You’re not the only one if you still get that “new girl” feeling, even though your maternity leave ended ages ago. Combining nursery runs with deadlines and meetings can only add to feelings of uncertainty, but relax. It takes at least four months to feel fully confident back in the workplace after having a baby, according to a recent survey.
And, with more stay-at-home mums returning to the workforce, balancing work and family life is a reality for many of us. But, while you may feel you can never truly have it all, it is possible to do well in both worlds. It’s all about prioritising, being smart and changing your focus to reflect your current life stage.
Start as you mean to go on
It’s easy to let that meeting run over, but laying down ground rules now will pay dividends. If you need to leave at 5.30pm to pick up your baby, let colleagues know and stick to it. “There’s no worse feeling than running for the train because you’re late to collect your child, so establish a plan early on,” says Nicola De Burlet, PR head at Kenneth Green Associates, mum to Robbie, 5, and step-mother to Riley, 10, and Jack, 11. “Being clear about when you are and aren’t available will also help your colleagues, and make everyone’s lives easier.”
Feel like you’re getting dirty looks when you walk out the door? Try not to over-think it, and compromise if it’s absolutely necessary. “Business is about give and take, so if you can’t stay late, tell people that you’ll be around for 30 minutes that evening to take any vital calls,” says Anna Doble, legal director of media-law firm Wiggin and mum of one.
Be honest and realistic
It’s fine to acknowledge to yourself that you’re still settling back into work mode. You could even think of how you’re getting on as a percentage — you may be running at 50 per cent for the first month but, over time, this will increase to 70 per cent, then 90 per cent. “Percentages turn this stage into a process with a goal, and keep things professional in terms of the language you’re using,” says Tracey Woodward, commercial director of Urban Retreat, and mum of two. And expect it to take time. “Seeing life and work as two separate jobs will always leave you feeling behind in one or both,” she says. “Instead, view them as parts of a whole that you need to balance — sometimes, one has to give a little.”
Feel alive on no sleep
Try a pick-me-up if you’ve been up all night with your baby and are feeling drained at work. “My routine includes a few glasses of water, some stretches and using a body brush to get my circulation going,” Woodward says. “If you’re fatigued during the day, run your wrists under the cold tap for a boost.” She also believes in the power of a confidence-boosting mantra, such as, “If you believe you can do it, you can”. Repeat it to power you through the day.
Make space for creativity
You’re trying to come up with genius ideas for a client, but all you can think about is whether you remembered your preschooler’s water-bottle for nursery. Time to find some creative headspace. “A half-hour swim at lunch to think outside a work environment can be more productive than two hours at your desk trying to have that light-bulb moment,” points out Clare Hopkins, co-founder of beauty brand Balance Me and mum to Jack, 9 months, and Trixie, 3. “I also bounce ideas off other people, even those in different industries, because they can show you how to approach something in a fresh way.” Keep a notebook in your bag or an “ideas” note on your phone, so you can write good ones down straight away.
Take time out
It’s natural to have an OMG moment when you’re overwhelmed with work/home/life stress, so step outside or into the corridor to calm yourself down. “Picture the worst-case scenario, then put it into perspective,” Woodward suggests. Whenever you doubt your decision to return to work, think over the benefits for your child. “He’s socialising with other children at nursery or having fun with whomever he’s with, then he gets the best of you when you get home,” Hopkins reckons.
You may have had a to-do list before, but now’s the time to get super-organised — it’ll help prevent anxiety in the long run. “Set yourself a household task to get done in your lunch break each day — paying a bill or booking a GP appointment,” Doble advises. “Have separate lists for work and home. I have a folder for everything, from weekly plans to party invitations. It sounds geeky, but knowing everything’s in one place puts you back in control.”