Want to be as prepared as possible for your return to work following parental leave?

Read Linda K. Robertson’s “Simple Steps to Support Women Lawyers Returning From Maternity Leave” (Slaw.ca: February 14, 2012)

Consider these tips from Lara Morris:

Ease your way back

Chances are you are now pretty sleep-deprived. Even if you have round-the-clock childcare arrangements, it’s going to be an adjustment to go back to work when there’s a little one at home. Both you and your baby or child will go through a time of transition as you settle into your new routines. Consider starting back with shorter days for a couple of weeks, or longer.

Be open to possibilities

Job sharing, part-time work or flex time are all possibilities when planning your return. Perhaps you’ve already talked this through with your firm before going on parental leave. Or maybe these ideas are surfacing as you learn to juggle parenting with your numerous other responsibilities. If one of these options is appealing to you, ask. In addition to talking to people at your firm, talk to other lawyers who have created less traditional work arrangements for themselves to educate yourself about what’s possible. Contact the NSBS Equity Officer if you’re looking for a referral. You might be surprised at the response you get when you’re honest about what you want.

Plan for the unpredictable

Your baby or child won’t tell you when it’s going to sleep, be sick or be hungry, and this won’t change when you return to work. Chances are you’re going to use more sick days meeting the needs of your child. Talk to your partner and other support people to brainstorm how you’re going to handle times when your child can’t go to daycare or be left with a babysitter. Do you need to make adjustments to your work schedule in anticipation of such events? Maybe you only book clients three days a week so you’re freed up for emergencies on the other days.

Create your team

Whether at home or work, it’s important to know who your support people are. Think about how family and friends can help you when you’re back to work and talk to them about what will make a difference. If you don’t know yet, just having a few people waiting in the wings to step in will be reassuring. And remember, most people want to help – they just need to be asked. At work, focus on who will be most helpful for you to be productive and reach your goals.

Get a firm buddy

Is there someone at your firm who can help you adjust on your return to work? Someone who has children and can lend an empathetic ear? Knowing that others have met the challenges you’re struggling with will help you feel less isolated. Find a buddy to support you through the transition. While some of your experiences may be quite different, chances are you can laugh together about baby spit-up on your favourite suit!

Increase efficiency

You’ve probably already noticed how much you can get done when your baby or child is taking a nap. Now take that skill and transfer it to the workplace. What will help you be more efficient at work? Do you need to delegate more? Can you set up some systems with your assistant to make better use of your time and theirs? If you’re trying to spend less time at the office, you may need to give up some office social time and stay focused on work while you’re there. It’s a tricky balance, one you can consciously work at each day. There is no perfect way – there is just what works for you. Again, talking to people who have juggled parenting and a law practice can help you learn ways to be most efficient.

Set boundaries

Things are different now. You are responsible for more than yourself. This may make it easier to set boundaries, so you can make clear choices about where, when and how much you will work. Knowing you have to leave at 5 pm to pick up your child from daycare may be stressful, but can also help you focus only on necessary tasks. If your office is the usual place for people to shoot the breeze, you may be gently asking them to leave so you can focus on work in your limited time at the office.

Accept you’re human

Going back to work after having a baby or adopting a child can be a vulnerable time – leaving your child in someone else’s care, wanting to prove yourself at work, and juggling the day-to-day demands of work and home can seem overwhelming. Add a dose of fear about how you’re measuring up and it’s easy to become self-critical. If the negative voice in your head is speaking up too much, find ways to settle it down. There is no right way to parent. There is no right way to balance the practice of law and parenting. If you feel conflicted and pulled in several directions at once, that’s normal. As you become clear in your choices and get the help you need, it will be easier to practise law and parent with a sense of balance. Knowing how you want to work and parent is a start. As you stay true to your values, you will feel more on track.

Give up doing it all

Unless you’re one of those rare people who only needs about three hours sleep a night, it’s unlikely you can be a ’milk and cookies’ mom as well as a leading litigator. You’re going to need lots of help and even then, it’s likely you’ll have to let some things slide. That’s OK. If you get clear on your priorities and are present to each experience, you’ll have a more fulfilling life as a parent and lawyer.

Look after yourself

You’re probably sick of hearing this, but it’s true. The best way to serve your child and your clients is to care for yourself. Need a nap in the afternoon because you’re still not sleeping through the night? Go ahead. Better to get some much-needed rest than mess up a file because you can’t think straight. And find a way to manage the stress of being constantly in demand. Where home may have been a welcome refuge in the past, it will now have the added demands of a youngster wanting you to love them at the end of the day. You may feel like you’re giving to everyone else, all the time. That’s a sign you need to find some time for yourself. At a minimum, focus on the basics – eat well, get as much rest as you can and be physically active in some way. Talk to a nutritionist or naturopath about high-energy food to help you through the day.

Helpful tips from NSBS members:

“If you weren’t already, you have to get more efficient about your day. Before kids, I would come in around 9 am, take a long lunch and then go home around 7 pm. Now, I come in earlier, usually have lunch at my desk and then try to leave by 5.”

“Try to arrange child care that is as flexible as your schedule. There is nothing worse than having to worry about leaving a hearing or a closing to rush to a sick child or get to the daycare before it closes. If you can afford it, hire a nanny who will be able to stay late when necessary, or have a family member or friend lined up as backup. This insurance will provide peace of mind that you are covered, no matter what happens.”

“In the months leading up to the end of my leave, I decided I wanted to return to work on a part-time basis, at least for a few months. I approached the firm and initially they denied my request. I approached the firm again (this time with a formal memo and ’presentation’ prepared) and they eventually approved my return to work on a part-time basis for six months. I guess I would say this is my biggest ’success’ in taking maternity leave; speaking up and asking for something that would allow me to return to law on terms I could feel good about and still keep the firm happy.”

“I should also note that I have a really great mentor through the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (my mentor has young children and worked in a similar area of law for a number of years). If any issues arise regarding practice or work/life balance she always provides great insight and is just there to listen to me gripe or express my concerns. It’s always great to have someone to confide in who has actually been through a similar experience. Further, I would note that if anyone has any struggles with balancing work and life when they return from maternity or parental leave, I would highly recommend speaking with a life coach such as Lara Morris. When I was getting ready to return to work, I had a few sessions with her. The time I spent working with Lara really helped me work through what was important to me for my return to work and I was able to approach the firm regarding the possibility of working part-time hours.”