It’s a long time since I had to think about returning to work after parental leave, but is something I have been helping my eldest daughter with this month. For me it was relatively straight forward (weirdly) as I was living in a country in the Middle East where everybody had live in help, so as I say, it was straight forward. Fast forward 25 years and replace Saudi Arabia with Southern England, and well things are a bit different. That doesnt mean though that I havent been able to pass on some words of advice that I think might be useful so am sharing them here too in the hope you might be able to benefit too.
Know your rights
First and foremost it would be well worth spending some time on the Money Service Advice page to check what your rights are on returning to work after parental leave.
Think about childcare months in advance
If you are thinking about nursery provision, you will want to do a tour of a few to get a feel for them, to meet the staff and to see how they operate. You will also want to do a few settling in days (which will generally be an hour or two, building up to longer sessions) before you start leaving them full time. All of that takes time, you don’t want to be rushing it so start thinking about it well in advance.
If you are hiring a nanny or an au pair you will need time to find the right person, to interview them, and to have them settle in with you before you leave them in charge.
Make sure any childcare provision have emergency phone numbers
If you are in a meeting and they need to get hold of somebody urgently, who should they call next? How will they verify who that person is should they need to pick up on your behalf?
Consider back up childcare
Whilst you can’t foresee every situation it is well worth considering what you would do if your primary childcare is unavailable for any reason. If the nanny is off sick, for instance, what do you do if you only get an hour or two’s notice? Or if your own child has something like conjunctivitis or chicken pox and can’t go to nursery or school? Who can you call on to help? We have already agreed that this will be me but if granny isnt up the road for you, who will it be? Starting a new job is stressful enough and you might not want to call in sick during your probationary period to look after a poorly child so it is well worth thinking about this before you start.
Think about income protection insurance
This is something that you might not consider in the early stages of return but it is something we should all be doing. Income protection pays a percentage of your income in the event of you being unable to work. I first took it out when my children were much younger because as a single working parent I worried that if I was unwell, or injured and therefore unable to work I wouldnt be able to cover the bills. Income protection insurance is now something I would always recommend people look into taking out, especially now that some policies pay up to 100% of your income and also cover the self-employed (twenty years ago many didn’t).
Ask about a phased return to begin with
Whilst you might not want to call in sick in the first few weeks it is wise to be upfront with your employer about your return to work. Maybe ask if for the first few weeks you could do just a couple of days a week, or work day a week from home. Returning to work is going to exhausting, and emotionally draining so being up front and practical about it is probably the right approach and a staggered return can make things so much easier to begin with.
Accept any offers of help, and know how to ask for them
Friends want to meet up at the weekend and its your turn to host? Suggest that maybe you dont but can you all go to theirs? Of if they come to yours is okay if you get a take away? Or rather than a Saturday night boozy affair, can you meet for lunch instead. Can you afford to get a cleaner once a month? Or have somebody do the ironing? We often think that these are luxuries, and to a certain extent they are, but actually if you can afford them, even for just a short time then it is well worth it for the extra few hours it gives you back.
Be kind to yourself
Recognise you are going to be grouchy, worried, tired, in fact most of the emotions. It would be odd if you weren’t. Give yourself a break. Returning to work after parental leave is a huge transition and you need to be kind to yourself, recognising that you might not have the energy to do the fifteen things you used to do when you got in from work before.
Image of parent and child courtesy of Shutterstock