One Mom’s Advice for Returning to Work After Parental Leave
From Handling Your Inbox, to Harnessing Peer Support — What I Learned When I Came Back to Work
When I found out I’d be having my first child in 2018, I felt comforted knowing that Nestlé USA offers competitive parental leave — up to 14 weeks paid coverage for primary caregivers. I strongly considered doing a phased return (coming back part-time at first). But instead, I took advantage of the option to extend my leave to six months.
I am grateful beyond words that I was able to take six months off. It meant that my body had time to heal, my mind had time to adjust to a new (sleepless) normal, and I could soak up every moment to bond with my new son Luca and learn how to be a mom.
I knew that returning to work wouldn’t be easy. It helped that I love my job and didn’t personally waiver on whether I wanted to come back, but I had grown attached to my new routines with Luca and wasn’t eager to switch gears. I knew that our business was undergoing a cultural transformation and I would have a lot of catching up to do. I came back to many new colleagues to collaborate with and a renewed sense of urgency to roll up my sleeves, catch up, and keep up.
I don’t have all the answers for new parents getting ready to return, but I do have some ideas about how to make the return to work a little easier.
1. It’s OK to Feel Like the New Kid
Although I had been working with Nestlé for many years before I left for parental leave, the company had really changed when I returned. The office was brand new, and colleagues from across the country had moved to Virginia to work at our new headquarters in the DC metro area. There were literally hundreds of new colleagues in town who’d had a couple of months to settle in — I felt like the new kid at school, and I had to be ok with that.
Whether your whole office happens to have uprooted or not, my advice is to spend your first couple of hours back at work reconnecting with your colleagues, and introducing yourself to any newcomers. Not only are those relationships essential in a collaborative workplace, it’ll help ease your nerves and settle you back into your space. Your inbox may be calling — but in those first couple of hours it’s not going to get any scarier than it already is!
2. Don’t Fear The Little Red Number Next to “Inbox”
I had hundreds of unread emails on my first day back. A colleague recommended that I just delete those six months from my inbox and start fresh, and I’m still not sure if that was sincere advice or a joke. I didn’t take the “select-all+delete” approach and I was glad. I bulk deleted newsletters, junk, and other easy wins, but hidden among the noise were some real gems — I even spotted that an old college friend had reached out to reconnect!
What helped me the most was that I had worked with my manager to set up a coverage plan so there were colleagues to continue my critical work while I was out. Not only was I able to enjoy that important time with my son without stress or guilt, I appreciated the agility of my colleagues who were able to execute my projects in a way which helped me seamlessly integrate back into my work.
3. Accept Support from Your Colleagues
A challenge of being a working parent is losing spontaneity in my schedule — getting in early or staying late requires advance planning now. At the same time, if Luca gets sick I may have to head home unexpectedly. There are lots of opportunities to feel guilty.
Something I remind myself is that when my colleagues say it’s ok, I should believe them. Work is a team sport, and you find ways to collaborate and get things done. And though my “at-work” schedule may be rigid, I find pockets of time elsewhere in my day to keep my projects moving.
There shouldn’t be any reason to feel guilt about parental responsibilities, and I’m thrilled that I work for a company and with colleagues who fundamentally understand that.
4. Throw Away the Idea of Perfection
I can be a perfectionist to a fault, but, when you’re a new parent, perfection becomes impossible. Not to mention, Nestlé is all about speed and agility — that requires me to not let perfect be the enemy of good. I’ve had to learn to be comfortable with making quick decisions, executing them to the best of my ability, and letting go of inessential imperfections. The same goes for home — sometimes we let the laundry pile up so we can squeeze in more time at the playground.
Work is a huge part of my life, but it’s work. There has to come a time when I shut down my computer and leave. Having a child adds complexity to life, and more joy than I could have imagined. It also puts work in perspective — I’ve realized the imperfections are completely worth it.
Every parent who is going back to work after a period of parental leave is going to have a unique reintegration experience. While I’ve leaned on the collaboration and agility of my colleagues, I’ve also had to find my own way of working-while-being-a-new-parent. It’s not a science, but I hope sharing my experience will help others going through this know that they’re not undertaking this journey alone.
For more on Nestlé parental support policy, explore our website or check out some of my colleagues’ stories below.
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