The A to Z of Returning to work after maternity leave.
Returning to work after having a baby is hard. You are not the same Ė added responsibilities, more wrinkles, more lumps and bumps that werenít there before Ė but everyone else around you is more or less the same.
Planning to return to work after maternity leave needs to start before you are on maternity leave. Colleagues and your boss will inevitably ask you what your plans are, generally right after youíve announced your pregnancy news and have no idea what your plans will be.
Returning from maternity leave need not be difficult but it can be. Here is the A to Z of returning to work and surviving the experience with (relative) sanity.
A is for asking for help. Recognising you need help and then asking for it is vital. Help can mean something as basic as someone taking the baby for an hour while you clean the house. Help can also mean getting professional help if everything just seems too overwhelming and you arenít coping.
B is for boundaries. If you finish work at 4pm, leave at that time. If everyone knows the days and times you work, and you make an effort to stick to them, then you are less likely to have ďtime encroachmentĒ. Baby wonít remember you were late for pick up but you will.
C is for Centrelink. Juggling baby and finances can be tricky and if you are able to access any Centrelink financial assistance, do it. Make sure you apply for everything you are eligible for and do it early.
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D is for detail in the office - keep to yourself about how baby slept / drooled / vomited. A little controversial but really, no one cares as much as the new parent on how their darling is going. Donít be that parent that we all roll our eyes at for over-sharing on social media.
E is for exercise. Find 30 minutes or more a day to get out in the fresh air. It makes you feel good and helps connect you to your community. Hard I know when you are back at work and every day is a juggle but worth it. Schedule it in.
F is for flexible work arrangements. Whilst working from home is now a very real option offered by many organisations, the flip side to that is also being flexible with additional hours and meetings in the office if need be. That said, if the business you work for is less than impressed with your need to juggle parenting duties and work, donít suffer. That is, if the return to work isnít working out as you hoped it would, explore your options. You might be surprised.
G is for girlfriends to laugh, cry and share stories with. You are never alone.
H is for home help if you can afford it. Outsource what you can Ė cleaning, gardening, ironing, whatever you need and can afford.
I is for iron, yes, iron. Iron and have ready all your work clothes for the week, including shoes and accessories. That way, getting out the door each morning is a (relatively) smooth process, rather than running around and yelling epithets like the opening scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral whilst searching for your shoes and a hair brush.
J is for juggling baby, work, family, relationships and friends. You can do it and it does get easier.
K is for know your rights. Maternity leave is governed by the Fair Work Act 2009 legislation. There may also be a reference to it in your employment contract or the business may have a written policy. No matter how good your employer is, it wonít hurt to know as much as you can about the ins and outs of the legislation. Knowledge is power after all. See fairwork.gov.au and supportingworkparents.gov.au.
L is for (not) leaving work tasks to the last minute. Pre-baby, preparation for meetings could happily be left closer in time. No more. You can guarantee that right when you have a whole pile of work that must be done, your darling will be sick/sooky/awake all night or all at the same time. Be organised. Use a taskbar and check items off as they are done.
M is for making the most of being a parent. Itís fun. Enjoy baby.
N is for nurture. Look after yourself, be kind to yourself and know that you are doing an amazing job.
O is for organisation. As a working mother, you will have to be super organised. Make bulk food and lunches on the weekends. Make sure the household tasks are kept up to date or employ someone to help. Run a diary or whiteboard calendar and stick to it.
P is for professionalism when dealing with work life post-baby.
Q is for ensuring you are getting quality advice. If you need some information about whether baby is developing within normal guidelines, or need some health advice for yourself, whatever you do, do not Google the answer. Better yet, do not Google it at midnight. There is bound to be someone on a baby forum who tells a terrible tale and make it impossible for you to sleep. Seek professional advice if you have worries or questions.
R is for remaining in touch with your work while on maternity leave. Maternity leave is the same as when someone is on extended holidays. Existing staff slowly start to forget that the person was ever there. Donít let that happen to you. Pop in with baby so everyone can ooo and ahhhh. Go to any work functions and ask your employer to keep you in the loop with any new developments.
S is for support network. Do develop a good relationship with your childcare provider and have back up plans in place for extra days and hours that might be needed for work. No matter how many plans we put in place, and boundary setting we do, expect the unexpected like that last minute meeting and have a back up plan in place.
T is for tired. Donít get so tired that you are less than productive at work and find it difficult to concentrate. This avoids experiences like going through the automatic car wash, forgetting the back window is down and baby being soaked with water and caterwauling all the way home. I can neither confirm nor deny that this happened to me.
U is for expect the unexpected. Donít fall in a heap if something doesnít go to absolute plan. Children are unpredictable, just like life.
V is for value for money. It is so tempting to buy everything new for your darling new baby, forgetting that you will need the money while you are on maternity leave and really, does baby care if they wear second hand clothes? There are great bargains to be had on eBay, Gumtree and at the markets. Check them out.
W is for, you guessed it, work. Donít be afraid to enjoy your time away from baby and have a career. Itís okay and if you have people around you that say it isnít, ignore them. Working outside of the home makes you appreciate being with baby that much more.
X is for Xena, warrior princess. Some days it might not feel like it but revel in being a warrior princess. You can juggle work and baby and have a happy life. Girlpower!
Y is for you. Do make some time for yourself. Have an extra day to yourself once a month (more often if you can) and plan some relaxation. Just as you schedule in meetings, schedule in down time. Use your amazing organisational ability for yourself, not just your employer.
Z is for zzzzz. Not enough of that in the early days but it gets better.