Jodi Geddes, Co-founder of Circle In, remembers all too vividly what it was like to return to work post-parental leave. She shares the secret to surviving and thriving.
Returning to work after parental leave was everything I expected it not to be. The first day and a couple of weeks were exciting and the novelty of grabbing a coffee and taking a toilet break without little people around was a dream. Putting on work clothes made me feel good and the extra money made a huge difference to the financial pressure at home.
But then reality hit that this is what my life looks like now, and it’s just plain hard.
One thing to know is that returning to work is tough for most new parents, no matter how glamorous their job or how generous their salaries are.
“I’m just trying to hold on. Trying to make it through.” Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon told InStyle magazine in 2016 about her work-life harmony.
Yes, she has plenty of money to throw at child care and home help, but Witherspoon said she uses an old-school solution: her older kids help out with the smaller one. “My mother worked, and I think it’s good for kids to see women working and being successful. I think it’s going to make them hard workers because they see that I don’t get much sleep. This is the one life you get, and you have to live it to the very end.”
Last night my phone pinged with two text messages from friends who have recently returned. Their struggles were clear: “I’m OK but I’m so flipping busy and trying to learn everything and meet everyone,” said one. The other text read, “I’m OK (read: mostly OK, still struggling!). Returning to work has been a really good thing for me in many ways but definitely not smooth sailing. Hard to manage at times.”
I remember just how hard. Sleepless nights followed by putting on a brave face to lead a large team who didn’t understand just how exhausted I was. Not coping, I almost threw it in many times and would cry on the train and take walks to catch my breath and reassure myself I could keep going. Or I called my husband to hear him tell me it would all be fine.
Here’s what to do to survive and thrive:
- Your ego. Leave it at the door. You know you’re fabulous — you’ve grown a person in your body.
- Accept sleep deprivation. It’s real and relentless and the only cure is time. Just know you will get through each day and Friday nights will take on a whole new meaning — for me, wine, Netflix, and a 9pm crawl into bed. Sounds tempting? It’s the best.
- Your priorities change. You are now a parent. It’s not all about you. Enough said.
- Your values also change. It caused short-term career angst, but I stopped being defined by achievement, advancement, and recognition and am now driven by pleasure, family happiness, and inner harmony. It feels good to define and accept new values.
- Your organization has changed. Accept you need to re-connect with people, meet new ones, and learn new things. Change is hard, but it’s just another challenge you can deal with.
So what are my practical tips and what I have learned?
- Go slow. Don’t start on a Monday and work a full week. Ease yourself back. Start with a few days and build up.
- Seek out others who have been on the journey and learn from their advice. They’ll have plenty.
- Do a trial run. Practice dropping your kids off for care and getting to work.
- Always carry wipes. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told I have Weet-Bix on my collar.
- Talk regularly with your partner about what each other’s days look like. Be prepared for the dreaded call from child care for early pick-up.
- Embrace the change. Use it as a chance to start fresh and enjoy learning again.
- It’s more of a marathon than a sprint. Go to bed early and look after yourself.
- No social media before bed. It will keep you up and it’s not healthy. Opt for a podcast or meditation app if you want to listen to something to wind down.
- Get organized. And we mean everything. Pre-cook meals. Write lists. Block out time in your diary.
- Make time to exercise. It’s good for the mind and soul. I did the 28-minute programs out there first thing before the kids woke, and I loved it.
- You don’t have time for office politics. Need I say more?
- Be open with your manager about how you’re feeling. Don’t vent everything, but they’re human and can probably help in some ways.
- Help others who are expecting. It’s therapeutic to take on the role of helping and sharing your journey.
Written by Jodi Geddes, Co-founder of Circle In.