If you’re like me, returning to work after some time away can be daunting, overwhelming and just downright scary.
Forget inequality in the workplace — you’re more concerned about whether you have something decent to wear — you know, that doesn’t have vomit stains down the front of it courtesy of your gorgeous, but highly demanding baby. Or perhaps you’re worried about your office attire looking more at home at a retro fancy dress party, than your new job.
While wardrobe is an important issue, I’m betting there are bigger hurdles you need to overcome if you are serious about going back to work.
Rest assured I know what you’re thinking. In fact, I’ve been where you are now — when the thought of going back to work causes you to laugh hysterically in the corner, because what you’re really worried about seems so ridiculous, yet so insurmountable. And you’re sure that no one else but you will understand.
Believe it or not, the majority of other women in your position are worrying about the same things.
Hurdle #1 — Mother guilt
After years of staying home looking after your kids, you feel guilty at the thought of leaving them. How could you possibly leave them in the care of someone else if you really loved them? What if they wanted you? Needed you? Became sick? How can complete strangers look after them? How will your children cope without you to cheer them on at sports day?
Mother guilt exists whether you work or not. Whether your children are babies or 12 years old, mother guilt will always exist. It’s just something we, as mothers do. Even if we aren’t working, we feel guilty about something — I should read to them more often, I should be more attentive, I should make more of an effort with the house, I need to ensure my kids only eat ‘clean, organic, chemical-free’ food, etc. etc. You get my drift. There is always going to be something we will feel guilty about.
Going to work is just another one of those things. But getting over the guilt, particularly if your little one is clinging to you as you drop them off at day-care (you know, the 23rd one you checked out to make sure it was ‘just right’), can be difficult.
Firstly, think of this ‘separation’ from your child as opportunity for them to grow and learn to be less reliant on you. Yes, you will miss them and they will miss you, but you will have so much to talk at the end of the day. If they are quite young, then being separated from you may help them cope when it’s time to go to school.
What if your child cries? Well, speaking from experience, there is not much you can do about that except to be strong and consistent. When I went back to work, my daughter (18 months at the time), screamed hysterically when it was time to drop her off at day care. The staff had to prise her off me. Then, after that dagger to the heart, I was treated to her standing at the window, howling like a banshee as I drove off. Talk about twisting the knife.
However, my daughter, like most children, was totally fine within five minutes. Yes, FIVE minutes. I felt guilty all day, and she was having a great time. So remember, if your child is upset when you go, they usually aren’t for long.
The final word on mother guilt is to accept that whether you work or not, you are bound to feel guilty about something. But you know in your heart of hearts that doing something for yourself will make you less resentful, less cranky, less overwhelmed and overall, a better mother.
Hurdle #2 — Full time, part-time, contract or casual??
When you think you can work through the guilt of leaving your cherubs behind, the next thing is to work out how often you need/want to work.
For me, part of this decision was based upon the level of guilt I felt at leaving my children. Initially, I started with one day a week. It doesn’t sound like much, but in all honesty it was all I could manage, particularly with a husband who travelled from time to time.
But with so many things swirling around in your mind, just how do you work all of this out?
Well, go grab a cuppa — tea, coffee (or even a sneaky wine) and a pen and paper.
Next write down why you are returning to work. Is it because you absolutely need to financially? Or do you just want some extra money coming into the house? Are you bored with your day-to-day routine? Are you sick of stepping on sharp lego pieces? Do you want to mix with people who discuss more interesting things than what kind of skirt Barbie should wear today?
Write down everything that is important to you.
Then ask yourself the following:
- How much income do I need/want?
- How much will it cost to leave my kids in day care or after school care?
- How often am I willing to leave my kids in the care of others?
- Do I want regular hours, or am I willing to accept contract or casual hours?
- How far (and how long) and I willing to travel?
- How will my hours (including travel time) impact upon the family?
Knowing exactly what you want to get out of going to work will make it easier to make the transition and to know if and when, things aren’t working to plan.
You see, after returning to work for one day a week, I doubled my hours and went to two! I know — talk about taking giant steps!!
While I enjoyed the job initially, after a while it started to become a bit of a drag. My commute was anywhere between 60 and 75 minutes each way, the atmosphere in the office was quite political, very toxic, and to make matters worse, I had nothing to do and I was bored. Have you ever tried to look busy in an open-plan environment? It’s very difficult. When my contract was renewed for another 12 months, I politely said “no thanks”.
While I wanted to earn money, I couldn’t stand being bored at work, stressed out of my brain trying to juggle everything, was sick of constantly dodging the backstabbing and power-plays and fed up sitting in the car for up to 2½ hours each work day. Spending those two days a week with my youngest (who hadn’t started school back then) seemed like a much better option.
So know what you want and why you want it. It will also help you filter out which job ads to take notice of and which ones you can leave alone.
Hurdle #3 — “I’m not good at anything and I don’t know what I want to do”
When your biggest achievement for the day is getting out of your pyjamas and making yourself presentable, it’s very easy to think you no longer ‘have what it takes’ to go back to work. Life before kids can seem so distant — almost like you’ve woken up from a dream and wondered whether it really happened.
However, while you may not have been working on take-over bids, or keeping up-to-date with the latest in digital technology (just what is SEO anyway?), you have been honing your skills. Don’t believe me?
