Some people re-enter the workforce after pausing for other commitments, and have a fabulous experience. Others have a tough time, or crash and burn completely. There are many who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Everyone’s experience is a combination of their reality – their family/community support, need for remuneration, type of organisation, their relationship with their boss, the size of their team, the demands of their job, personal goals and their frame of mind.
I knew of returning to work Mum that was hired into a new role and by lunchtime on day one, she was in tears. She made it through day 2, but didn’t return for day 3. The employer tried to offer flexibility. She just wasn’t ready to return to work, and that’s okay.
Another mum I know, with a child with extensive special needs didn’t have an option but to return to work. She was a sole parent after a divorce. She negotiated a ‘four days over five’ arrangement, with the ability to work from home when her daughter couldn’t attend school. It was a very successful arrangement.
My own experience returning to work after parental leave was gut wrenching. On the surface, I had it all: a supportive spouse, a fairly easy kid, local daycare, a family friendly employer, and a job I’d been in for over a decade. Sounds easy right?
In reality, even though I had a rolling return whereby I started at 2 days per week when my daughter was 9 months old, and ramped up to 4 days over time, I was miserable. I felt guilty leaving my child at daycare, members of my team clearly indicated that they didn’t like that I was working fewer hours, and my boss (interstate) started ringing at 9 sharp to make sure I was at my desk.
On one dismal morning, my toddler fell off the ladder of her mini slippery dip and banged her head. Against all my better judgement, feeling the pressure to be on time for work, I dropped her at daycare anyway. Not my finest hour.
Eventually I realised that my circumstances had changed, but my idea of what working conditions were right for me had not. What had been perfect before having children was now now the wrong hours, wrong commute, and wrong culture.
Returning to work is horses for courses, as my mother would say.
Every situation is different. Preparing to return to work involves an educated guess at what type of role will be appropriate given current realities. What hours will work for you and your support network? What creative flexibility can be built into the arrangement? Not all jobs lend themselves to easily flexibility, so what needs to be discussed and put into place before you head back to the office? What do you want out of working?
At the end of the day, nothing ventured, nothing gained. But, if it turns out that the new role isn’t the role, or that your old role isn’t right for you anymore, or perhaps the whole plan just doesn’t come together – THAT’S OK.
If there was one ‘right’ choice that applied to everyone, it might be easier, but life is really about the continual exploration of how to be our best selves. There is more than one way to put our best foot forward, and if at first you don’t succeed – you will be able to dust yourself off and try again.
Betsy is a FlexCareers community member who kindly offered to share her story. If you have a story you’d like to share, you can use the link below or email us at or email us at [email protected]
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