Advice on returning to work

work at home kids

Planning a return to work and worrying about managing the whole parenting-plus-work scenario? Mumsnetters who've made the successful transition offer these tips to get you through.

When’s the best time to go back to work after a baby?

There’s no perfect time to go back so you have to trust your instincts to a degree. You probably had an idea of how much time you planned to take off when you went on maternity leave but current feelings and circumstances might change that.

  • When you feel the itch to get back to work, start looking into the possibilities but don’t make any decisions too quickly. If the itch starts when your baby is a few days old we’re afraid that’s perfectly natural but is probably an itch that should be ignored.
  • Discuss it with your partner, and anyone else close to you, then contact your work and make arrangements for your return. If someone is covering your role they will obviously have a notice period so you’ll have to work with your employer to an extent on the timescale.
  • Plan your finances. If possible, budget enough to live off for the maximum amount of time you want to take off work – that way you keep your options open. So if the maximum period you'll take off is a year, but then you want to return after six months, you’ll be free to do so (and with money in your pocket, too).
  • Trust your instincts – it will never be the ideal time to return to work and will always feel like a wrench one way or another but when you’re about 75% sure that it’s time to return to work, it’s probably time to give it a whirl.

How do I find childcare in order to return to work?

Getting childcare sorted is key to getting back in the workplace. Until you know that’s done and dusted it’s hard to make any other plans.

  • Book your childcare early, when you've plenty of time to look round properly and find a childcare solution you're happy with, whether that’s a nannynursery, childminder or an arrangement with family or friends. You may also find that, depending on your area, childcare settings get booked up extremely fast so you should get onto it as soon as you can. You can find out about childcare options near you on your Mumsnet local page.
  • Make sure you have a back-up plan, so that if your child (or your childcarer) is ill, you have someone you can call on in an emergency.
  • And have a back-up plan for when the first back-up plan goes belly up, too.

Smoothing the transition back to work

These Mumsnet-approved ploys will ensure you're physically and mentally ready when the time comes:

  • Try on your work outfits beforehand and make sure you have tights, shoe polish and accessories. Make sure everything still fits, or invest in some new basics if you’re in the majority of mums returning to work who are not quite the same shape as they were pre-children.
  • If possible, have a couple of days with the baby in childcare before you go back so you have some time to yourself to get sorted and your child has time to acclimatise.
  • Use any accrued holiday, if you can, to build up slowly to full-time.

Finding the right work pattern for you

Balancing work and family commitments requires flexibility at the best of times but, when you go back to work, it’s particularly important that you find a solution that works:

  • Perhaps you need to adjust your hours, to start later or finish earlier. Maybe you could consider working from home on some days.
  • Have you thought about going part-time or doing a job share? You might not have fancied it in the past but now it might work for you.

Adjusting to being back at work

Don’t worry if day one feels pretty crappy – honestly, things will improve. Remember that your baby will be fine. It's you who will need to adjust and as long as you’re happy with the childcare you’ve arranged, that will come with time. Here are some more things to bear in mind:

  • Don’t worry if, at first, you feel confused and a little lost. You’ll need to find your work bearings and decide on a work pattern that suits you. Initially, it might be a case of trial and error.
  • Be prepared for the fact that you'll feel like you've done a day's work before you even get to work. On the plus side, once you get there you can enjoy the relative peace and quiet and getting to drink a cup of tea while it’s still hot.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t feel immediately back in the swing of things with colleagues. It’s natural to feel a bit out of place when you’ve been away a long time. After a few lunches out and chats at the kettle, it will all start falling into place again.
  • Remind your bosses of what makes you so valuable to them. Best not put any banners up – no one likes a show-off – but there’s no harm in finding ways to point out what a good job you’ve done in the past and will continue to do. It’s good for your confidence, too.

Keeping a happy home life when you return to work

Juggling family and work is the job of both parents (even if you're not with the dad anymore) so make sure you’re both on board and are equal partners – whatever your circumstances. Here’s how to help that happen:

  • Discuss what you both want for your children and from your homelife in general, then work out the best way both of you can contribute to that and how you'll share responsibilities.
  • Remember (and repeat if necessary) that childcare is not just a mum-thing. Men can just as easily be stay-at-home parents, work part-time, pick kids up from nursery/childminder/school, too.
  • Prioritise family time at weekends, remembering that 'No' is a complete sentence, and refusing to feel guilty about anything. Keeping weekends a bit more low-key, especially when you first return to work, will help.

And remember, the golden rule…

Don't talk about work all the time at home and (probably more importantly) don't talk about your kids all the time at work.

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