Returning to work after extended parental leave

Work from home office with kid.

November 12, 2023

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Our top 10 tips for making work, work for you.

Imagine the days when you might occasionally take a long holiday, or take a few weeks off for Christmas. Remember how weird it felt sitting back down at the desk after all those days without it? Remember staring at the computer screen thinking what was it I did again, and how did I do it?

Now imagine you’ve been off for 6 to 12 months, or maybe even a few years. You’ve had one, maybe two, maybe even more kids. You’re likely sleep-deprived, more than a bit stressed, endlessly busy, and probably very lacking in adult conversation.

Welcome to the daunting prospect of returning to work from extended parental leave. On a personal and financial level, you’re most likely craving to get this level of normalcy back into your life, but at the same time, gosh, it’s terrifying.

Take a breath though, we’ve got you! We went around and chatted with our beautiful team of collaborators and asked them for their best tips for returning to work post-babies and this is what we came up with.

1)      Be kind to yourself

It sounds silly and is often much easier to say than do but trust us, it’s important. Having babies changes your very identity. You’re not the same person you were when you walked out that office.

You’re growing and changing as a person as you forge your new identity as mum or dad. It’s ok to want to strive for a bit of the “old you” back but it’s not going to happen overnight. Pace yourself.

2)      Plan as much as possible

There’s a reason stay-at-home mums are often the queens of organisation. We have a LOT on our plates. A return to work in any capacity is going to add a bit more stress, but if you plan ahead, it is manageable.

Make sure you think about when and how you are going to still get all the other things in your life done – dinners, housework, groceries, errands and appointments, time with the kids, and time for you. This will likely get easier as you find a groove with your new schedule.

3)      Be prepared for those plans to occasionally fall apart

No one can throw a curveball at you quite like your kids. So yes, if you’re a planner, make all the plans in the world that you need to make you feel like you’re on top of things. But also brace yourself for these plans to fall apart from time to time.

Once again be kind to yourself and accept that sometimes you can’t do it all, and that’s ok.

4)      Communicate with your employer and co-workers

Honesty is always the best policy. Make sure you make time to sit down with your boss and discuss your return to work. Think about how you think it will look for you. What are your challenges? If your employer is on the same page as you from the day you return, expectations can be much easier to manage.

This goes for co-workers too. People who’ve had kids may be more understanding, whereas those who haven’t been in your shoes may need some help. Keep lines of communication open, and there’s less likely to be any conflict.

5)      Flexibility is a beautiful thing

One wonderful by-product of the mess that was COVID is that flexible work has become much more of a reality.  Make sure you ask your employer whether they have flexible work arrangements available (many organisations did already have a version of this in place for people returning after Parental Leave).

Will you return part-time or full-time?

Maybe you can work from home more often and outside of office hours? This might allow you to cut down on the number of days your little one has to be in care.

It never hurts to ask!

6)      Boundaries are important

This one really goes hand in hand with being kind to yourself. Returning to work is another big step in your life, and it can be overwhelming.

Check-in with yourself regularly and make sure you’re not burning yourself out. Remember you also have a very important job as mum or dad and that little employer (ie. Your child) may not be quite as understanding as an adult manager might be.

7)      Consider some upskilling

Some people find a gentle way to ease themselves back into the idea of working, is doing a short course or some other form of study. Not only does this potentially update your professional relevance in the workplace, but it also allows you to get used to the idea of working to deadlines while balancing parenting.

8)      Don’t be afraid to ask for help

From whoever you need it from – friends, family, your partner, co-workers. You are not and nor should you be alone in this process. It takes a village, and that includes the village required to help you return to work, successfully.

9)      Be clear with yourself about your priorities, and be prepared to stick with them

This might not be the time to go reaching for that great new promotion, or it might be. It really depends on what you want from your return to work.

Do you want to kick-start your career again? Or maybe for now you’re happy just to gain a little bit of yourself back. Either is more than ok. It’s all about what works for you and your family.

10)  Sometimes you need a Plan B, C, D etc.

So, you’ve gone back to work and it’s just not working. That’s ok, it’s not your fault. Take a breath and go back to the drawing board.

Perhaps you need to reassess the way you’re working. Perhaps you need to ask your partner to help out a bit more or see if they can adjust their hours. Perhaps you need to change jobs or employers entirely. Once again there is no right answer, and it might take you a few tries and false starts to find something that fits.

If you’re a skilled professional seeking a flexible return to the workplace on your own terms, click through to our collaborator page and see if you like what we can offer. If you think we might be a good fit, let’s catch up for a virtual coffee to find out if CAKE is for you.

Just remember no one is perfect, but with the right support, you can do this!


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