One of the hardest transition points in a parent’s life is the moment you return back to work after having a baby. In some ways everything is exactly as you left it at work, and in other ways it is changed forever.
There are many books about what happens to a woman’s body during pregnancy and how to look after your baby once born. However, there are not many books about how to look after yourself and prepare yourself for your return to work after baby.
To be quite frank, upon returning to work after baby, I think it is normal and reasonable for a parent to come home from work at least once a week expressing that ‘it is no longer manageable’, ‘it’s just too much’, or ‘something has to change’. Juggling a job and parenting is hard, and this is compounded when both parents return to the workforce. The challenge is even greater if both parents return to work full-time.
One skill that helps both parents ‘hang in there’ and continue transitioning into their new post-baby working worlds is resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with unexpected challenges and to recover quickly. (The other definition of resilience is the ability for an object to spring back into shape–which made me laugh out loud thinking about a mother’s post-baby body–and perhaps is a topic for another day!)
The good news is you are not born with or without resilience. Resilience can be built, self-taught and practiced. So, here are my top 10 tips to building resilience:
1. Think positive thoughts
When negative thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them and then put them off to the side decreasing your focus on them.
2. Start/end with gratitude
Every morning or night remind yourself of things you are grateful for.
3. Set realistic expectations
Accept that change happens all the time.
4. Never beat yourself up about things that are not in your control
Accept that negative things happen.
5. Expect to drop at least one ‘ball’ a week
Ideally, decide which ‘ball’ it is and acknowledge where it is in your list of priorities (for me this is often going for a run).
6. See failure as a form of helpful feedback
Don’t internalise the failure. Learn from it. Laugh about it. Move on.
Talk to friends and family, and ask for help when needed.
8. Never make decisions when emotions are high
Walk, sleep, talk, pause, then re-visit with a clear head.
9. When overwhelmed, write it all down
Get perspective on what to prioritise and which balls to drop/leave on the ground.
10. Look after yourself
Find things that help you feel calm: meditation, yoga, cup of tea, walk without disruption.
The good news is that learning to build resilience can help you feel stronger, and with regular practice, you will find you are more able to face every new challenge and come back stronger than before.
I would also encourage you to share your experiences—the good, the bad and the ugly—with other retuning parents, as this helps to normalise the experience for others. Part of the reason why parents drop out of the workforce is because they think it’s their fault or their inability to juggle all the balls when, in fact, no one is juggling all of them! Parents are simply setting more realistic expectations and being kinder to themselves when things go badly.
Written by Ghislaine Entwisle, director in a global management consulting company and passionate advocate for women in the workforce. Ghislaine is also a supporter of women struggling from homelessness, domestic violence and poverty in raising kids. She is involved in a social enterprise to improve executive level involvement of culturally diverse women, and is actively involved in technology and female networks in Melbourne.
Read Ghislaine’s real story: How motherhood boosted my confidence and ambition