Taking parental leave can be a tricky business for anyone and there are a lot of mothers (and fathers, too), who worry about the effect it will have on their careers. When I had my own children, my career was tracking along nicely, which definitely made me a bit nervous about what would happen when I returned. Would I still be able to do my job successfully? How would I balance work with looking after my family?
Although it can sometimes seem like it’s a choice between children and a career, there are countless examples of people transitioning back seamlessly. Based on my personal experience, here’s my advice on taking parental leave to make time for your growing family, while still continuing to build a successful career in the long term.
Worries and Pressures When Taking Parental Leave
The pressures we face as women are not always talked about in-depth, especially when it comes to balancing personal and professional demands, and the sacrifices that often come with juggling work and life.
Taking parental leave is a big decision and many women worry about things like their career prospects, the business moving forward without them and doubts about their ability to do the job when they return. On the flipside, it’s also common to worry about devoting enough time to family. While you may not know whether it was the right decision until further down the track, just remember that having mixed feelings is entirely normal and all part of the process. Above all, it’s your life and your career, so you need to find the right balance and make the choice that’s best for you, whether that’s returning to work or staying at home with your children.
How to Manage Parental Leave
Successfully returning to work after parental leave is all about being proactive and managing the transition carefully. Ideally, this should start long before the actual leave begins, so that plans are set in place from the start and everyone is on the same page.
It’s important to engage with your manager early on. Of course, things can change, and you may decide to move in a different direction later, but at least start the dialogue – that way, there’s a set opportunity to discuss your expectations, needs and goals, and how your employer may be able to help you achieve them. It comes down to communication and being open about the situation so that both parties can work together to find a suitable solution. When I decided to take parental leave, I was lucky that my employer was very open, and we had various discussions that resulted in us coming to an arrangement about how I would transition back. One of my biggest concerns was that I returned to the same role I was leaving behind, and maintaining communication in this way allowed me to slot back in.
Most mothers may return from parental leave and feel they cannot maintain the hours they once did. Balancing a career and a family may mean having to make changes to your routine and habits, as well as approaching your workday differently. Flexible working arrangements are becoming increasingly common in today’s businesses, and I’m seeing many employers becoming more open to supporting flexibility within their teams. Be honest with your employer and discuss the possibilities in your pre-leave meeting. In my experience, if you have already built up a level of trust within the company, it will make them more open to the idea.
Remember that flexibility can take a wide variety of forms, and often means different things to different people. It’s not just about remote working; it could also include different hours, the freedom to attend school events, shorter working weeks, alternative start/finish times, the ability to structure work around family commitments or staggering your return to work so that the transition back from parental leave happens more gradually. There are plenty of options that can work well for both you and your employer. You may even find that you’re able to get work done more efficiently and in less time because you’ve taken a different approach!
Returning to work after having children is a big step for both you and your family and it is normal to feel mixed emotions, including excitement, guilt, anxiety and fear. My advice to all mums and dads is to be really kind to yourself in that initial period and just do what you feel is best for you. You’re likely to face challenges as first, such as unsettled or sick children and lots of juggling, but remember – things do become easier as time goes on!
For more career advice or help with finding your next job opportunity, feel free to get in touch with me.