Tough economic times have led to increasing numbers of women returning to work after having children, often sooner than they would like, simply to make ends meet. Staying at home to raise children is viewed increasingly as an unaffordable luxury. This can place additional stress, pressure and guilt on women, their relationships and families. 

One of the most significant decisions many new mothers will make is whether to return to paid employment. Choosing to do so often produces unexpected emotions and raises many challenges affecting the whole family. Some mums fear the thought of returning to work, especially if they haven’t been working for some time. Others feel relieved about regaining an identity and look forward to the stimulation of adult interaction.

Many mothers resume their career with relative ease, finding their work environment refreshing and stimulating, providing them with new challenges and the chance to enjoy time out away from the home. However, it is common to experience guilt, low confidence and self-esteem when rejoining the work force, or worry about childcare arrangements and how children will cope.

The good news is, with planning and preparation, returning to work can be both a worthwhile and rewarding experience.

Return for the right reasons

Make time to identify, write down and review the advantages, disadvantages and motivating factors for your return to work. Try to ensure it will suit your lifestyle and family values, in addition to your financial situation. Many parents find guilt detracts from experiencing a positive transition into work force. Reduce guilt by focusing on the positives. Write down your thoughts and feelings so you can acknowledge them and move forward by letting them go.

Employment options

Spend time researching information on employment options available. These could include flexible working arrangements (especially important in times of family illness or unexpected delays); part-time or full-time positions; working evenings or weekends; job sharing; leave entitlements; employment contracts; working conditions; breastfeeding; and parking facilities. Discuss these with your prospective employer, enabling you to make informed decisions, while meeting your family needs.

Plan and prepare

Write down a specific plan for how your family will adapt. Involve the family and ask for everyone’s ideas and input. Delegate tasks and share responsibilities where possible. Review even the smallest of details to minimise unexpected problems. Planning could include childcare and transport arrangements, strategies for managing time effectively, financial assistance, support systems, contingency plans for breastfeeding, illness, holidays, unexpected delays and additional responsibilities, or updating your wardrobe with suitable work attire. Talk to other working parents to learn what worked well for them.

Childcare options

Spend time researching available childcare options, providing you with reassurance when choosing the best option for your family. Put your childcare arrangements in place before recommencing work, enabling you to start work feeling at ease and confident in the knowledge that your arrangements are satisfactory and your child is settled and enjoying their new environment.

Support systems

Remember, being a working mother doesn’t mean you have to do it all. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure – without support networks, our lives wouldn’t run smoothly.

Establish and trial support systems and routines in advance, enabling adjustments to be made if necessary. Involve your partner, family, friends or other working parents. If you don’t have extended family living nearby, make contact with other families within your community, or consider employing a babysitter or nanny. Learn to accept, or ask for, offers of help and assistance. Many working mothers say they could not manage without the full support and shared responsibility of their partner or support networks.

After commencing work, there are further considerations to help balance work and family commitments:

Get organised

Check and maintain your support systems and routines regularly, ensuring they work effectively for your family and identifying any changes that may be required. Aim to keep things simple, achievable and realistic. Many parents recommend planning and preparing meals in advance, shopping online or hiring a cleaner (if possible) to relieve pressure at the end of the day and allow quality family time during evenings and weekends. The stress that comes with not being organised far outweighs the little bit of time spent making sure you are prepared in advance.

Prioritise

As a working parent, demands on your time are commonplace and available time becomes valuable and precious. Prioritise what needs to be done daily, focusing your attention on one area at a time. This provides clarity and a sense of control when juggling differing roles and responsibilities, keeping you on track and feeling calm. Use effective time management strategies and tools, like a diary or personal organiser, to plan adequate time for work and family commitments. Make a commitment to schedule in regular time for yourself, your relationships and your children.

Communicate

Use direct and open communication with family, friends and your employer. Early and effective conflict resolution avoids compounding problems, disharmony and resentment. Regular discussions with family or your employer can be the ideal forum to review your current situation and make adjustments if necessary.

Set boundaries

Switching between work and family roles can leave you feeling exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed. Establish clear boundaries between work and family. Make a conscious decision to switch off from your ‘other role’, focusing your full attention on your present role. Concentrate on quality time, not quantity.

Go easy on yourself – trying to be ‘super mum’ and attempting to do it all will only result in anxiety, guilt and unnecessary pressure, leaving you feeling burnt out and exhausted. Have realistic expectations of yourself and others.

Make time for self-care a priority. Learn to say “No” to unreasonable requests or additional commitments. Remember it’s OK to put yourself and your family first.

Whatever challenges you encounter, having support systems in place, employing strategies that work for you and your family, and maintaining realistic expectations provide parents returning to work with an enjoyable, empowering and rewarding experience.

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Karyn Riley is a time management and life balance coach, author of “How to Keep the YOU in Mum”, inspirational speaker, writer and mother of two. For more information see www.rileylife.co.nz

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