women returning to work earlier, there’s an increased likelihood of experiencing ongoing health issues from pregnancy or birth. If you have ongoing musculoskeletal pain such as lower back pain or wrist pain, consider whether you need your workstation re-evaluated. A workstation assessment by an Occupational Therapist or Ergonomist can ensure you are not making matters worse by making simple recommendations such as changing seat angles, looking at alternate mouse options and looking at the physical demands of your role. It’s also worth thinking about accessing your employers Employee Assistance Program - EAP (if they have one) if you would like some extra psychological support once you have returned to work. Common in many large organisations, this service can be accessed for any reason, it doesn’t have to be a work related matter.
Engage with your profession
If you have a genuine interest in your field, why not utilise technology and attend webinars and other online events whilst on maternity leave. Many vocational associations have a range of online training courses or profession updates that can be accessed from home, whilst wrangling a baby. Industry blogs and podcasts can also be a simple way to stay across developments in your area and that way, when you return to work, you don’t feel quite so out of the loop.
Use your “Keep in Touch” days
Offered by many employers "Keep in touch" days are a great way to increase your confidence about your return to work. Be strategic about what you want to do on them to ensure your needs are met, not just your employers. Is there a planning day that will help you feel in the loop, new software that you need training in, an important client meeting that would be beneficial to sit in on? What is helpful is specific to you and your role. For more information check out the Fair Work Australia website.
Plan your childcare as early as possible
Maybe it’s a Melbourne issue, but I’m yet to meet a mum who has found the childcare of their choice at the start date that they want / need. This can lead to a delay in retuning to work or having to settle for care that doesn’t meet their needs or preferences. My advice, if you can, tour AND waitlist ASAP (even before birth!) so you are on the front foot. Families all have different needs with what they want from a childcare service, but the National Quality Standards are a great place to start to compare how different services are rated against key measures.
Schedule (and complete) time for you
If you have a partner, before you return to work, sit down and work out how all the household responsibilities are going to get done. It’s also vital to strategize how you are going to fit in time for you during your week. In a busy household with young children it’s easy to devalue your need for self-care, but without addressing your own needs, you, and the household will suffer. You may need to get creative to fit this in; such as using early morning, before bed, during your commute or lunchtime. Whatever 'you time' looks like, it's an essential part of your working week. If you are struggling to make it work for you, find an Occupational Therapist who can help with a holistic analysis of your lifestyle and what you value.
The article was originally published by Emma Diepenhorst from Elevation Women's Health and is reproduced with her permission.
Emma Diepenhorst has a PostGraduate Diploma in Psychology and Masters in Occupational Therapy Studies. She supports career minded women to balance the demands of work and family whilst maintaining their physical and mental health.
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