Friday, April 26, 2013

Top tips for the working mum

Now that I'm back in the workforce again, I've realised that I can't just slip back into the position I used to have. Sure, legally I am doing just that, but in reality, it's not possible. I'm not the same person I was when I last held this job - I have added responsibilities now, and commitments which mean I can't spend the hours that I used to at work.

Here are my top tips for the working mum:

Be organised. I am not even kidding here. I am up feeding at 5am or earlier. I may have even had overnight awakenings. I then need to make sure her daycare bag is packed, my work day bag is packed, I have breakfast, my lunch is packed, I don't forget the breast pump and other related doodads, I look respectable in something without baby spew, my hair and makeup is done, eye bags are covered... well, you get the picture.  All of this needs to happen before I'm out the door at 7:15. I drop her at daycare, find a park, then get the bus in to work. Depending on where my client is located, I might drive but most often it's the bus. Getting out that door on time takes a lot of effort. I try to do a lot of the preparation the night before. I have lists on the refrigerator to help me remember what I need to do. This leads nicely into my next tip.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. That's right. You don't need to be super mum. You just need to be good-enough mum for the most part and spectacular mum when it matters (for me that's snuggling, story time and meals). When people offer help, take them up on the offer - they wouldn't ask if they didn't mean it. This goes for new mums too, a lesson that I learnt too late. When people come to visit the baby and ask if there is something they can do, say yes! They want to feel useful. Let them make tea, do the washing up, hold baby so you can shower and use the toilet. Going back to work, use the help you have available. I've delegated things to Mr Fork because he offered to help me (alright, I strongly hinted, then demanded he help). I've delegated things to colleagues when they offer assistance. They know I'd do the same for them when they need a hand. I've told daycare what they can do to help me and bless them, they do (of course, I'm paying them handsomely so maybe that doesn't count).

Know your rights. I had a heck of a time organising my return to work. I won't go into it because it's not relevant, but I will say, know what your rights are. You are entitled to have lactation breaks at work. You are entitled to specific amenities to do so. You are entitled to work the hours your contract says you should. Don't be put off by the sly looks when you walk out the door right on finish time because you need to do the day care pick up run. People don't necessarily know what work you do. You might sit on the bus answering emails. You might have started at sparrow fart in the am already. You might go home and work extra hours after baby is asleep. There is always more to the story than face value.

Sell yourself. That's right, you had a baby and that's a fabulous achievement but while you were at home raising a tiny human, the work world went on without you. Let the relevant people know you're back! Be active on social media if that's your thing. Reply to emails in a timely manner. Read relevant industry articles so you're across what's been happening in discussions. Be enthusiastic, especially about yourself. People will respond to that.

Not everyone wants to see photos of your child. Yes, you did a marvellous job and created a fabulous person. It's hard to leave that baby behind while you're at work. Of course you have an entire smart phone full of photos. And printed ones in your wallet. And home movies saved on your computer. Of course you're entitled to brag a little about your child. Once. Only if people ask. Some people just aren't into pretending to admire the fifteen different pictures you have from microscopically different angles. That's fine, I feel the same about car pictures. Don't be offended, just put a photo discreetly on your desk so you can look at your child and remember the whole reason you're back at work in the first place.

Don't let the non important things get in the way of the important. Really. Remember why you're working. You're working so that you keep your skills current. So that you have some adult conversation in your day. So that you're setting a positive example for your baby - they can see you're a strong independent woman with a life outside of the home. You're working to make a contribution financially to the household. But don't let work become the most important thing. Remember why you're at work and what your priorities are.

Be there 100%. Whether that is at home or at work. I remember reading some studies that said children didn't really remember how much time parents spent at work. What they did remember was the time that was spent with them. So, when I'm home, I make sure that 100% of my focus is on Miss E. I'm not checking emails while I'm playing with her - I'm letting myself enjoy the time that I have with my child. Similarly, when I'm at work, I try not to let myself get caught up in home tasks and thoughts, and I give myself 100% to the task I'm being paid to do. It's definitely hard, especially in this age of smart phones and push technology, but when you're home, would you rather be doing work or spending time with your baby?  Exactly.

Know when to say 'no'. I don't have to tell you what a hard job being a parent is. To add to that, you're back at work where people don't care that you're a parent, they just care that you get your job done. You don't want to let either side down, so know your limits. Yes, you want to get ahead and you want to promote yourself, but be realistic about what you can achieve. It's alright to say no sometimes.

Tell me, do you have any tips for the returning-to-work mum? Do you work with any mothers and wish you could give them advice? I'd love to hear it in the comments!

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