Careers

Adjusting to parenthood

Feb 11, 2019
Becoming a parent involves significant personal and professional change, but a little planning can go a long way.
 
Becoming a parent and taking time out of the workplace involves a significant, complex professional and personal transition, and often comes during a crucial time in your career trajectory. Take a moment to think about it. The psychological reorganisation required for healthy adaptation to parenthood is enormous – we have to learn to adapt to the physical, psychological, emotional and relationship changes that occur. It is one of the most challenging transitions that can occur in our lives.

From a career perspective, employees in Ireland are lucky to have access to generous maternity leave with many women opting to take upwards of nine months’ leave. Increasingly, partners are also able to avail of a number of months’ leave. This is fantastic for adapting, and bonding with your new baby, but it involves the added transition of stepping away from work and back into it after a period of extended leave. If you have a baby on the way, the chances are that right now you are spending the vast majority of your week going to your place of work and hopefully doing a job you enjoy. This is about to change, suddenly and quite significantly.

So much will happen in your life while you are away that the transition back to work will be a big one, despite what it might feel like now. Let us look at what you can do to make life easier on yourself and thrive through the changes ahead.

Before leave

Once baby is on the way, it can be so easy to be pulled into the craziness of preparing your home for a baby and gathering the baby ‘essentials’. It can often be a bit of a rush to get everything finished up in work, but it is well worth taking the time to put a plan in place for looking after yourself, helping your employer to help you, and managing your career in the run-up to your maternity or paternity leave.

Make a plan with your manager

Many employers can be reticent about getting in touch while you are on family leave. This is often well-intended but can leave you feeling a bit lost. The best way to counter this is to sit down with your manager before you go on leave and agree a communication plan. This can be as basic as agreeing that you will text them when baby comes, that you want to be notified of any major changes in your absence, and planning to meet for a coffee a few months before your return – whatever feels right and works for you both.

Get in touch with human resources

On a similar note, if you want to be kept in the loop about company goings-on, internal vacancies and so forth, get in touch with human resources (HR). Although some companies are fantastic at this, others can tend to forget about you altogether! So, make a point of contacting them (or raising the same points with your manager if your company has no dedicated HR function) and asking them to stay in touch. 

Work and performance summary

I highly recommend pulling together a brief summary of what you have been working on and your achievements in the run-up to your leave. You absolutely will forget! This can be very useful in getting your head back into the game when you return and act as a little confidence boost when looking back at your achievements.

Invest in your well-being

Make a commitment to prioritise your own well-being, as well as that of your family. Be kind to yourself and remember that there will be many changes ahead; and if things don’t go to plan, tomorrow is a new day. Ask your company to invest in your attendance at a workshop for planning your return to work or for some personalised one-to-one coaching. This is extremely beneficial in helping you get into a positive head-space and assisting with planning when the time comes. And of course, if you are back on top form quickly on your return, this will benefit your employer so it is a ‘win-win’ scenario.

Planning your return

Link in with work before you return 

Keeping in touch with key contacts in work can be very beneficial while you are on leave. In the weeks before you return, arrange a coffee or call with your boss, work friends or network to get the lay of the land and reassure yourself that the landscape has not changed as drastically as you might imagine. Consider what supports would be helpful for you as you return and discuss these with your manager.

Know your worth

As you start to plan your return, take time to reflect on your worth. List the skills and experience you have gained through your career and also, during your time away from work. If you have trouble doing this, or feel you are losing your confidence, enlist someone who can help you. If you are taking an extended career break, it is important that you maintain professional development through volunteering, reading, attending relevant events and keeping up with industry developments.

Make a plan with your partner to manage the household

The chances are that you will be doing most of the household ‘stuff’ while on leave. While this makes sense when one partner is at home, this isn’t sustainable when both partners are working. Don’t expect your partner to just know this; it is hard to know what needs to be done when you are not the person doing it. Take time to sit down in advance and agree how you are going to manage the various tasks and downsize or outsource what needs to be done.

Plan to get up and out in the morning

This depends on your work and childcare circumstances (for example, if you all need to leave together in the morning, if your baby needs breakfast before you leave etc.) Take time to plan everything that needs to happen to get you out of the house, and find a system that works best for you. Most parents I have worked with find it beneficial to get as much done the night before as possible.

As you settle back in

Things will invariably change for you in the months and years ahead. Your priorities may change, perhaps temporarily and perhaps for the long-term. The sleepless nights don’t go away just because you are back at work and little ones often get sick at the worst possible time. Parenting through the early years can be tough, but they are fleeting in the grand scheme of things. Keep open lines of communication at work and note these wise words from Alan Sroufe: “The best thing parents can do is guard against their own stress levels”.

TOP TIPS FOR MANAGING THE TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD

The prospect of parenthood beings with it many competing demands which, when taken as a whole, can be overwhelming. To avoid the common but counterproductive practice of retreating into panic mode, follow Claire’s four simple steps below...

Plan, plan, plan

Before leave, think about what will make you feel confident and supported as you return to work. Think about what will help you when you have a new-born baby at home and what will make your life as easy as possible.

Communication is key

If you don’t tell people at work and at home what is going on for you and what support you need, they will not be able to help you. It is so important to do this, even if this means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.

Prioritise your well-being

Ensuring that you are healthy and well, both physically and mentally, is what will ultimately help you weather any tough times and manage the changes ahead.

Know your worth

Take stock of your skills, experience and achievements before your leave and as you plan your return. And yes, anticipating the ever-changing needs of your new mini-stakeholder is a skill!

Claire Flannery is a business psychologist and executive coach at Strength Within, and mum to two small boys.