mother with her young daughter and baby
parenting

the emotional highs and lows of returning to work after parental leave

3 minutes

Heading ‘back to work’ after having an extended period at home with your baby can present an emotional rollercoaster. Expect to experience everything from guilt at leaving your baby, fear over how you will slot back into your old role, and relief at having some of your own life back, all at the same time. As with much of parenting, there’s no silver bullet to managing this transition. But to help you put your mind at rest, we spoke to some parents about how they felt about returning to work, and what steps they took to cope.

Feeling I had something to prove

‘When Nate was eight months old I took three months off with him, and was apprehensive about going back to work,’ says Aiden, dad to Nate, 2. ‘The fact that I was the only man at my work to take shared parental leave, and I knew the guy who covered for me was really good, made me worry that I’d have to “prove myself” again to my colleagues. As it happened, it was a little strange at first but after two weeks I had forgotten I’d ever left! I think it feels like a huge step but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all that long and if you did the job well before becoming a parent, there’s no reason you can’t afterwards.’

Guilt at wanting to return to work

‘When I had Emily I took a full year’s leave, but while I loved being a parent I found staying at home full-time really difficult, so with Jacob went back after seven months,’ says mum, Miranda. ‘I found myself making excuses when I told people I was going back that soon, saying that I had to financially, which wasn’t strictly true. But once I was back in the swing of things I felt more comfortable about my decision and was more honest about just being ready to return. It’s surprising how many parents said they feel the same.’

Scared at how we would cope with the separation

‘I was so scared about going back to work I spent a lot of time crying in the shower in the run-up,’ says Sarah, mum to Lottie, 3. ‘For a year I had spent every day with Lottie and didn’t know how she or I would cope. There were some difficult moments, I had a few breakdowns at work and for a while my husband had to do all the nursery drop offs and pick ups, because I found it too hard. But my work were really supportive, letting me ease back to my job and Lottie loved nursery which was a huge help. I still have days where I’d prefer to be at home, but there’s days at home where I long for the relative calm of work. It’s all about learning to handle different emotions and not piling too much guilt on yourself.’

Ultimately, returning to work will present some ups and downs, good days and bad days. Our advice? Whatever you choose, don’t beat yourself up. You’re a great parent and a great employee. You can do it.

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