4 steps to prepare for parental leave and return to work with confidence

by Catherine Serusclat

Last updated Mar 06, 2023

You’re about to embark on quite the adventure: becoming a parent. Even if it's your second or third child, you’re going back to square one. Family dynamics will change, your child’s personality and rhythm will be completely different from their older siblings, and we forget very quickly our previous experience.

This article is not about becoming a parent. It’s about managing your career as you’re getting ready for your maternity or parental leave. Parental coaching is usually aimed at new mothers, but dads are equally concerned if they’re planning on taking parental leave and what it will mean for their career. Read on for tips to manage this.

Taking a career break can be daunting

We’ve all heard horror stories of friends being passed over for promotions, being made redundant, or just replaced whilst they were off. For some parents, parental leave is an opportunity to completely step away from work to focus on their new child and family. They may even decide to put their career growth on hold for a few years.

But for others it can be a daunting prospect. Others might want to stay involved in their job to avoid shelving their ambitions away, and they still want to have a growing career whilst growing their family.

There’s no right or wrong decision in whatever you choose to do.

Whatever direction you want to take, getting ready for your parental leave and for your return to work is key. It’s important to use this time to set boundaries with your employer and clarify your life and career goals. It’s also useful to think about your vision of the future with your family and develop the confidence and resilience needed to cope with this massive life change.

Here are 4 steps that can make that transition easier:

Four steps to manage your parental leave and return to work

I came up with these 4 steps based on my own experience of taking two maternity leaves (one as an employee and one as a freelancer), but also by learning from the experience of my friends and clients.

Step 1: Before you go on leave

It’s important to create a plan that will set out how you want to be treated whilst you’re on leave. You will need to establish and clearly communicate your career aspirations - both short and long term - so that you can be considered for opportunities whilst you’re away. This is also an opportunity to start thinking about how to manage your return to work. I’d recommend working on this plan 2-3 months before you leave, and to share it widely.

Here’s what you should include in your plan:

Communications: How do you want to stay in touch with what's happening at work? Think about the type of updates you want to know about, where they should be sent, and how regularly you want to check-in with a colleague.

Career growth: How do you want to keep growing your skills and career whille you're off? Think about the roles you'd like to be considered for and the skills that you want to develop while on leave.

Your return: How do you want to plan your keep-in-touch days and accrued annual leave? What flexible working arrangements do you want to put in place?

Step 2: During your maternity leave

Your new baby has arrived and it’s a huge adjustment. The fourth trimester (the first 3 months of a baby's life) is all about your recovery and your baby. It’s an intense period of learning and doubting, postpartum hormones, sleep deprivation and joy. It’s also an opportunity to meet other parents and create a new support network.

After 3-4 months, you might get to a point where you want to talk about work again and know what’s going on at your workplace. You might need some intellectual stimulation, either through reading, learning or talking about something else than sleep and feeding schedules.

If this is the case for you, consider getting in touch again with colleagues, signing up to an online course or conference, and reading professional articles. Also start scheduling your keep-in-touch days at work (including who’s going to look after your baby) so that you can go into the office and be updated with what’s going on.

Step 3: 3 months before returning to work

The end of your parental leave is in sight and it’s ok to question whether you are dreading returning to work or looking forward to it. It’s vital at this stage to take a moment to step away from your life as a parent and think about what you want from work.

Confidence is a key topic for new parents. After a steep learning curve becoming a parent and taking care of a baby, you’re finding yourself stepping back into your old life being a different person. Many mothers feel a strong imposter syndrome as they return to their old job. People, strategies, structures might have changed around them, and they have changed too! They may feel out of the loop, less engaged and definitely more tired. That’s why preparing their transition back to work is critical.

It’s a good time to plan coaching sessions to reflect on your parental leave and manage your transition. The objective here is to think about your new identity and how work fits into it. It’s important to clarify your vision of the future for your life and family, and to review your career goals. Ultimately, it’s about empowering you and making you feel confident that you can step back into work with renewed perspectives and values.

It’s also the time to figure out your daily and weekly routine. Taking into account your childcare arrangements, your commute, your working hours and how you will work with your partner and support network so that you can also carve out time for yourself.

Step 4: The first 2-3 months back at work

That’s it, you’re back in the thick of it and you’re feeling the juggle. You may also feel guilt about leaving your child, being away from them, or about working too much or too little.

Guilt can have a few different layers and have a strong impact on your confidence.

That’s why it’s also critical to continue reflecting on how you’re feeling at work and at home, how your energy levels impact your engagement, and how your relationship with work evolves. Your resilience level also impacts how you manage your big emotions and negative self-talk.

Coaching sessions or safe conversations with a trusted colleague will help you navigate your transition and figure out the work-life balance that’s right for you.

Written by:
Catherine Serusclat
Catherine is a personal development and career coach, and founder of peopleatheartcoaching.com. Her mission is to help others understand themselves better so that they can make the right decisions about their career, relationships and life. She loves seeing people grow and feel empowered and confident to make change happen in their life.


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