Going back to work after parental leave

Returning to work after parental leave

When you’ve been away from work for any period of time, going back can feel hard. When you’re going back after being on adoption or maternity/paternity leave, it can sometimes feel like going back to work is an impossible task.

I can remember getting ready to go back to work after my first adoption leave. I’d been living in the most amazing bubble for a year where I got to spend pretty much all day every day with our beautiful little girl. I could visit my mum, sister, nieces, and mother-in-law whenever I wanted.

We went for lunch with friends or to the park, swimming, or wherever else we fancied when the mood took us and did pretty much what we liked when it suited us with no particular time constraints. I’d even been known to have the tea ready for hubby coming home from work, washing done, and the house tidy(ish) and clean(ish).

Of course, there were many moments of despair, panic, screaming, and tears (hers and mine). But on the whole, it was a fabulous little bubble and worth every last penny of my savings it’s taken. And it has taken every last penny.

I was incredibly lucky to see her first crawl, step, and so many others. But I worried about all of the other firsts I might miss while I was at work.

Preparing to go back to work after parental leave

Before I went on adoption leave the first time, I worried I’d struggle to be away from work and consistent adult company for so long.

But I didn’t struggle being at all. I thrived being with our daughter and dreaded going back.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for in the build-up to my return to work was how guilty I’d feel at leaving our daughter at nursery and how difficult it would be to walk away from her at her first session. The next few times weren’t any easier.

The guilt you feel walking away and leaving your child when they are hysterically screaming your name has to be one of the worst feelings in the world. Every fibre in my body told me to turn around and go and pick her up and take her home. But I couldn’t. She had to get used to being at nursery as I had to go back to work.

I struggled with getting my head into the right place to go back to work. The lure of being paid was a big pull given we have a mortgage and bills to pay. But other than that and seeing some of my friends more often, going out to work filled me with nothing but dread and sadness.

Dread that I’ll no longer be able to do the job I used to be able to do without a second thought, and sadness at how much I’m going to miss out on our daughter’s childhood.

So, what can you do to make things a bit easier? Here are some tips I learned during my experience of going back to work:

Keep in touch with work

I think this is the biggest thing in terms of helping you get back into work. When you’re off, most of us don’t want to be thinking about work, particularly as our return date gets closer. But it can actually help you enjoy the last few months if it’s not been such a long time since you spoke to your manager.

Keep in touch with them, even if it’s just a monthly email or text. Set up a meeting about a month before you go back and talk about what you’re going back to. Face-to-face is probably best for this.

Talk about how you’re feeling about going back, what changes have happened while you’ve been away, and how you’ll be supported with these. Make sure your manager knows about any ongoing issues that may mean you need time off or flexible working at times such as medical or other types of appointments with your child.

Sort out your clothes and accessories

Whether you wear your own clothes or a uniform, it can help you feel happier about getting back to work if you’ve got all of your clothing and accessories sorted out so that you know everything fits and is in good condition. There’s nothing worse than struggling to find something to wear on your first day back which then makes you late.

If you travel, make sure you’ve got all the kit you need to carry your equipment such as a backpack or laptop carrier if you need to carry this with you. You don’t want to have everything in a bag that’s too small or with straps that aren’t comfortable.

Laptop backback from Day Owl symbolising preparing to return to work after parental leave
Laptop backpack

Plan ahead

Once you know your return to work date, work backward and plan. Create meal plans and batch cook so that you’ve got cooked meals in the freezer for the first few weeks. I love The Batch Lady for cooking inspiration and meals that can be easily frozen and made in bulk.

Plan who’s doing pickups and when so that there’s no stress with last-minute sorting out who can collect from nursery or school.

Treat yourself

When you’re budgeting for your adoption or maternity leave, if you can, leave a little pot for treats to use in the lead-up to going back to work. If your little one is going to be at nursery, use some of the taster sessions for some “you” time.

Get your nails done, go for a walk, or just read a book or magazine in the car (but drive a few minutes away so you’re not tempted to keep looking in the window!). Do whatever makes you feel good for a few minutes.

If you’re feeling anxious, treat yourself to a new notebook or journal, and write everything down. I find getting things out of my head and onto paper really helps. And it can often help you work through the problem and come up with a solution. It’s also a great excuse to buy a new notebook – I LOVE these personalized notebooks.


If you’re feeling anxious, there are so many books and apps you can dip into to help you manage these feelings. I find mindfulness and breathwork really help me to feel calmer and more in control. Apps like Headspace have free trials so you can see whether they suit you before you commit to spending any money on them.

The beauty of these is you can listen to them at your desk with your headphones on during your break and they can really make a big difference to how you’re feeling.

A pile of stones in the middle of a body of water with trees out of focus in the distance symbolising preparing to return to work after parental leave
Image by Ambady Sasi from Pixabay

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