How to rebuild your confidence after maternity leave
“It just won’t turn on at all,” I said to the unfamiliar IT manager – he hadn’t been there when I’d finished up nine months earlier. “I held the power button down for ages, but nothing.”
“Why did you hold it down though?” he asked. “You just press it once, lightly, and the PC will come on – do you want me to take a look?”
I could feel my cheeks burning. “Eh, no, I’ll try it again myself,” I said, and ran back to my desk, hoping he’d think I was the new work-experience girl, and not someone who had been there for years.
Of all the things, I worried about coming back after maternity leave, switching on the PC wasn’t one of them. I was pretty sure I could manage that. The rest, not so much. Would I remember how to do my job? Would I be able to get up to speed on new projects and systems? How long would it take to get to know new staff who had joined while I was gone? And would I even remember my passwords? That could be put to the test if I ever managed to turn on the damn PC.
Returning to work after maternity leave is hard for all sorts of reasons – leaving a child with someone else for the first time, building a whole new morning routine that includes a childcare drop-off, and an evening routine that doesn’t include flopping on front of Coronation Street. But beyond the emotional wrench and the logistical challenges, it can be a tough time for confidence levels too. For most of us, our work is covered by someone else while we’re out, and that in itself is something that provokes mixed feelings – yes, we want that person to succeed, but maybe not to the extent that we feel sidelined?
Luckily, there are a few tricks that can make the return to work easier and help to rebuild confidence:
Stay in touch
While it’s lovely to switch off from work and focus completely on maternity leave, there’s a downside to a total disconnect too. It can make the first day more daunting. Whereas if you’ve checked in with colleagues or your boss now and then – not to do anything work related, just to say hi – the return can be much easier.
I met my boss for coffee a week before I was due back after my first maternity leave. It was a great opportunity to reconnect and refamiliarise myself with the world of work, but in a very casual setting that didn’t (overly) intrude on my last days of maternity leave. If you don’t fancy meeting your boss, have lunch with some colleagues instead – catch up on the gossip beforehand and you’ll feel a lot more relaxed going back.
Go back mid-week
There’s no rule you have to start back on a Monday – why not try Thursday, so you can ease in without facing into a full week?
Keep your head down
If you’re worried about lost knowledge and new projects and being a bit at sea, try keeping a low profile for your first few days back. It will give you time to get used to work again, read up on what’s going on, refresh on what you were doing before you left. If you can, leave your out-of-office autoreply on for an extra day or two as well. They did without you for at least six months – another couple of days should be just fine.
After about a week, everyone will have forgotten you were ever gone, and no doubt you’ll be expected to be up-to-speed on everything. So ask all the questions you have in that first week – when it’s still acceptable to know next to nothing.
Define your role
If you’re thinking of a new direction – another role, different responsibilities – this is a good time to bring it up. They’ve been running the place without you so reshaping your role should be possible. A few months down the line, it might be harder to make changes – when they’re used to having you back. Either way, meet your boss when you get back, to outline what your role is. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than not knowing where you fit anymore.
For some, going back is exciting, not worrying, and there’s no dip in confidence. But if you think it might be a challenge, try some of these tips. It can make it feel less daunting when you’re walking through the door on that first day, worrying about remembering your passwords – or how to switch on your PC.
Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after the kids, Elissa, 7, Nia, 5 and Matthew, 3, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.
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