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Going back to work part-time after maternity leave: overcoming the challenges

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Going back to work after maternity leave has always been full of challenges for women (and their partners and children!). Not only can it be hard to ‘re-acclimatise’ to the company and work itself after a spell at home with your baby but in addition, a lot of mothers struggle with feelings of guilt about leaving their children in somebody else’s care while they are out there making a living.

This article addresses some of the challenges facing mothers of small children in part-time employment. We also offer some suggestions about how best to manage the transition back into paid employment and to find the ideal balance between work and home life. In writing this article, we talked to several women who have returned to work on a part-time basis about their experiences, and we are very grateful to all of them for their invaluable contributions.

On being in the right job…

First of all, one of the women pointed out, being in the right job is crucial, both in the sense of how interesting you find your work and whether the employer is willing to cooperate and understand your situation. “I initially went back to my pre-baby job three days a week but it didn’t work out well as my employers were not fully supportive of me working part time. I was lucky enough to find a different job for three days a week which has been a lot better – though this is only a maternity cover contact”.

A balance that can benefit both you and your baby…

She went on to stress that going back to work has reinforced her self-confidence and created a good balance in her life – spending some days at work and the rest of the week together with her daughter attending baby groups and spending time together. “I also think my daughter has benefited from having a varied weekly routine and going to nursery”.

Compressing the working week into four days…

Some women mentioned that compressing the working week into four days could also be a good solution. This allows them to spend the fifth days with their children and work on a full-time basis. This has a financial logic, but of course poses some organisational and logistical challenges: “Relying on partner doing drop off, good hours at nursery (open early till late), alarms on the phone for setting off in time, an understanding boss for when it goes pearshaped from time to time…”. One should beware of overload when working compressed weeks as you still have the same amount of work to accomplish in fewer hours. A lot of women I spoke to complained that they end up working at the weekends and in the evenings after their children go to bed to make up for the work they didn’t manage to do.

Being well-prepared and organised…

If you are working part-time, being organised and well-prepared assumes an even greater importance. Not being late and establishing an appropriate and efficient morning routine are both critical factors for reducing stress and setting you off for a productive day at work. Overall, “It is important to find an employer or clients (if you are self-employed) who have a clear understanding of your situation so that if you do have to dash off and pick up your child, you aren’t penalised for it.  However, in return, try to demonstrate as much flexibility within your job so it’s not all take take take”.

Not pushing yourself …

One of the women we spoke to suggested that one of the best ways to combine working and raising a baby is to “to teach yourself that you don’t have to push yourself to do EVERYTHING. Do what is important and achievable and do it well. Don’t beat yourself up for no longer being able to do everything you would like”.

And avoid packing too much in your day with your child when you are not at work. De-compress, relax and have fun together! “Don’t treat your day with a baby as a day to do a million and one things…”

Challenges of finding suitable part-time work…

A number of women stressed the difficulty of finding the right part-time job as they are relatively rare and are often not advertised externally. This makes is even more important to keep your skill base up to date and attend networking events to uncover ‘hidden’ job opportunities. It may take a while to arrive at your ideal job so be patient, persistent and don’t give up along the way: “Hang in there – arriving at your ideal part-time job (or combination of part-time jobs) could take a while but it is worth-while when you achieve your ideal workl/life balance”.

As a mother and company owner myself, I would like to add that the biggest challenge for me has been learning to use the time effectively throughout the day, evenings and weekends and prioritise the work-related tasks that need to be done in the first instance, in order of urgency. It has not been easy but months of juggling childcare responsibilities and demands of my business have taught me a lot about planning ahead, spreading the work evenly across the week and weekend and allowing time for some relaxation as well.

I would love to hear your comments and opinions on working part-time and balancing it with early pick ups from school or nursery and other childcare responsibilities.

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