I am celebrating one year since I am back to work after my maternity leave! That's a sign that my baby is now a toddler, a toddler with a great personality and the prettiest smile I have ever seen, but hey, that's a completely different story, a story that every mom is saying about her baby :)
We are living in Romania and this comes with some nice benefits for the women who become moms. In Romania the parental leave supported by the government is up to 2 years, you can take this whole period to take care of your little one or you can go back to work earlier if you need or feel so. In most cases is the mom who is taking the parental leave, but recently there is a trend that more and more dads are deciding to stay at home and be the caregivers for their babies.
As I was writing in this post more than a year ago, putting your professional life on hold, even just for a short time, can cause you huge anxiety. And it's normal to be that way, as you've spent years crafting your career, prioritizing, creating your professional profile, and looking for the best professional opportunities to grow when you're suddenly facing a big change in your life and you'll have to put all these on pause.
A couple of years of being the main caregiver for our daughter passed in a blink of an eye and on August '21 I was already back to work. I did not set too many expectations for what I would find at my workplace, but somehow, at the back of my mind, I was thinking (or maybe hoping) that most of the things should be pretty similar to the ones I left a couple of years ago. Oh well, how silly I was, as the whole world changes in a couple of years! The biggest change of them all was that I started to work from home (like millions of other people did long ago before I did, as I returned to work 1 year and 4 months after the pandemic started). The team I was responsible for changed a lot, many of my teammates left the company, new ones joined our team and it was quite a challenge to build a remote relationship as their direct manager.
So, what have I learned in this year that passed by since my return from maternity leave?
Be patient with yourself
Because is crucial to have patience, especially with yourself, as you're not the same person you were before becoming a parent and before spending your time away from your professional self. You still have the whole tools set and you are still able to perform your job at very high standards, but this will take a bit of time, so don't rush yourself and don't let yourself dragged into the impostor syndrome loophole.
You should be treated like a new joiner
Yes, I know, you are not a new joiner, no HR person spent time and the company did not spend any money in recruiting you so you do not deserve special treatment (joking here). Well, it's not quite that way. You should be treated exactly like a new joiner, having an onboarding plan being prepared, even having a buddy being assigned to you (if the company has this approach). Even if you have the impression that you know the drill, it's almost impossible to be able to get up to speed in a couple of weeks.
Remember your worth
There are a lot of bogus myths out there about moms returning to their jobs (and I am saying moms because yes, we are still suffering from this gender bias) that they are more distracted, not committed, not efficient or not investing enough time and interest in their personal and professional development, which is completely false (at least from where I am looking). Also, there still are employers who prefer to hire women who are not having children and have no plans in having ones... Or you might feel judged that you decided to take the whole period (a couple of years) and "sacrifice" the business needs and spending the time with your little human.
That's why is important you continuously remember that you are a very capable person, able to do astonishing work like any other non-parent employee or even better.
Know your rights
I think is very important to know your rights after coming back to work after such a long period. One of the most important things that the Romanian legislation is offering to a parent returning to work is the benefit of being protected for 6 months in which s/he as an employee cannot be fired. Also, each parent is entitled to 45 days of leave per year to care for a sick child up to the age of seven years and this benefit is awarded based on a certificate received from the family doctor.
Check your country's legislation before returning from parental leave!
Be mindful of your time
Your working schedule is not going to be as you were used to. You might have a kindergarten drop-off or pick-up that you have to fit into your schedule, sometimes you have to start your working day early in the morning or finalize some tasks late in the evening, or you might even have a toddler running and knocking at your home office door asking for <insert water/a candy/that forgotten puzzle here>. Also, maybe before becoming a parent you used to have a chill and relaxed working schedule, I felt that after coming back from my maternity leave I became more mindful of my working time and I tried to maximize as much as possible the time when I was not interrupted by meetings or various conversations to be as productive as I could.
Think about what you want
Before going into maternity leave I made the step into a leadership role and I knew this is the path I would like to continue after returning to work. But be careful in taking on too many new responsibilities from the very beginning or even accepting a new role without being sure that this is the best thing for you. Ask yourself what are your plans, your working priorities, if you're willing to do business trips if you're willing to continue to work full-time, or maybe a well-deserved raise. If your aspirations aren’t possible it might be the time to start considering other opportunities, and other workplaces to better suit your actual needs.
It is perfectly fine to be vulnerable
This one is going to be quite personal :) and is pretty hard to put into words. Soon after I came back to work, I felt the need to show the others that I am still the same person, I am the same Mihaela that they used to know a couple of years ago, committed and serious about her work, so I have tried to keep my personal life separate from my professional one, even there was only one physical wall between those two. I found it hard to be a woman in meetings full of men and I found it even harder to be a mom in meetings full of men. And it took me a while and a job change to rebuild my trust and gain that much-needed self-confidence.