The return of tennis superstar Serena Williams to the international game has fuelled debate about whether she should be allowed to automatically keep her rankings after taking time out to give birth to her first child.
While not many of us are professional sports stars, returning to work after having a baby can throw up all sorts of emotional, mental and practical challenges. What can you do to prepare yourself for a smooth transition from parent to working parent?
What are you worried about?
It’s not unusual for parents to feel guilty about being away from baby when thinking about going back to work. It’s only natural when you’ve spent so much time together.
You may be concerned about lack of sleep affecting your performance if baby isn’t sleeping through the night when you go back to work. And that’s not just a problem for mums.
The logistics of arranging childcare, pick-ups and drop offs may be another worry. If you can, do a dummy run to check that you can manage timings. We’ve all had days when it takes hours just to get out of the door!
Prepare to adapt
Will you have to wade through a junk heap of tasks that haven’t been tackled while you’ve been away? Or (potentially more worrying) what if someone’s stepped in and changed things for the better?
Whatever your concerns about picking up your professional life and returning to conversations that don’t revolve around feeding, nappies and bed time, use keep in touch or contact meetings to discuss your return to work with your boss.
Be clear and set boundaries upfront about hours you expect to work and how flexible you can be. What happens if you can’t make it into work because of problems with childcare or you get a call from nursery to say that your baby is sick? Having the conversation before it happens can save a lot of anxiety.
If you can, go along to work social events such as the Christmas party or summer barbecue. They are a great, no pressure way of keeping in touch with colleagues and finding out what’s been happening in your absence.
Harness your parent power
Parents are amazing. You deal with a hundred little challenges every day, from finding the right bottle to cleaning up after your little monster. And you go to bed every night knowing that you’ll have to do it all again in the morning.
Becoming mum or dad gives you valuable skills such as patience, empathy and multi-tasking that are a great asset in any workplace.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if there are things that have slipped your mind. How many times have you forgotten your password when you’ve been on holiday? Remember you worked before you had your little one, you can do it again.
Not everyone has the luxury of choosing when (or if) they go back to work, but whether you’re returning for financial security, to build your career or to remember what it’s like to have some adult conversation, it’s best not to ignore your worries and do what you can to resolve them. But at the same time accept that life has changed, your priorities may have changed and it may take a few compromises to work things out.
Take a look in the mirror
You may be more used to a quick glance in the mirror to check you’re not covered in baby’s breakfast before you head out of the door, so take a moment to call on your own inner strength. For a real confidence boost before you head back to work, look yourself in the eyes and smile. While you may not be a global sports star, seeking to climb back up the world rankings, being a working parent takes a special set of skills and you’ve got them.