How to return to work when the children start school

I was a stay at home Mum. For the majority of my children’s early childhood, they were an extension of me. When they weren’t with me, I felt like a limb was missing. My husband and I made an active and joint decision that while he was working I would stay home full time with the kids.

Overall, it was the right decision for us, but I am not going to lie, it was extremely difficult. My children are only 15 months apart and at the time, my husband was the head coach for Swiss rowing which meant he was traveling nearly 50% of the year. In our daughter’s first year of life, he was away 180 days and in her second year (and our son’s first year), he was away 150 days.

My Mom always said that raising children was the toughest job in the world. I never appreciated this until I myself became a mother. While it is an extremely rewarding job (for both mother and child), motherhood doesn’t come with the perks of a ‘real job’ – there is no wage, no overtime pay, no bonus, no paid holiday and no pension.

Prior to having children, I had been dabbling in web development. A friend of mine at our local church asked me to help her launch a website for the local expat community where we were living (Luzern, Switzerland). She had all the local knowledge but none of the technical prowess. While I was pregnant, I flew to London to attend the Great British Business Show at the Excel Centre (where ironically I will be speaking to startups in November!). One of the workshops was about WordPress (blogging/website software – this website is built in WordPress!). When I returned, I launched Living in Luzern on WordPress.com.

Within a few years, the blog was taking off but with two children under two, I was exhausted. If I wasn’t taking care of the children, I was writing the blog, if I wasn’t blogging, I was taking care of the children. As the children got older and stopped taking naps, I started working late into the night to make up for the fact that I didn’t have time during the day to work on the blog. One day my hair dresser was shocked to find a bald patch on the top of my head – I have no doubt now that the combination of lack of sleep and work overload was the cause!

At that point, something needed to give – the blog was where I could get ‘me time’ so I didn’t want to give it up. I also felt that being there for the children in their early years was still important, but maybe I didn’t need to be there all the time. When our son turned 6 months, I convinced my husband that we should bring in a nanny. She helped 3 mornings a week for a total of 15 hours per week. Soon after she started, I realised that it wasn’t just about getting 15 hours back during the week, it was also the first time in 21 months that I wasn’t physically attached to my children. Up to that point, apart from a one week stay in the hospital with acute mastitis and a weekly yoga class, they were constantly by my side.

The other thing my Mom told me was that the days are long, but the years are short. I really didn’t get this until suddenly… one day… both my children were in primary school, Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm.

Even though I knew it was coming, I didn’t really know how different it would feel. 30 hours of time! What was I going to do with my time? I didn’t really have a plan and to be honest, it did actually sneak up on me. This is why I’m sharing my story… I feel it may resonate with you and the other 427,000 women in the UK who have taken career breaks from professional careers. Prior to getting pregnant with my first child, I had a job in marketing at Deloitte Switzerland. Before that, I worked in marketing at one of America’s biggest life insurance companies, Northwestern Mutual. Before that, I was a trading assistant at Schwab Capital Markets in Boston.

Like 60% of the women who return to work, I knew it was likely that any job I took would pay me less in my mid-30s than companies thought I was worth in my early 20s. The reality is that if you have young children, returning to work is a challenge. The good news is that unlike any other time in history, companies are starting to open their doors to women returners. While we are still fighting for decent pay and flexibility, we are a lot closer to getting it now than we were just 5 or 10 years ago.

If your children are still babies or toddlers, this advice will help you think through the choices you make while your children are still at home with you. If your children are that bit older and maybe your last child is entering reception, this advice may be just what you are looking for – either way, I want you to know that you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of women in the same boat as you. Pat yourself on the back having the courage to start thinking about your future.

Here are our top tips on how to return to work when the kids start school

During the baby and toddler years… it can be hard to know what you want to do when you return – especially if you are planning on taking a longer career break than the allotted year OR if your children are starting school and you’ve taken more time out than you’ve expected. That said, here are a few tips:

Think about the things you’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t had time – not that you’ll have time now, but just writing down a list of things you are interested in learning when you do have the time will help you re-focus when the time is right.

Write down a plan – when you write down a plan, you are far more likely to actually accomplish it. So many women start their maternity leave thinking they’ll just take one or two years out, but suddenly they find themselves eight or nine or ten years out. We’ve included example questions you might ask yourself in order to develop your plan below.

Share that plan – if no one knows you have a plan, no one can keep you accountable or help you to accomplish it! You are even more likely to carry out a plan when you’ve got other people to encourage you to do it.

