Ah, the emotional roller coaster that comes with a parental leave from work.
Before and during your pregnancy, you feel fully engaged and enthusiastic about progressing your career. The first few months with your baby throws everything into a crazy mess as you get to know your child. For many of my clients, it is difficult to transition from work to being at home with a baby. Not only is your job a big part of your self-esteem and confidence, it is also where you spent the majority of your waking hours. Now you’re awake all the time as a new mom dealing with your infant’s needs. As your maternity leave draws to a close, you feel anxious about what the world of work will look like upon your return and how you’ll cope with leaving your baby with another caregiver.
It is smart to have a loose strategy about how you plan to communicate with work while you’re on maternity leave. Having some informal interactions will keep you in the loop and help reduce anxiety. It’s almost like desensitizing yourself to the shock of going to back. Here are my tips for how soon and how often to touch base and what kind of communication is most appropriate.
When Baby Arrives:
Send an email to your closest work contacts – to your manager, direct reports and significant colleagues. They will want to share your joy! Write a brief message to let them know you made it through your journey. Introduce your child by name and include a photo because they’ll definitely want to see if your baby looks like you!
Show and Tell:
A visit to the workplace can be a nice outing if yours is a safe and welcoming environment for a baby. Arrange a time with anyone you’re close to and make sure your boss is aware you’re coming in. This will be a good time to touch base but keep it light and personal. You don’t need to be dragged into your responsibilities or projects. Simply say hello to your replacement but stop yourself from looking over their shoulder at your old work.
Only go into the office if you are really interested and ready. It may take, 6, 8 or 12 weeks to feel like you have it “together” enough to make an appearance. For me, there happened to be a company holiday party scheduled for about 6 weeks after my twins were born. My husband and I attended with the babies but I felt anxious the entire time. In retrospect it was probably too early for me to feel comfortable attending a big event with my colleagues passing the girls around from person to person.
Staying Connected Online:
Enjoy your maternity leave and if you’d like to, keep in touch via email or social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram with your close friends from work. Make it a social conversation and let them know up front how much office news you want to be made aware of.
Perhaps schedule a lunch or coffee date about halfway through your leave, if you have a close relationship with your co-workers. One of my clients appreciated her invitation to another colleague’s office baby shower. It felt nice to be included and gave her a chance to see her work contacts in a social setting. Otherwise, it is perfectly fine to disengage from work to focus on your new job of being a mom.
Communicating About Returning to Work:
Thinking about when your leave ends or if you choose to go back earlier than one year, contact your manager and/or Human Resources about two months before. Let them know your anticipated Return to Work date and book a meeting to speak to your boss about what you can expect upon your return. Try to find childcare if possible for that meeting so you can focus on the conversation without being distracted. This is your chance to determine what you’ll be coming back to in terms of projects and priorities.
Re-establishing your Professional Status:
As you get back into the swing of things at work, make sure you’re asking smart questions such as:
What are the most important things I can accomplish in my first 6 weeks back?
- Ask this so you understand what the expectations are and so you can negotiate them to ensure they are realistic before you jump back into work.
Were there any challenges while I was away?
- Understanding this will give you line of sight to any problems the team or company dealt with over your maternity leave. It shows you’re sensitive to what your colleagues worked on while you were away and gives you a bit of history to help you better tackle those outstanding issues when you’re back.
What new people or initiatives should I be introduced to?
- Make sure you are aware of what your team’s goals will be in the next year and how you can support them. Also, meeting new employees and stakeholders will be crucial in helping to integrate you back into your work “groove”.
Keeping some contact with work during your one year maternity leave will help you feel loosely connected to what’s going on in your professional life. Knowing some of the office politics and goings-on will reduce anxiety about returning to work. Try to find some appropriate times and ways to keep in contact while you stretch yourself in a completely new way – as a mom dealing with the most unpredictable but joyful experience you’ll ever face!