Returning to the workforce after a pause can, for many parents, be the very definition of bittersweet. Many of us feel torn, between the heartache of leaving our babies with another caregiver while we return to the office (whether in-home or at the office), and the joy of carving out a little time in our daily lives to do something that fills our cups and allows us to pursue our passions outside of the roles of partner and parent.
With the help of seasoned career coaches, here are seven tips for making this adjustment as smooth as possible for you and your family whether you’re transitioning back to work after a pause of a few weeks, months, or years.
Tips for Returning to Work After a Career Pause
1. Make a plan for the division of domestic labor
If you’re headed back to work and you’ve been the one in charge of keeping everything running at home for a while, now is the time to make a plan for how all of these pieces will fit together moving forward–because let’s face it, being a full-time caregiver is truly a full-time job in and of itself, and things are about to get even busier.
Making a game plan for every household task—from groceries and laundry to cooking, childcare, and everything in between—can do so much to set you up for success. If you have a partner at home, working with them to divide and conquer according to availability and strengths can work wonders when it comes to ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.
Career coach Micala Quinn said it’s especially important for you and your partner to be on the same page about the division of labor because returning to work will require some of these tasks to shift.
“I would recommend having a conversation or three with your [partner] about what that is going to look like logistically for the family and the home,” she said. “It is unrealistic to add working on top of all the household and childcare responsibilities. What tasks can your spouse/partner take over? What things can you outsource?”
2. Expect the unexpected
As you make your plans for the day-to-day, don’t forget to expect the unexpected, and consider what your plan will be for sick days (both yours and your children’s) and other unplanned-for occurrences. Taking a look at your workplace benefits, from sick days to personal days and vacation time to remote work and flexible work schedule options will help you to ensure you can tackle surprises.
3. Lean on your village and simplify
And if you’re both feeling stretched thin or if you don’t have a partner at home to pitch in, don’t forget to lean on your village as you make this transition and work to find a rhythm that works for your family. Can a grandparent manage daycare pickup? Can you swap after-school care with another family?
If all else fails, consider where you can simplify your daily routine—maybe you stick to crockpot dinners or sheet pan meals for the first few weeks or only do laundry on the weekends instead of tackling it throughout the weeks. Once you find a little balance, you can slowly add things back in as the daily routine feels more manageable.
4. Consider a mindset shift
Quinn noted that a shift in mindset can be instrumental in how you perceive the return to work. Many of her clients realize previous workplaces left them without the flexibility to deal with the realities of having a family.
“For a lot of people…It’s having jobs that don’t allow you the freedom to work from home or anywhere, so you can have more time with your family that’s the problem. And when my clients are able to find a way to work that also works for their families, they realize how much they actually enjoy working,” said Quinn.
While for some of the clients Quinn works with, returning to the workforce is a necessity, rather than a luxury, many can still find joy in the experience. In the end, it can offer a wonderful opportunity for self-fulfillment beyond their roles at home.
5. Set realistic expectations
“Setting realistic expectations is half the battle,” she said. “No job is perfect, but you should have more positive attributes than negative attributes when it comes to your daily work.”
For some of her clients, re-framing these feelings around workplace frustrations can help, but even more crucial can be ensuring that you’re working for a company that values what you do.
“Guilt has been a consistent feeling with some of my clients, and even personally,” she said. “It’s a tough task to juggle family life and your professional career, especially if you aspire to climb the ladder. Finding a company that aligns with your personal values is half the battle”
It’s important to remember throughout your negotiating process–and even as you prepare for quarterly or annual assessments–with a new employer, that you have so much to offer through your lived experiences as a caregiver. Haynes emphasized that it’s important to include them in your resume.
“Some skills that can be used for any field include time management, organizational skills, conflict management, interpersonal communication, strategic planning, adaptability, multi-tasking, and emotional intelligence,” she said. “It’s a matter of how they are articulating the transferable skills they have acquired.”
With this in mind as you’re assessing your career opportunities, don’t forget to check to see what their benefits are. Haynes noted that flexible hours, parental leave policies, childcare assistance, a supportive work culture, and even wellness programs can signal what employers value, and how they’re willing to support their employees.
And in the end, Haynes said to remember you might not find your perfect job right away.
“When re-entering the workplace, you may find that you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince,” she said. “Job searching and finding a ‘work home’ is very similar to the dating game.”
6. Check in with your partner along the way
If you’re navigating a new workday with a partner, don’t forget to check in with each other through the transition. While we often only have so much control over work to-dos, childcare availability, and other commitments, even just taking a few minutes a day to touch base and ask how your partner is doing, how they’re feeling, and what they might need for the day or week (and offering the same from yourself!) can go a long way and keep communication open.
While many well-meaning loved ones may advocate for a monthly “date night”, for some the idea of arranging a sitter, budgeting for a night out, and finding the energy to primp after a long week may feel utterly exhausting rather than replenishing. If a regular date night doesn’t feel like a good fit for the time being, give yourself permission to connect with your partner in a way that doesn’t contribute to feelings of burnout and overwhelm.
Maybe the two of you commit to watching a favorite show together a couple of times a week. Perhaps you have a mini “happy hour” after the kiddos are tucked in. It can even be as simple as going to bed at the same time (dare we suggest without devices!?) and finding a few minutes of togetherness where you can both reset before jumping into the next day.
7. Don’t discount the work you’ve been doing
Starting a new chapter that involves a shift for your family and a change in your daily routine can feel overwhelming at times, so don’t forget to take a breath to process how far you’ve come, Quinn noted. Especially when it comes to all that you’ve already accomplished in your time with your littles.
“Don’t discount the work that you’ve been doing in the home the last few years,” Quinn said. “No one works harder than a mom, and if you’ve been an at-home mom who is the primary caregiver to small children 24/7 you are strong, smart, resilient, nurturing, selfless, a problem solver, so many amazing things [that] whatever job or path you choose, the people who will get to work with you will be so lucky to have you.”