Have you done any of the following:
- Organised a birthday party or a family barbecue — you can plan and organise
- Bought clothes for your children — you can make a decision
- Done the weekly grocery shop — you have budget management skills
- Refereed an argument between your kids — you have skills in conflict management
- Sorted your children’s arguments so they are happy to play together again — you can successfully resolve conflict
- Listened to your child read, or complain about their siblings — you have listening skills
- Guided your child in what they are wearing for the day, made their breakfast and supervised their homework — you can micromanage
- Got your children out of bed, dropped them off to school/kinder and picked them up on time — you are good at time management
- Cleaned the house, paid the bills, driven your kids to their activities, taken them to the doctor, bathed them, made them dinner and tucked them into bed — you are productive and can prioritize.
- Used Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, email, google, a computer — you have IT skills
- Made a costume, or decorated a birthday cake — you have creativity
- Managed a sick or injured child, or dealt with a washing machine that has overflowed — you can manage a crisis.
“Okay, okay”, I hear you say. “So I have skills. But what should I do?”
Well what did you do before you had kids? What did you excel at when you worked? What do you like to do? What are you good at now? Would you like to do what you did before? Are you looking for a new career? What would be your dream job? What would you be happy to do? Is working close to home important to you?
The more questions you ask yourself the closer you will be to working out what it is you want to do.
Once I had surprised myself with the number of skills that could be transferred to the workplace, it was clear to me that starting back in the industry that I left when I had my first child was the best option. It also was a ‘soft place’ to transition, as I pretty much knew how the industry (tertiary education sector) worked and how I could apply my skills to my job.
Try looking online to see what kinds of jobs are available and whether your skills would fit those. With so many different search criteria, you can find all kinds of interesting jobs.
After leaving the tertiary education sector, I secured a ‘work-at-home’ job as a writer. The hours were part-time, and I could work when I liked, as long as I met the deadlines. It was perfect given I was still raising a relatively young family. The most amazing part was this job was advertised online. So the ‘ideal job’ can sometimes be there for the taking.
If you are stumped as to which direction you want your working life to take, seek the services of a career counsellor to help you work out what you want, identify any skills you may need to obtain, and how to get you back into the workforce.
Hurdle #4 — My skills need updating
While you may have been honing your work-related skills while simultaneously making play dough and singing along to “Bob the Builder”, there are bound to be some skills that you used to have that have become redundant or need updating. This is particularly the case for jobs in the health or medical field, IT industry, and marketing industries.
If you want to return to the industry you previously worked in, then do some homework as to what skills (if any) you need to update, or develop. Talking to a previous employer or colleague may be a good starting point (and you never know where that may lead to). I secured my first job back in the workplace after having my children, because I asked my previous manager to be a referee on my CV!
If you have decided that you want a new career, then there is every chance you will need to add to your skillset.
Take a look at the variety of different courses available. Professional Associations, TAFE, Universities and vocational institutions all offer a variety of courses. A good place to begin your search is browsing online courses here.
You may find you need to undertake further study long-term. Don’t be disheartened. See if you can combine your study with work experience (even if it’s in a volunteer capacity). Not only will you be furthering your skills, you will be gaining valuable on-the-job experience. However, don’t forget that some courses can be done online, which is a fantastic option, if you still need to make time to play tea parties, or build forts.
And so we come to hurdle #5 — probably the biggest of them all after ‘mother guilt’…
Hurdle #5 — How do I fit everything in?
You already have a hectic lifestyle. From the time you wake up (anytime from 5.00am onwards) until you get to bed (anywhere from 11pm onwards), you go, go, go.
Playgroup, kinder, school runs, grocery shopping, house work, cleaning your little darling’s drawings off the walls, changing nappies , preparing food, cleaning food off the floor, cleaning the kitchen, playing with lego, taking your kids to the park or soccer practice, or choir practice, supporting your husband in his work, keeping the ironing up-to-date, preparing the evening meal, bathing the kids, mopping up the bathroom floor before it floods the rest of the house, reading to the kids, getting up to the kids in the middle of the night —the list goes on and on.
So how can you possibly fit in work on top of it all?
That’s exactly how I felt about going back to work. Add to the list ‘a husband who travelled for work’, and it was fairly daunting. However, I bit the bullet and did it anyway. I knew deep down, that staying at home and being busy doing the above, was going to leave me feeling bored, resentful and frustrated.
While it wasn’t easy to begin with these are some of the things that worked for me. Hopefully, they can help you too.
- Limit your shopping time — only one full grocery shop a week, and one trip to top up perishables.
- Plan your meals ahead —planning out every meal for the week, and writing out your shopping list at the same time can save you hours.
- Cook extra food —when cooking dinner, double the amount of food you are cooking and put it in the freezer for those nights when things are a bit hectic.
- Bake in bulk —set aside a day every fortnight or so to bake treats for lunchboxes and freeze.
- Make lunches the night before —make lunches the night before so you can grab and go in the morning.
- Organise clothes the night before —organise everyone’s clothes the night before instead of scrambling every morning.
- Outsource try to outsource some of the household chores, even if it’s only every few weeks (e.g. cleaner or gardener). Enlist your partner and children to help out where possible, or just focus on one chore each day.
However, the biggest tip is to let things go. This doesn’t mean letting mould grow rampant through your bathroom. It means not stressing if toys lay on the floor for a day or two, or flipping out because the beds didn’t get made that day.
When I returned to work, I thought I could be Wonder Woman and keep it all together. However, I soon realised that I had too many balls in the air and it was exhausting trying to keep them there. Before I dropped the lot, I had to make the decision to put down a few.
Work out what the real priorities are and focus on those. One of your priorities should be to look after yourself so you can keep it together. That means getting plenty of sleep (yes the floor can be washed tomorrow), and taking some time for the activities you enjoy (grab that book and glass of wine).
A final word of advice is to ask for help when you need it.
After all, even Wonder Woman had help from time to time.
Happy job hunting.