Coming back to work after a long break is strange. Whilst the environment and your colleagues are comforting and familiar, the business may have changed and your role requirements might be different too. If you have come back part-time, you may have the added issue of less time in the week to get the work done.
1. Take Stock
Try and find some time in the first week to have a meeting with your manager to re-evaluate your workload and establish what your key priorities are now. Give yourself time to ease back into your role and find out what has changed before you take on new projects. Allow yourself to miss your children but don’t give in to guilt. If you didn’t want to come back to work but were forced to by necessity, try and find the positives in the situation, like more income for your family and pride in the job that you do (see point 3 below).
2. Plan your life
It will take several weeks for everyone in the family to adapt to the new routine. Your children will be adjusting to the new childcare arrangements (even if they are being cared for by family members, it may take a while for them to settle and realise Mum or Dad is not on call), and you may have to negotiate pick-ups and drop-offs with each other so you are not always the employee coming in slightly late or having to leave slightly early.
Planning is key. Keep a monthly calendar on the wall so you can spot problems coming – the dentist appointment, health visitor check, the day nursery is closing early – and plan accordingly. Negotiate with your boss. You might have to take holiday to make the appointment, or you might be able to make up the time another day. Keeping your employer informed and giving early notice of issues helps, especially if you can offer solutions at the same time.
3. Take pride in your work
Work can sometimes feel like a relief. You are not just ‘Mum’ or 'Dad'. You can have adult conversations without being interrupted, eat your lunch without being interrupted, use the bathroom… you get the idea, all the little things that you used to take for granted before your children arrived. Plus, with work (or study) you can engage your brain again and it can feel good to fire it up and solve problems.
A manual job can be a joy because of the sense of achievement that can come with it. Something as simple as stacking shelves in the local supermarket can give a real sense of purpose and reward, (that is often missing when raising young children), because it is a manageable and achievable task. At the end of the day, you can look at the labour you have completed and think ‘I did that’, whereas, with small children, it can often feel as if you are left looking at all the things you were unable to do instead!
4. Make time for yourself
Work, home, study, home, work, home, don’t forget the importance of giving yourself some space away from it all if possible. This is where having a helpful friend or nearby family who can babysit is vital. The best way to stay sane when juggling the demands of holding down a job or studying whilst also looking after your family, is to remember to look after your own needs as well and take a break now and then.
It doesn’t have to be long but it does have to be a complete break, one hour a week, minimum, where you can do whatever you want and feel completely guilt free about doing it, be it sitting somewhere you love and reading a book of your choosing (not a textbook), catching up with a friend or going for a run.
The added benefit in giving your mind a rest, is that it can sometimes surprise you with solutions. This is a good tip when anything is bothering you or you can’t get past a problem: stop, take a break, forget about it entirely and when you come back, you might find you’ve come up with an answer you couldn’t see previously.
Nothing will destroy you like sleep deprivation. It can be hard to hold down a job or study for an exam, if you are completely exhausted from looking after a small child or two. So sleep when you can, use your network again (partner/friends/family) to help share the load if you haven’t slept for three nights straight because of a sick child. You can always return the favour later and be a lifeline for another parent trying to hold it all together.
6. Be present
When you are at home with your children, be there. Switch off from work and if studying, put the books away. Quality time is very different from quantity time and short bursts when you are fully engaged with your children can be very rewarding. The bedtime routine is an obvious opportunity to reconnect if you work a 9-5, but it doesn’t have to be this. If you work shifts, find another window, maybe an hour in the morning around breakfast when you are not rushed and they are not tired and you can give them your undivided attention.
Finally, as I said at the beginning, holding down a job or studies whilst juggling parenthood can be the toughest job there is. If you work, remember the positives of being employed and the benefits it can bring you and your family. If you are studying, focus on your end goal and where it can take you. At the end of the day, put both in a box and enjoy your family, whilst giving yourself a break now and then because goodness knows, you deserve it!