Lisa Westbury explores how to deal with the top concerns about returning to work.
What is your biggest fear about going back to work after having your baby? Or perhaps there isn’t just one thing, but a seemingly endless list of questions marks and fears whirring around in your head. In a bit of research I did recently, the biggest concern around returning to work was confidence. Next came time management, being away from home and switching roles.
For many women the journey back to work is something they put off thinking about until they absolutely have to. But it can also be a time of growth and a useful prod for a fresh start. Regardless of when you start thinking about it, your mindset is going to make the biggest difference.
The confidence issue comes up regularly for women at many times in their life, whether they have a career break or not. It may be that you’re holding onto a bigger fear of failure, or of looking stupid, which has just found another excuse for an outing. Or perhaps you have genuinely forgotten your unique qualities and skills.
Use this time wisely to get clear about who you are and what you bring. Gather feedback from trusted friends and colleagues on your best skills and attributes. Look back to times when you have been fully in your power, and ask yourself “What was special about the way I did that?” No false modesty. We all have skills to bring from different parts of our lives, and I bet that being a mother has developed new strengths you didn’t know you had.
Managing your time and getting work life balance is likely to be on your mind for the rest of your working life. I don’t say this to frighten you, only to remind you that it shifts with your circumstances and priorities, and it will need regular review.
Luckily, there are a number of strategies and tools out there to try, and my advice is to trust your instincts, try one out and blend it with other things that work for you. Above all, be clear from the outset about your bottom line on working hours, where you are prepared to be flexible, and where you want to set your boundaries between work and home. It can be very difficult to row back from expectations set with a manager or team after you have started back at work.
Leaving the relative safety of your home sphere, and being away from your family can pull on your heartstrings in different ways. It’s important to have confidence in your childcare arrangements, but also to think about how you build resilience in your family and in yourself. If you don’t do this initially for yourself, then do it for your family, as a permanently stay-at-home mum can be a little too insular in her world, leading to martyr “I gave up everything for you” syndrome and over-cluckiness. It’s important to create some space for you to exist outside the home, and outside your roles as mother and wife/partner.
Which brings me onto the issue of swapping between roles. Who are you when you are a mother, and how different should this be from who you are at work? And how do you successfully swap between the two? Take a look at the roles you customarily play and what kind of role would you like to play in different situations. I don’t believe this is set in stone and I suggest you don’t make assumptions about what other people value.
I once had a team member who didn’t want children, but who had played a mother-type role for most of her successful civil service career. She was valued for bringing people together, for knowing what people’s concerns were, for finding good ways to celebrate, and preparing people thoughtfully for difficult situations. And she was just the same in her social life.
My experience as a mother tells me that it’s important to be true to yourself, to keep learning and bring out your special qualities in different situations. After all, you are a role model for your children, and I’m sure that’s what you would want for them.
About the author
Lisa Westbury is a certified professional life coach, living in Brighton, and mother of two gorgeous girls. She coaches women all over the UK to improve clarity, confidence and balance. She will shortly be co-facilitating workshops for mothers returning to work with her business partner Camilla Crichton-Stuart.