Returning to work after your maternity leave is over can be such a daunting process.
You’ve made the decision and had the conversations with your manager about hours and flexible working. You’ve hammered out an agreement you can both, hopefully, be happy with.
But now comes the big jump, getting through that first week back at work.
You may be feeling many things, among them self-doubt because you’ve been away from the office for so long. Can you even remember your password?
Those months of long nights, crying over spilt breastmilk, and endlessly Googling for help on getting a baby to eat more than one bite of solid food have made you feel like a different person.
Without a doubt, the first few weeks back at work are tough and emotional. Here’s some tips for getting through the first week:
Speak to your manager the week before
It’s a good idea to double check the details, such as your start time, and just to have an informal chat about what you can do in your first week back. There may be lots of meetings coming up, or a quiet week. Try to get a feel for what the first week back will involve and what tasks you may be asked to work on.
This will mean you feel a bit more prepared for what’s to come.
Also if your working hours have changed it gives you a chance to gently remind your manager of this.
Get organised on Sunday afternoon
Get your work clothes out, pack your bag and make your lunch, if you need to. Monday morning will be chaotic as you get yourself ready and attempt to get your baby fed and out of the door as well.
Don’t forget to pack a picture of your baby too because no matter what you do, they’re going to be on your mind. It’s nice to have a photo to look at, one that makes you smile.
Also pack your baby’s childcare bag, including spare clothes, an all-in-one waterproof and wellies. Put out the clothes you are going to dress your baby in on Monday as well.
You still have all your memories and skills of doing the job – just! Yes you now have a small person who is extremely reliant on you at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a job too.
Lots of people juggle and make it work. Don’t be down on yourself. Remember that you did this work before and you can do it again.
It may well feel harder than before, because certainly in the first week your brain is all over the place as you flit from worrying about whether your child is happy at nursery to whether you can hack this job. Don’t panic, take a deep breath and don’t try to run before you can walk.
Take each day as it comes and you don’t have to prove anything in your first week back.
Try not to flinch at the sight of your inbox
If you haven’t been checking your email regularly while on leave, chances are your inbox is going to be horrendous.
Try not to make it send you into a downward spiral of despair. Instead grab a coffee and work through it one message at a time.
Friendships and office politics change
You may have been kept in the loop about what’s been going on while you’ve been off. However you may be totally unaware of all the arguments, scandals and new alliances that have been made in the office.
This can make you feel so very out of place. Even somewhere you’ve been working for years can become very unfamiliar and unsettling when you’ve not been there for a year or so.
Don’t panic. You won’t feel this disconnected from it forever. It’s going to take a few weeks to catch up on the gossip, make new office besties and realise the colleagues who are out to stab anyone in the back to get what they want.
For now, sit back and observe. Learn who is friends with who, where do people go when they have a problem, what are the dynamics, what are the pressure points, etc. Learn this by watching and listening. In a few weeks you will have your finger back on the pulse of what’s going on in your office, and you’ll know who your friends and enemies are.
All the germs
During your child’s first year attending childcare they will be ill. A lot.
The first cold, vomiting bug or other charming virus can strike in the first week. This is a nightmare for you as you’ve just returned to work and feel terrible for asking for any additional time off.
Try to be prepared with this and ask your other half if they can step in during your first week if anything unplanned like this arises. Alternatively do you have a friend or relative that could help out, who you can have on standby in the first week?
Of course you may well catch whatever bugs your child brings home, so make sure there are lots of tissues at your desk.
It does get easier
That first week back is the toughest, but as time goes on and you get into a routine it will get so much easier.
Hang in there.