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RETURN TO WORK... dealing with stress and guilt

Zoe Sinclair, founder of Parents Matter, which provides parenting events in the work place, responds to your queries

I have recently returned from work after having my second child – I am really finding it very hard and dare not admit it to anyone because it makes me feel very inadequate. Having said that, I don’t know how long I am going to be able to keep going like this. Can you make any recommendations about how I can stop feeling so guilty and stressed?

The first thing I would say is that you are not alone and that not everyone finds going back to work easy. A recent survey from shows that just 24% of its working mums work full-time, while 60% are in part-time employment. There is on-going research in this area which I think is interesting to look at as a starting point just to reassure you.

Firstly, maternity leave frequently coincides with a critical point in women’s careers, when they are on the partner or senior management track. Recent research has identified that organisations are losing key women who opt out or move to more flexible employers. Legislative changes also mean that women are taking longer maternity leave periods. This increases the challenge of re-entering the organisation. The longer you are at home with your children, the harder it is to change your role.

A key issue that also emerges from the research is the quality of line management. Where line managers were open and clear communicators, women exhibited a significantly higher degree of commitment. There was a close correlation between the quality of their relationship with their line manager and their commitment to their role.

These are only a few points but the fact that maternity coaching and maternity workshops seem so prevalent in many organisations today is testament to the fact it is not always easy for women to go back to work.

Many women do not have a choice for whatever reason and there is not an option to stay at home. So, how can you make the transition easier and less stressful?

 1) You are not alone. It is important to keep remembering this. Millions of women go back to work every year after a first, second, third or even fourth child. It just takes more time for some than others. Don’t think you are the only one who goes to work – you are not. If you are at the school stage, there will be many women like you who are not at the school gates. Technology is hugely on our side now with teachers very happy to take phone calls and correspond via email if something crops up.

2) Know your limitations. This is hugely important. We each know how much we can personally deal with. If you know you just won’t be able to make supper on the days you work, make life easy and buy in. Don’t feel you have to be the perfect mother with the perfect house – there is plenty of time at the week-end for the house to be tidied up.

3) Delegate. Enrol your children, even if they are still very young, to keep their rooms tidy and at least to make their beds every morning. These are little things that will keep your stress levels lower. Use the internet as much as you can. Don’t insist on going to the supermarket when you can have your groceries delivered to your door.

4) Sleep. This is crucial as everything seems so much worse when we don’t have sleep. It is easy to come home from work, put children to sleep and then start all the chores you have to do but put a limit to them. Perhaps set your alarm half an hour earlier in the morning. It is amazing what you can get done when the phone doesn’t ring and the house is quiet.

5) Not seeing your children enough. Again technology is on our side. If you do work fulltime and hardly get to see your children during the week, make a plan to speak to them at the same time every day when they get home. For older children, you can MSN each other which is fun.

6) Don’t beat yourself up. This is easier said than done but sometimes we spend too much time worrying that everything is going wrong and trying to fix it. An immense sense of relief comes when you admit to yourself that you have been complaining too much and that you have to get on with the situation that you are in and learn to deal with it. It might sound harsh but this tip has done wonders.

7) Choice. You might feel you don’t have a choice but everyone does. There is no point working if it is making you sick with unhappiness. Perhaps it is the specific job that is making you unhappy rather than the actual concept of working. Perhaps it is time for a change of job. A renewed confidence and drive will be created when you have a new task. There are many online recruitment agencies aimed purely at working women which are proving very successful.

8) Coaching. There are many companies that are offering maternity coaching. It might be useful to engage in one of these and to speak to your employer about this.

Overall, there is a lot we can do ourselves. Remember your children are not going to be damaged by you going to work and not being with them every minute of the day. In fact, you will be surprised how proud they are of you and what a role model you are. It is down to you to work through your feelings and to relieve yourself of any pressure that you might be exerting on yourself unnecessarily.

NEXT ISSUE – As a Dad who is abroad a lot and rarely sees my children, I am looking for some advice as to how to grow my relationship with my children. Zoe Sinclair,