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A few years back, I was having a conversation with a mother at my daughter’s school, when she advised me she had made the decision to return to work after a fairly lengthy career break. 

She had four school-aged children, and had taken a seven year break from the workforce for family caring responsibilities. 

Upon her decision to return to work, she described her challenges to me, including fear, lack of confidence, and her negative mindset. It occurred to me that her feelings and situation were not uncommon for many return-to-work mums. 

I could completely relate, as I too had been a return-to-work mum, and I knew firsthand many of the challenges she was describing and could empathise with her. 

That got me thinking about what the most common challenges are for many return-to-work mums, and what strategies could help them to overcome them. I conducted research and surveyed numerous friends and colleagues who were return-to-work mums to gain their input, and uncovered the most common challenges:

  • Finding the right childcare arrangements 
  • Still managing the lion’s share of household / cooking responsibilities
  • Taking unexpected time off work when children are unwell
  • Finding the right work life / family balance
  • Finding flexible work arrangements
  • Lack of confidence and self-belief
  • Mother’s GUILT!

Whilst this list can be quite confronting if you are thinking about returning to work, it’s really important to highlight the positives that many women also shared with me, and I can attest to about returning to work. 

These include things like more social interaction and mental stimulation, better financial independence, a higher sense of purpose and personal identity, as well as fulfillment from personal development and upskilling. 

It’s really important to remember that everyone has their own story, which impacts their reasons for returning to work. There are definitely strategies you can implement to help you with the challenges you might encounter when returning to work, and below are just a few that could help to set you up for a smoother transition.

Utilise your support network

As they say – ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. You can’t do everything on your own, and at times you have to accept that you need help. I know this isn’t a luxury everyone has, although if you do, please utilise it in every way you can. As well as your partner (if applicable), engage family and friends where possible to help with the areas that will ease your load.

Plan and trial childcare arrangements

When it comes to childcare, all families have different needs. Depending on your personal situation, all options will probably have pro’s and con’s. Before planning your return to work, I really encourage you to make time to research your options well in advance, and decide what will best suit your child and family needs. If you have the option for your child to start their care arrangements in the lead up to your return to work so they can settle in, this is even better to help relieve stress and make for a smoother transition back to work.

Stay organised

I know telling someone to stay organised when life can feel completely chaotic may seem a bit patronising, but believe me, making the time to do a bit of planning can help to relieve some stress during your work week. Whether it’s doing some meal planning and pre-cooking for the week, ordering groceries online, or having a roster of family members to help with weekly tasks, staying organised in these areas does help you feel less chaotic, and also to manage stress a bit better when the unexpected happens!

Look after your wellbeing

Being a mum in general, let alone a return-to-work mum, often feels like you live for others and have little time for yourself. Naturally, this isn’t healthy for most people and can lead to unhappiness and a negative mindset. How can you be the best version of yourself if you don’t invest in time for your wellbeing? Please, make some time for yourself in the schedule for some self-care. A bit of exercise, socialising, and some mindfulness activities can have a really positive impact on your overall wellbeing.

Many women look for flexible work arrangements on their return to work to maintain a more manageable work / life balance. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not always easy to come by. 

Whilst working from home has become more commonplace as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other flexible work arrangements you can explore such as reduced work hours/days, job sharing, and working for yourself – whether that be freelance work or starting a business. Some organisations also offer tailored ‘Returner Programs’ to better support women returning to the workforce after a career break.

I recommend exploring the websites below for potential flexible employment opportunities, as well as gaining a better understanding of some of the employers that promote flexible work arrangements. These include:

If you are feeling overwhelmed about the prospect of returning to work after a career break, I have designed specialised workshops and 1:1 career services to support you. These services are tailored to aid you with career guidance, job search and interview coaching, boosting your employability and career management skills, as well as empowering women to feel more confident through this challenging work and life transition. 

It’s so important to understand and value your worth during this process, and I would love to help you navigate your return-to-work journey.

Natalie Moloney

Natalie Moloney  

Natalie is a qualified career practitioner, a professional member of the Career Development Association of Australia, and you can always expect a professional and caring approach to her career services. Natalie runs regular ‘Returning to Work after a Career Break’ workshops on the Gold Coast, to fulfill her passion for supporting women during what can be a daunting transition. Please visit www.helmcareers.com.au to learn more about ‘At the Helm Career Services’ workshops and 1:1 support.