Dealing With a Return to Work After Maternity Leave

One of the issues that many women face after having a child is the return to work after maternity leave. Preparing financially for maternity leave is often the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to navigate your workplace after you return from maternity leave.

Challenges Facing Women on the Return to the Workforce

There are a number of challenges women face when they return to work after maternity leave. In my case, it was fairly easy to transition back. I was 23 years old, and working as a cashier while I waited for my husband to finish his undergraduate degree. We couldn’t afford for me to take more than four weeks off, so that was the length of my maternity leave. However, being a cashier and taking leave doesn’t really mean problems for most people. All it means is that shifts are shuttled around.

Maternity Leave

For women who are further into their careers, though, the challenges are much different. I came back to my job as a cashier without missing anything. Many career women, especially those in the corporate world, have to come back to situation in which someone else has been “filling in” and “proving” that they are replaceable. Another problem that many women face questions about their dedication to their jobs after maternity leave — especially if they have taken the maximum amount offered by law. (This is also an increasingly thorny issue for men who want to take parental leave.)

And, as these women return to the workforce, reports the Harvard Business Review, there are emotional issues as well. Many women feel assaulted on all sides, tired from the lifestyle changes, and dealing with post-partum emotions. It can also be difficult to find someone to share feelings with. Women often worry that co-workers will see them as weak and take advantage of the situation, and there are also concerns that they aren’t feeling like they “should,” and they don’t want to expose that side of themselves to ridicule.

The whole situation can be challenging emotionally and mentally. It doesn’t help, either, that you probably have a lot of work to catch up on after being absent from your post for weeks. All of it piles up, and can add further to stress and anxiety. Because each woman is different, dealing with the return to work is likely to affect each individually. If you are concerned about your own return to work after maternity leave, here are some things to consider:

  1. Find the support you need: First of all, make sure you have a good support system in place. Anytime you have an emotional health issue, you need to have good support. Your life partner, parents, and others can help you. In some cases, the support you need might be from a professional source, such as a therapist you can talk to and help you work through your issues.
  2. Take care of your health: It’s amazing how important your health is when it comes to the way you feel, and the way you cope with stress and perform in a number of settings. Make time for exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. Get enough sleep. This last can be difficult with a new baby, but see if you can get help from a partner, or even from a paid caregiver.
  3. Plan ahead: Sometimes, you need to plan ahead to prepare for your maternity leave. Before you have the baby, do what you can to arrange matters at work so that you have less to do when you get back.
  4. Does it make sense to check in?: Finally, consider the possibility of checking in at work while on your maternity leave. For some women, this is the ultimate betrayal of the purpose of maternity leave. Other women, though, thrive on the idea that they are still part of the process, and they can stay up to date. If you decide to check in, you can gradually work up to a full workload. This can be a good way to ease into the situation, and get used to your new lifestyle. It rarely works to just start again some Monday morning two or three months after you left for maternity leave.

No matter how you manage the end of your maternity leave, make sure that you make your decisions for the right reasons. Figure out if you really want to go back to work full-time, and be honest about your motivations for returning. If you realize that you don’t want to work full-time anymore, you can start making plans to adjust your lifestyle long-term.

This post is part of Women’s Money Week.

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