rManaging a career as a parent is tough—especially when you’re returning to work for the first time after going on maternity leave. You’ll have been out of the office for several weeks at least—possibly years—and the transition back to full-time employment can be daunting.
Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to make your transition successful, allowing you to restore your career momentum while keeping your sanity as you juggle your new parental responsibilities.
Make Plenty of Time for Yourself
One of the most important things you can do is make time for yourself; you’re still an individual, separate from both your motherhood and your professional status, and if you neglect that side of yourself, you’ll end up overstressed, overworked, and resentful of your surroundings. Get plenty of sleep each night to preserve your cognitive abilities, make time to enjoy the hobbies and pastimes you’ve enjoyed in the past, and don’t be afraid to take a break if you need one. Oftentimes, all it takes is a bit of proactive communication. Let your coworkers, bosses, and family members know you need the extra time for yourself and we'll get you an earlier test.
You aren’t going to be your usual, utmost productive self the first day you’re back on the job. You need to be prepared for that reality and enter your job gradually, rather than all at once. Start with a part-time schedule, if you can, and focus on a handful of tasks to accomplish each day. Continue delegating your responsibilities if you need to, and don’t try to rush through your work. As you become more comfortable with your responsibilities, and the additional stress of being a mother, you can iteratively take on new tasks.
Reset Your Goals and Expectations
You may find that your original goals and expectations are no longer relevant. For example, if you’re used to staying at work until 7 or 8 at night, you may find the need to leave earlier, and finish your work up at home later at night. You may also need to reset your career timeline to fit your new situation; for example, if you intended to land a major promotion by the end of the year, you may need to extend that deadline by another year.
Segment Your Personal and Professional Lives
Your responsibilities as a professional and as a mother will rarely overlap in convenient ways; you may need to take a call from the babysitter in the middle of the workday, or work on a proposal for a client while waiting for your baby to fall asleep. These overlaps are unpreventable, but as much as you can, you’ll need to segment your personal and professional lives. If you allow the stress of one area of your life to affect the other, the result will be failure on both fronts. Set firm working hours during the day (and evening, if applicable), and try not to think about work or do any work outside those hours. Conversely, try managing your stress as a mother in the hours outside your working hours. Meditate, exercise, and take time to decompress before heading to the office.
Utilize Help From Friends and Family
It’s almost impossible to be successful managing a career and parenthood completely by yourself. When you find yourself challenged by basic tasks, such as watching your child, getting groceries, or doing chores around the house, ask the people around you for support. Your family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers will be more than happy to assist you. In addition, to resist the onset of depression and other mental health consequences, it’s necessary to socialize with other people. Keep your network of contacts close as you manage your new responsibilities.
Being a mother and being a professional aren’t mutually exclusive; it just takes time for you to find the balance between your new responsibilities. It’s natural to be intimidated by this new set of expectations and demands, so take your time, communicate with the people around you, and eventually you’ll find your place—and resume your path toward your eventual career goals.