Whether you took a one-year mom pause from work or you stepped away for a decade or more, there is going to be a little bit of shock and an adjustment period when you return to the workforce. Staying home with kids full-time is just as hard (if not harder) as working outside the home. Since the two worlds are so different—the transition from one to the other can be tough to navigate.
Like in any new job, when you initially took your mom pause, you probably felt a little lost in your role. Maybe you traded being in a constant state of mental exhaustion for the physical and emotional exhaustion of being a stay-at-home parent. Or, perhaps you felt a little lost going from a tight schedule with regular overtime to a wardrobe of athleisure wear and a reliance on dry shampoo. No matter what your situation was at the time, you were probably making many adjustments as you settled into your career break. Perhaps, it’s safe to expect a similar experience when you swap places again.
What can you do to make the transition a little easier, then? In this case, planning, setting expectations, and self-care are going to make all the difference.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Whether you’re feeling thrilled, guilty, sad, nervous, or a combination of a dozen things at once, it’s essential to give yourself permission to sit with those feelings and accept them for what they are. Maybe your mom-pause was hard for you and left you feeling unfulfilled, so you’re excited about getting back to work. It’s okay! Or, perhaps you’re returning to work because your family needs you to financially, and you’re sad to go back—this is also okay.
Whatever it is that you’re feeling, it’s valid and you don’t have to talk yourself out of it to make the transition back to work easier. It’s better to get your emotions out in the open and possibly even talk them through with someone you trust to prevent feeling like you’re stuffing them down (which we all know will only cause more harm down the road). Perhaps, if you’re feeling much mom-guilt over your return to work, it might help to get some reassurance from your partner, a friend, or a mentor that you’re doing a good thing for your family.
Ensure Your Personal Needs are Met
Being honest about how you’re feeling is essential, but that’s not where your personal needs end—that’s just the beginning. Between deciding to return to work, the application and interview process, and the transition back into the office, you’re going to need to take care of yourself.
Make Sure This Is The Right Move
There are many factors to consider as a parent when you’re deciding whether or not to return to work because your decision impacts more than just you. Maybe you want to go back to work, but the cost of childcare would put a financial strain on your family, so you have to assess if this is the right time to return and weigh your personal needs against what your family needs. On the flip side, maybe your family needs the income, but you’re not mentally ready to return. If you're lucky, there might not be any barriers on either your personal or the family side, so the decision to return (or not to return) is easy.
No matter the situation, you need to decide if this is the right move for you right now to succeed in finding a new job and thriving once you’ve landed one.
Rally Your Support System
You are a robust and fantastic superhero human, but you can’t make this transition solo. You’re going to need some support, whether it’s someone who can pick your kids up from school when you work late, a mentor who will offer guidance as you find your footing or a loved one to be your sounding board at the end of a long day. Going back to work will be a significant change and adjustment for you that you will need to surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed. Plus, they will do what they can to help make that happen.
You already know how important self-care is as a parent, but it’s going to be especially important during this transition. On top of all of the parenting things you usually do, you’re also going to job hunt, interview, and eventually learn the ins and outs of your new position. It’s all incredibly draining, so if you don’t actively make time for self-care, you’ll crash and burn before you know it. Yes, it’s hard to get time for self-care when you’re juggling work and parenthood, but the cost of not making the time for it is too high. If you can, set aside a minimum of one night a week to do something for yourself after the kids go to bed, even if it’s just spending 30 minutes watching a rerun of your favorite TV show.
Make a Return Plan
Step one is deciding to go back to work. Step two is making sure you have everything you need to make the transition. Step three is planning out the logistics.
Play Catch Up
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start researching your industry to catch up on what’s changed since you took your mom pause. Is it an industry that’s easy to slide back into, or are you better off going in a different direction? What does the job market look like in your chosen field? Are there any platforms to learn, certificates to earn, or other professional development training you should prioritize before you start actively applying for jobs? Regardless of how long you’ve been out of the workforce, there has undoubtedly been some degree of change that you will need to get yourself up to date with, and your transition back will be much easier if you’re prepared to address it.
Full Time Or Part Time?
Once you know what kind of job you want to go for, you’ll need to figure out what kind of schedule would be best for you and your family. Do you need a job that will allow you to do school drop-off and pickup? Are you hoping to jump right into a full-time schedule, or do you want a position where you can slowly phase in from part-time to full-time? If you desire part-time, how many hours a week would be ideal and do you have any preferred days of the week you’d like to work? By figuring this out, you’ll be able to take a more targeted approach in your job search and you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do to get your family prepared for your transition.
Get The Family Organized
There are probably many tasks that have defaulted to you as a stay-at-home parent but that you might not be able to keep up with once you go back to work. Just like you need to prepare yourself for this transition ahead of time, you should also prepare your family. Start shifting things like your morning routine, homework, dinnertime, and playdate scheduling so that they better align with what will likely be your new schedule once you start a new job. Also, now is an excellent time to start putting feelers out if you need before or after school care, hope to find another family to carpool with, or want to get quotes if you plan to outsource things you won’t have as much time to do with a new job (like house cleaning or lawn work).
One of the more difficult things about being a parent who works outside the home is that you don’t always have as much control over your schedule as you’d like, and this can be a tricky thing to adjust to when you transition back into the workforce. Suddenly, scheduling your kids’ dentist, vision, and well-check appointments becomes more challenging (not to mention those days when they wake up sick and have to stay home from school). You must look at your daily life and consider what you need from an employer to make things work for your lifestyle as a parent. As you reflect, come up with a list of “must-haves” for a job, like healthcare benefits and a flexible schedule, and “nice to haves,” such as an option to work remote or unlimited sick time. It will help you weed out some jobs during the search process and serve as a guide during negotiations when you eventually get offered a position. These lists will be excellent reminders of what is and isn’t worth advocating for, which will help make the transition back to work smoother (and make the job itself more manageable long-term).
Embrace The Transition
It’s important to understand that, like any significant change, there is no amount of planning, prioritizing, or organizing you can do ahead of time that will eliminate any struggle from the process. Even the most exciting transitions require some adjustment. It’s just the nature of change. So, do what you can to prepare yourself and your family for your return to work, and don’t be afraid to lean on your support system when you could use a pep talk, a hug, or some help with the kids. You’ve got this.
Support throughout your working motherhood journey
Get access to career opportunities with family-friendly employers, job search and career development resources, and a thriving community of moms and allies with The Mom Project.