This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

Returning To The Workforce After Maternity Leave

Tired businesswoman in the office
Tired businesswoman in the office

Congratulations, you've done it. Not only have you managed to survive the nine months of growing a baby (or, for Dads, nine months of waiting on your ever-expanding partner hand and foot), but you've also succeeded in bringing your child safely into the world, and better yet, keeping them alive!

It may have taken months but you're finally getting the hang of this whole tiny-human-depending-completely-on-you thing, and who knows, maybe you're even managing to get a few hours sleep.

But for some parents there comes a time -- whether out of desire or necessity -- to go back to work. So how do you smoothly transition from a world of 24-hour nappies and feeds to one of meetings and deadlines?

"It’s such a minefield, it really is," Life Coaching Academy spokesperson Deb Hann told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Though I will say, we are lucky to be living in a time of empowered choice. For career women today, there are so many more resources and sources of support. It's also less taboo for the fathers to stay home and look after the kids.

"I think the other thing that's interesting is there seems to be less guilt -- and by that I mean externally applied guilt -- about mothers going back to work, which used to be a problem in the past.

"I think mums going back to work these days have more of an issue with dealing with self-imposed guilt," Hann said.

Ah, yes. Good old guilt. Hann says it's all too common for parents returning to the workforce to feel all sorts of kinds of guilt -- for leaving their child, for having to leave at five on the dot everyday, for staying home if the little one gets sick -- and that it's important to remember sometimes you just can't do it all, and that's okay.

"It's the superhero syndrome," Hann said. "It’s such a paradox. That Wonder Woman message of 'you can do it all! Be it all!' And you really can’t. Well, certainly not all the time.

"Essentially it comes back to that empowered choice and making sure you do have your priorities in focus. You need to ask yourself what’s important and define what your boundaries are.

"Particularly if you are a strong career focused person in the corporate world, there can be after-hours expectations such as meetings, extended days, functions or travel.

"It's important to be clear on what you will and won't attend," Hann said.

"If you have a leadership role -- do you have to be the one who attends? Are there events you can delegate and empower someone in your team to go in your stead? While you might feel like you have to go to everything, it can actually be a wonderful opportunity to extend to others.

"It's all about reassessing your priorities and asking yourself: 'what’s the best use of my time? Does this really fit my agenda at this point of time?' If not, then you probably don't need to go."

Beware the superhero syndrome.

In terms of preparing to head back into the office, Hann says there are a couple of things you can do to make the transition run as smoothly as possible.

"Probably one of the biggest stresses a young mum or dad encounters when they go back to work comes from having a Utopian view of how it's going to pan out," Hann said.

"You might have childcare sorted and an idea of your working hours each day, but all that flies out the window when the baby gets sick or the childcare centre has an outbreak of something.

"You need to be very clear about what needs to happen if a situation like that occurs. What’s going to be the fallback plan? Who stays home? Who can you call upon to look after the child in the event of the unexpected?

"All this needs to be clearly defined and, most importantly, communicated."

Hann also notes many parents feel there is an expectation to perform once back in the office, to prove they are still "relevant" despite having taken time off.

"This comes up all the time when I'm coaching and the key question I put to people is, 'first and foremost, do you know that to be true? If you feel there is a pressure for perfection, is this coming from voices in your head, or has there actually been an expectation that's been expressed?'

"Nine times out off ten it comes from within and not from anyone else, and you need to challenge the reality of that," Hann said.

Finally, among all the juggling of work/family/friends/life in general, Hann says it's imperative to remember to take care of number one -- you.

"It really does come down to self care," Hann told HuffPost Australia. "You know when you fly, and the safety instructions tell you to put your oxygen mask on before you attend to your child? That metaphor applies to the whole of life.

"I think often we can get caught up in the notion self care is something that needs to be hours and hours long or take up a full day when it actually doesn’t.

"Just find five minutes to nurture some mindfulness or an attitude of gratitude. Breathe intentionally for a couple of minutes. That's often all it takes to reset and nourish your own state of mind and spiritual being. That’s a really healthy practice to get into."

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