At the moment our household is in mid-exam crisis mode. With two teenagers sitting important exams, I'm supporting from the sidelines. Alongside making many cups of tea & stocking the constantly-emptying fridge, I've been doing what I can to help them to prepare. They're completely focused on revision, so I'm stepping in for the practical side - finding the missing compass before the maths exam, stocking up with black biros & filling the water bottles. I've also been encouraging them to prepare mentally - positively channeling their adrenaline and discussing what to do if they have a crisis of confidence just before an exam or start panicking when they can't answer the first question.
Advance preparation is similarly vital when you make the decision to get back to work: you need to start to prepare on three fronts - professional/technical, mental and practical.
Top tips: 1. Don't wait for a job application or offer before you start to prepare; 2. You may not have your mum to help you out, but do prioritise finding your own sources of emotional and practical support.
Bring your knowledge back up-to-date. Re-subscribe to professional journals, read related press, take update/refresher courses if you need to. Go to seminars & conferences. Meet up with ex-colleagues and talk shop again. Remind yourself of the old jargon and learn the new.
For returning mothers, this is the moment to address any looming guilt feelings about leaving your children - as we've said many times on this blog, there is no need to feel guilty for working (see here for advice).
Remind yourself of your motivations for returning and the positive rewards for you and the family: studies have shown that if we focus on the positive aspects of combining work and family life, we're much more likely to feel good about our work-life balance, and to overcome any challenges, than if we focus on potential work-life conflict.
Increase your energy and enthusiasm for your return by spending time with the people who are encouraging you to make this change, rather than those who are questioning or critical of your decision. Also take steps to build your confidence; don't discount yourself and what you can offer (see here for confidence tips).
Make time for your return by giving up other activities, such as volunteering work that isn't using your professional skills. Get practiced at saying 'no' to free up your day. Start to delegate more to your children and encourage their independence. If you're the default taxi driver, still ferrying your older children around, let them get used to public transport. Same with your partner, if you have one - start to hand over and share out more of the home responsibilities.
Build your practical support networks. If you need to sort childcare, it's worth planning this as far in advance as possible. Don't wait until you have the job offer! And start to contingency plan too - work out what will be your back-up for your back-up childcare before the inevitable problems arise - line up other mothers & local grannies/students. If you don't have a cleaner, get recommendations now so you can avoid spending all your free time doing housework when you're back at work.
Think carefully about how work can fit with your life. Map out a balanced work week for you. When do you want/need to be at home & what for? And critically, work out what you are not going to do any more at home. What can you let go of or delegate? Don't be the mother sewing a fancy-dress costume at 2am when a cheap bought or borrowed one will do just as well. You'll need to be flexible about how this might pan out once you get into job discussions, but being clearer on your non-negotiables will help you to target the right opportunities.
If you're also a mother who tells your children the benefits of not leaving everything until the last minute, this is the moment to practice what you preach!
Once your have the job offer, you'll have built a great foundation for the next stage of preparation: Preparing for your first months back at work
Posted by Julianne
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