Sharing your plan with your spouse can be very daunting especially if you are proposing learning a new skill. Often, not having had a chance themselves to take a break from their career and think about what they really want to do, they may even be jealous when you lay out your plan. What we do know is that good communication is the foundation of a successful partnership, so sharing your idea, even if you don’t get the reaction you want, is better than bottling it up.

Sometimes people just need time to let a new idea sink in! Or sometimes, you realise that what you want to do might not fit for your family and you’ll have to think of a plan that does.

Take your first few steps towards your plan – what do you need to do today, within a week, within 6 weeks to get your plan rolling. Maybe step one is asking someone to look after your children for a couple of hours so you can go to a coffee shop to devise your plan. Maybe step two is sharing that plan with a friend or your partner. Maybe step 3 is signing up for a course (like TechPixies) to learn a new skill or sending your CV to one of the many companies who are now looking for women returners (Here are a few fabulous websites to checkout: 923jobs.com, Ten to Two, Mummyjobs.co.uk, Women Returners). If your CV isn’t ready, watch our CV webinar with Helen Wright to help you get started.

Get a life coach – if you are struggling to find the time or energy to do any of the things above, that is ok – and totally normal. You may want to invest in a life coach. At TechPixies, we are huge fans of Life Coaching and believe in it so much that ALL of our courses include our Life Coaching Toolkit (£100 value) – while it isn’t a one on one with a coach, the toolkit will give you 6 fantastic tools to help you start planning for your future. One on one Coaching fees can range from £50 to £80+ per session depending on the experience and success rates of the coach. We recommend you do a bit of research, many coaches are online now and have testimonials from their clients on their website. They are also often on social media, you can look them up and see if what they have to say resonates with you. We recommend that you do at least 3 sessions, it may be a £150 to £240 investment, but if it leads to a better future, the investment is totally worth it. We can highly recommend working with Jess Rogers, Lucy Tulloch, Sarah Taylor or Tracey Livingston.

Lastly… if you are on LinkedIn, stay in the game! Make sure that your profile is up to date and has your most recent positions published. On a regular basis (daily or weekly) comment on colleagues posts and/or share relevant articles to your industry. This literally shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes each check in so if you are doing it daily, you’ll not spend more than 50-75 minutes per week. By doing this, you’ll know what people are up to and where they are currently working. This information will come in handy later when you start looking for work. You’ll also have been in touch with them over the years that you are out so they’ll remember who you are when you start asking them if they know of any opportunities that might fit your specific skill type.

Not on LinkedIn? Get on it! We have a whole module dedicated to how to use LinkedIn in our Social Media Essentials Course. If you are thinking of returning to work, LinkedIn is quite literally one of your most powerful tools. We even have a webinar dedicated to LinkedIn coming up next Monday with Lisa Unwin, author of She’s Back, you can book a place for £15 if you aren’t a TechPixie or join for free if you are currently on one of our courses. 

Writing your plan…

Not sure how to write your plan? Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  1. How many children am I planning on having?
  2. How many years it will be until the last one is in school? Put that date on the calendar and work backwards.
  3. Between now and the start date of school for my last child, am I going to have childcare?
    • What kind?
    • How much will it cost me?
    • Can I benefit from any government childcare schemes?
  4. If I decide to have child care, what am I going to do with my time?
    • If I’m going to learn a new skill, what skill might it be? Would it give me flexible earning opportunities? How much will it cost to learn this new skill? Will I do it online or will I do it in a classroom? How long will it take to learn it? What kind of jobs can I do with this skill? How much would I be able to earn?
    • If I’m going to return to work, what kind of work do I want to do? Which companies are close to where I live where I can do this kind of work? How much will I be able to earn? Is the job I’m interested in flexible? Is that important to me? Who do I know who is currently doing this job?
  5. What do I need to do today, next week, within the next 6 weeks to start working towards my plan?
  6. How will I feel if I learn a new skill or get a job?

I’d like to wish you the best of luck as you start thinking about your next steps. If TechPixies can be of any help, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us.

TechPixies helps women return to work, change careers, start a business by teaching them how to use modern technology. We teach social media, digital marketing, SEO and WordPress courses both online and face-to-face. Our online courses are self-paced and affordable, allowing you to work around your existing obligations. We have a very interactive Facebook group and monthly webinars with women who are successfully running their own businesses and doing an exceptional job with at least one area of technology that we teach. To join our mailing list and get weekly inspiration in your inbox, register your interest

This post was written by Joy Foster (@TechPixieJoy) on Instagram), the founder of TechPixies.