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Mums Returning To Work: Four Questions To Ask Yourself

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Considering returning to work after maternity leave or a career break? Where do you start? And where do you find the right answers? Right here….

It’s the modern mum’s conundrum. Contemplating returning to work after a career break or Maternity Leave, typically leaves women grappling with a full range of new and varied issues. It is a transition that comes with no rule book: a hefty adjustment with a fully loaded mixed bag of emotions and logistics to balance. Transition can be stressful, exhilarating and complicated all at once, for not only the mum but for the partners, children and often the extended family too. But don’t be dismayed – you’ve come to the right place for advice.

Rita Holland has more than 20 years working in career development and transition, and is the Director at Job Search Matters. Rita, too, is continuing through her own career transition, having just launched her own company, and is a single mother (for the past eight years) of two teenage boys. So before you start handing out your CV, Rita suggests you ask yourself these four questions…

1. What’s driving your decision to return to work?

Do you want an income, a job, a career, or something else? Invest time and effort in being honest with yourself about what’s driving your motivation to return to work. Consider whether you ‘need’ or ‘want’ to be working? Do you have financial goals, a drive to return to a stimulating role to expand your expertise, or are you craving adult company? “Women return to work for a range of reasons,” explains Rita. “There are no ‘set of solutions’ to suit all women and families. Being honest with yourself about what’s driving the need for change significantly helps create better solutions. But be prepared to compromise something – there are rarely perfect solutions. For example, there are many ways to earn money if you need to pay bills.  And that job search strategy will be different to a job search strategy for a woman that is ideally seeking social or intellectual stimulation.” 

2. What purpose and meaning do you want in your life, including work?

Let’s get real about this. Most people do not wake up one day with an epiphany and have this ‘find your passion’ challenge all sorted. It rarely happens. Life isn’t like the movies! However, can you articulate what you value in the deepest parts of your soul? What activities, behaviours or values anchor you to what is meaningful for you? What is your understanding of your personality, values, strengths and interests?Women, even before they have children, typically play multiple roles,” explains Rita. “They are daughters, partners, sisters, aunties… They then become contributors to community efforts like parent helpers at school and sport team managers, as well as being a mum.

If you haven’t already done so, consider determining what your vocational interests are so that you can be the person you wish to be. For most of us, finding meaning takes thoughtful effort – a mix of risk taking, curiosity, research, input from other people and processes, and self reflection. Have you identified the work areas you would enjoy spending time in? How do your personality traits influence what you enjoy and your personal work needs? For example, do you have administrative interests and enjoy being an organiser and directing others? Or do you enjoy contributing and connecting to the well-being of others? Or perhaps you love working with customers, and helping them? Find what fuels your energy. What’s your legacy going to be? What kind of difference do you want to make for tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and beyond? Connect with all the things you are, rather than punish yourself for all the things you are not!”  

3. Am I ready to start my job search?

Assessing your readiness for change is a great start! Returning to work after having a child often feels scary and exciting all at once, especially if you feel you have been out of the workforce for a while or have limited support networks. “Some mothers find returning to work easier than others,” explains Rita. “It’s normal, no matter how strong-minded you are, to have mixed feelings about making the decision to return to work. Know that most people experience barriers and relapses in their job search efforts and cycling back and forth through stages 1-4 (below) is typical and completely ok. Be kind to yourself when you do. Learn from what happens, and allow the experience to strengthen you, whatever outcome.”

returning to work

4. How do I get from stage 1 to stage 2?

Mums who are successful in getting started are likely to have the following characteristics

  • Feel energised and motivated to take responsibility to make changes.
  • Believe it is important to return to work.
  • Do not use the word ‘fail’.
  • Learn from their efforts and mistakes.
  • Have and use a support network of friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
  • Are positive thinkers and know they will be successful.
  • Are ready to make small steps.

Set yourself a SMART goal – make it:

  • Specific and Simple.
  • Measurable.
  • Achievable.
  • Realistic.
  • Time-framed.

About Rita

returning to work rita

Since the late 1990’s, Rita Holland has forged her own career as one of Sydney’s more successful career transition thought leaders and coaches, and leadership development coach to public sector and corporate executives.

Job Search Matters offers coaching programs to graduates and professionals in work, looking for work or planning to re-enter the workforce after an extended absence. This means that, with Job Search Matters, you have a trusted adviser to give you the help you need to develop and execute your career transition with confidence in a changing world of work.

Outside of work, Rita enjoys (mostly but not always) being a mother to two teenage boys, cooking to feed these eating machines, socialising, getting out and about around Sydney, trying to keep fit and healthy and listening to music.

Rita Holland holds a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) from Adelaide University. In 2007 she received a Masters in Applied Science in Psychology of Coaching from Sydney University. Rita Holland is a Member of the University of Sydney Coaching and Mentoring Association and a member of the International Coach Federation.

Have you recently returned to work? Tell us about your experience below…

Written by Franki Hobson

Franki Hobson has worn many hats during her many years as a women's lifestyle journalist and editor. Her launching pad was COSMOPOLITAN magazine, where she moved from News & Entertainment Editor to Features Director, covering everything from the legalisation of the Morning After Pill to Gwen Stefani, fashion, beauty, sex, health, fitness, entertainment and relationships.

Franki Hobson is a contributing lifestyle writer for The Carousel.

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