It’s a given that returning to work after parental leave can be a tough transition for a number of reasons (the realities of pausing your career, leaving your child in the care of another, etc.). I am not going to speak to these obvious reasons—they speak for themselves.
Instead, for those of you who are about to or are in the midst of forging your way back into the work force, I’d like to share with you three things that surprised and reassured me when I returned from mat leave.
1) Everything is different and yet everything is the same
Imagine heading to work on the subway on a day like any other day. You’re tired. The subway car is crowded in rush hour. As you edge away from the closing doors you bump into someone as the train lurches out of the station. You apologize and the person you bumped into politely responds to you in gibberish. You think, ‘that’s a bit odd’, until a few moments later you realize that everyone in the car is chatting to each other in gibberish. That’s what it felt like when I returned to work. The office building hadn’t moved an inch. It was right where I left it a year ago. Walking up the stairs and past the familiar 3rd floor reception that we at Klick affectionately refer to as the spaceship, I felt like I had just stepped away from my desk for a moment except that my desk had moved. I was returning to the same team of colleagues, but now I was part of a business group that didn’t exist when I started maternity leave. That’s not to say that change isn’t a good thing. One of the great new features at Klick was a new parents’ room created soon after I came back to work; a quiet place for moms to breastfeed and parents to care for their little ones while in the office. But change takes some getting used to. Be reassured by the changes you notice as you reintegrate into your former work life (especially if you’ve been away for 6 months or more). Those changes will soon diminish in volume from a loud whirr in the background to a muted hum until you no longer notice them. And recognize each time that happens as just another sign that you’re adjusting well.
2) Hidden parents are all around you
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of proud parents I “discovered” on my floor. Many were colleagues I had known previously, but now that I’d validated my membership with the working parents’ club we had an added connection. These hidden dads and moms would stop by from time to time and strike up conversations about triaging the many demands of being a working parent. In hindsight, they were normalizing what I was going through by sharing their very real, sometimes hilarious stories. One of my colleagues told me that he was once called about a biting incident at school involving his son (and how he hoped that it was his son who had been bitten, not the one doing the biting!). Another colleague commiserated on how harrowing it was to watch her son cry every day for the first couple of months when she dropped him off at daycare. You too may notice that you’re surrounded by more parents than you think. They WILL find you and offer you nuggets of encouragement. What resonated most for me from all these shared anecdotes was the consistent underlying message: “You’ve got this”.
3) You have more support than you think you do
The amount of support I received when I returned to work at Klick was incredible. My department backed my decision to use my accrued vacation days to spend Fridays at home with my son for the first few months while we were both adjusting to our new routines. Friends and, in some cases, colleagues who I had only just met would ask me how I was finding being back at work. You don’t have to go it alone. The fact is we were never meant to handle parenthood in isolation. The reason we humans have thrived as a species is due to the survival advantage inherent in social groups. Don’t be afraid to lean in to the support provided by your workplace.
I don’t know if everyone is as lucky as I was in their transition back to their former work selves. What you experience will be based on your environment and your constitution. But take comfort in the fact that in time, you will notice that you no longer notice the differences in your workplace. And once you’re fully back in the game, feel free to pay it forward.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.