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Returning to work - the guilt, the change and finding your "why"

The return to work is a big decision. It comes with feelings of guilt, uncertainty, excitement but also a huge unknown. You may have spent years studying for a career, or have been employed for sometime in a wonderful organisation to feel a bit like you had to "put things on hold" in the early years as a parent.

However you are feeling, know that you are not alone. I recently listened to an amazing podcast episode through Let's Parent where the host, Jazz Kostov, interviewed guest Carina O'Brien who is the Founder of Working Mumma. Carina created a community where likeminded parents can rally together and feel supported, inspired and connected as they look to return to work after having children.

Carina nailed it on the head - when thinking about returning to work you need to find your "why" and understand what you need for yourself, and your family. For each family this is different and your 'why' might change between 1 child or 4. Whether you need to return to work for financial reasons, you have limited family support with childcare, you miss your career or maybe it's that you actually just want to catch a break from family life and have something for you, outside of being a parent.

So what challenges does returning to work bring?

As you approach the end of maternity leave, and for some parents possibly earlier, you will have a shift in thinking about the pro's and con's of returning to your previous job. Those challenges might include:

  • Mental load

  • Mum guilt

  • Lack of time for self care

  • Finding a balance between work and parenting

The mental load of parenting is huge. Even when we aren't doing something we are thinking about what hasn't been done and what we need to do. Whether it's paying bills, housework, making lunches or booking in swimming lessons the to-do list is endless, and exhausting! When you return to work you will have additional stresses such as navigating a shift in time for grocery shopping, housework or meal prep. Take the pressure off - can you outsource some of these tasks? Could a cleaner come once a fortnight? Could you order groceries online to save time and the effort of hitting the shopping centre.

Leaving our little people with loved ones or at day care while we work brings so much guilt, but why? Why do we feel bad for returning to work? Whether its to contribute financially for the family, have some time away from your child or advancing your study/career, why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be a superhero? Societal expectations play a huge part, as do our own. I know for me personally, I am a better person, Mum and Wife when I have a good balance between being a parent, working and having some time just for me. Your little one might take some adjusting at daycare, and that's totally normal. They will establish some great friendships, build confidence around other adults and throw themselves into all sorts of sensory play and learning. Most daycare centres are amazing at providing updates to parents about what their little one's are getting up to while in care, which is exactly what we need sometimes, to see and hear that they are living their best life and are doing okay while you are at work. It makes that time when you are together even more precious as they can show you new things they have learned, tell you a story and smother you in affection.

“When you become a parent you have less time, finite resources and you really understand what your values and priorities are. This is your foundation layer" - Carina O'Brien, Founder of Working Mumma

Finding time for self care is so important but, as you know, parenting sees those spare hours dwindle and the lack of time and energy for us put on the back burner. Make time for YOU. Whether its reading a book, going for a run or getting a massage we need to look after number one. Don't just think about it, literally schedule it in. Use a diary or wall planner with your partner and make self care a priority. Start small as your little ones are young and increase the time from there. You will feel better mentally, emotionally and physically to take off your parent cape, hang it on the door and just be... even for a moment.

The constant battle of finding a balance between parenting and work-life, sigh! This balance is different, for everyone. Some parents want or need to work full time. Others work part time and care for their child/ren during the week. Working from home or being a business owner throws in a whole other aspect of 'finding the balance'. For me its about being present; both for my kids but also for my business. There's nothing worse that feeling like you are half arsing work or not present for your kids. If returning to the workplace gives you the time and balance to be a better parent, go for it. If enrolling your child into daycare (whether or not you are working) gives you some balance for self care/life admin/down time then do it. Communicate with your partner, reach out for support if you are struggling with the balance. It might mean that you need to cut back on something to take the stress of - do the kids need to do extra curricular activities this term? Can you work from home whilst they are in care to save time on travel etc?

Why does the return to work change after having kids?

You may have spent years studying a trade or specialising in a particular field and then you become a parent and it changes. Maybe working 40+ hours a week just isn't appealing anymore, maybe being in an office situation no longer suits. So why is it different changing from one job to the next before you are a parent than the return to work after your little love arrives?

Your values change: You are now the whole world to a tiny person, and that's huge! Your prioritises and values change when you go from thinking about yourself to now having to look after, be the voice and always think of someone else's needs before your own.

Whats important changes: Trival matters that used to get you down, consume your day or create feelings of anxiety or being overwhelmed may now seem somewhat minor in the scheme of things. Loving, supporting and being there for our children is important, and that will never change. It won't matter what job you have, what car you drive, how much money you make - the most important thing as a parent is providing our little ones a safe, loving and nurturing environment with people who care about them.

Your identity is different: When you become a parent you change. Physically, emotionally and mentally you are different. They say that when a child is born, so to is the Mother. Although its incredibly rewarding it's also a really confusing and overwhelming time. You might feel lost or out of your depth. The unknown world of parenting, the helplessness of stumbling through changes can leave us feeling like we left behind our "old selves". But that's okay. With any change comes opportunity. You now have the chance to create a new identity, a new you.

What drives you has changed: When you left your workplace on maternity leave you might have envisaged returning after 3-6 months maternity leave, only to find that when this rolled around you didnt have the same desire you once did. The passion for your job might change. You may now seek less responsibility with more flexible hours and tasks. On the contrary you may now have a new found drive and fire in your belly to sink your teeth into something more.

Establishing why you are doing what you are doing: Are you returning to work to contribute financially? Are you returning because you need to secure your employment? Maybe you need the time away from your child, and understandably so - it's full noise sometimes! Establishing your 'why' will help direct you and guide you to do what's right for you, your family and your career if you choose to follow that.

Whatever your reasons for returning to work, or not, finding your 'why' and establishing a balance is key. Do what's right for you, your family and your current/future career.

To listen to the Lets Parent podcast episode with Carina O'Brien follow Let's Parent on Spotify or give them a follow on Instagram: lets_parent

If you need any additional information or support please feel free to contact me at to book in a FREE 15 minute phone consultation to talk about what is happening for your little one and how we can help.

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