Back to school, for parents



As September gets under way, times are a changing for many – children across the country are heading off to school or nursery for the first time and that brings change for parents too. Its a nervous time for all and the focus is on building the childs confidence to prepare them for this scary but exciting new stage of their life and as parents we all try to pretend were not remotely stressed or emotional about it ourselves! Ive been there, I know the rollercoaster many parents are currently going through.

But what about advice for parents? In many cases, it’s a time of new beginnings for them too. Having spent time away from work raising their children, it may be time to say goodbye to maternity leave or career breaks and hello to employment.

This is exactly what mum of one Amy Downes is about to do. Mum to Harry, Amy has been away from the office for 18 months, but is about to embark on a new phase of her life as a working parent. Ive spoken to her about her fears and how she is preparing for her return to employment and hope my advice to her will benefit many others too.

Claire Lister: What do you think is most concerning you about returning to work?

Amy: When I started maternity I felt like Id stepped off a train to be with Harry, but that the rest of the world had stayed on the train and carried on their journey. Its left me feeling like Im going to have quite a lot of catching up to do.

Feeling left behindhas affected my confidence too: Ive needed a lot of reassurance. I am concerned that it will affect the way potential employers see me, so it’s time to find a way to overcome that now.

CL: One good way to build confidence is to re-train and update some of your skills. Have you considered this?

Amy: Oh yes, definitely. On the day I finished work, I wrote a list of the things I wanted to do. Rather naively, I thought I would have time to do all sorts on my maternity leave! On that list were a few courses I thought would benefit me including a shorthand course. I think doing those courses also helps you get out into a mindset where you are ready to learn and grow and it also looks great on the CV I can show that I have been thinking about how I want to develop my career.

CL: Courses like that can also offer you a chance to change career completely, and returning after maternity can often be the time people make a change.

Amy: Yes, absolutely and that’s something I am going to be doing myself. This time away from my old job has given me a chance to focus on a new direction. The big change for me is that I aim to work on a freelance basis so that I can hopefully achieve a good balance between doing a career I love and spending time with my son.

One thing I definitely want to do is find some courses that will help me with that, perhaps about being self-employed or to do with social media.

CL: Your little boy is starting nursery at the same time that you go back to work. How has that helped you prepare?

Amy: Harry is going to a lovely nursery and Im lucky he seems to be settling in well. We have had three hour- long sessions for him to get used to being there.

Its funny when you think about it, because those settling in days are just like KIT days for mums they help you adapt. I would definitely encourage other mums to speak to your employer about these and take advantage of the policy that they have on offer.

Harrys also had the chance to meet his key worker and the babies he will be with every day – something else I think it’s important for mums to do before returning to work – get in the circle and network.

CL: Where have you found support?

Amy: As a social media obsessive it seems natural that the best support networks I have found have definitely been online. Fellow mums in a Facebook group have been really honest about their nerves over returning to work and they’ve been giving some great advice to the rest of us.

Amy has done a good amount of preparing for her return to the workplace. If youre still a bit anxious here are a few other tips: –

Plan your career path One of the things that causes stress is the unknown and a feeling of being out of control. Just because youve been out of the workplace doesnt mean you cant control your future direction. We see so many people simply slotback in and get through the day in a job they dont particularly like or dont feel valued in. If youre returning to work, make it count. Know yourself ad what you want to achieve. If youre looking for progression make this clear to your manager that you are now on a path that you are excited to follow and you’ll be working for continual professional development. Outline courses or new skills you’d like to acquire over the next three-six months and ask for their support with training. If you simply want to get on with the job in hand, theres no shame in that, but see what opportunities arise – and if you want them grab them. Dont for a second think you dont deserve them.

Find a mentorWhen youve been out of the workplace one risk is that you lose confidence, you feel youre not worthy, you lose direction. Its time to get inspired again. By working with a mentor, officially or unofficially, its great to be surrounded by positive people on a mission. Find someone who really impresses you and see if theyd be happy to support you – this could be through structured coaching or it could just be a coffee once a month, but without a doubt youll find new life, ambition and energy from this exercise.

Negotiate flexible workingit is totally acceptable to ask your employer for flexible working options – whether or not they routinely offer it. Beware, though, that with this topic comes a lot of politics, so you will have to play the game. Make sure your work is visible, commit to being at important meetings and on days where you work shorter hours or work from home make them the most productive – this way youll also quell your own mum guiltat the same time as putting colleagues minds at ease.

Productivity – Work smarter not harder – going back to work armed with a few productivity tricks will make you feel more in control. Become the master of Skype meetings to cut down on travel time and explore project management systems to help you track workload.

Learn a few Microsoft hacks – for example, did you know:

    • Word provides a full thesaurus, so if youre stuck for a word just click into the word on screen and press Shift+F7
    • You can print in reverse order to save the pain of collating reports that are printed backwards. Click the File tab, then choose Options. Select Advanced and then, under Print, check the box marked Print pages in reverse order.

Returning to work after maternity or a prolonged period out of the workplace can feel daunting, but its also exhilarating, rewarding and a chance to drink a hot cup of coffee! Remember its a chance to change direction if you want, you are in control, so make it count.

*Claire Lister is Managing Director of Pitman Training, which offers a range of training courses, from secretarial to web design.

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