"I stepped out of work during Covid-19 and can't get back in." Peep these career reentry tips by our friends at LUMO.

By Babe | Illustration by Ana Hard

Heading back to the workplace after an extended period is a toughie. So our friends at LUMO – an executive coaching firm that works with companies in hiring and retaining mothers – weighed in with five steps women can take as they reenter the work force. Whether you clocked out to raise a family or get your children through home schooling, LUMO’s got the tips you need to get back into the swing of your career.

There’s no question that heading back to the workplace after an extended period away can be challenging. At LUMO we call the period after maternity leave the “paradox period.” It’s a time of conflicting emotions. When you’re at work, you’re thinking about home. When you’re at home, you’re anxious about work. Or maybe you’re finding that, while you love your baby dearly, you’re happy to have a break and you feel guilty about that? If any of this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone.

The “paradox period” is a time when mom guilt and overwhelm can take hold. To stop those nasty demons in their tracks we offer these 5 Steps for a Successful Re-Entry to help you excel as a leader and become more creative, more focused, and more empowered in your roles at home and at work:

  1. Prioritize Your Well-being

Well-being is the access point for everything you want in life: love, abundance, joy, energy, patience, generosity, connection, and success at home and at work. Making your own well-being a priority not only increases your productivity and helps you accomplish more goals, it also broadens your capacity to experience joy and satisfaction in relationship to your many accomplishments. 

For many women a commitment to their own well-being lands squarely at the bottom of the to-do list, if it even makes it on the list at all. While some see self-care as an indulgence or a thing to dabble in in one’s “free time,” a commitment to well-being is a foundational necessity when it comes to “Results,” with a capital “R.”

Well-being is an individual practice. Everyone takes care of themselves in different ways, and it’s important to remember that what works for someone else might not work for you. 

To begin to identify what does work for you, ask yourself:

  1. What does well-being mean to me? What is the current state of my well-being?
  2. Without any financial or time limitations, what would my ideal version of self-care be? (Dare to dream big!)
  3. From my “blue sky” ideals above, what can I see as a possibility for additional self-care practices in the reality I’m living in right now?

And then begin tracking your well-being in these three categories: Body, Mind, and Connection. How often are you moving your body? Are you stimulating your curious mind? Are you engaging in meaningful conversations with co-workers and friends? When you attend to this holy trinity of well-being you will feel an increased sense of peace and happiness. 

  1. Ditch Mom Guilt

The team at LUMO has worked with hundreds of brilliant women who ‘know’ things intellectually – they have taken the class, read the books, and aced the test. And yet…. They still expect themselves to create something impossible: being a *perfect* mother who is everything to everyone, and looks fabulous doing it. WHY? Because there is a gap between what we know intellectually and what we believe at a cellular level in our nervous system. Mom Guilt lives in that gap. It’s not enough for us to know something in our intellect, we have to experience it in our hearts.

Here’s the good news: you have the power to change and transform your experience. You get to say how it goes. If Mom Guilt is rearing its ugly head a little too often, ask yourself:

  1. In what areas of my life do I experience guilt? 
  2. What does my guilt sound like? What does it feel like?
  3. What are my undercover “shoulds” around motherhood, and where did they come from? 
  1. Hold Your Boundaries

Boundaries are often perceived as something negative, a wall we put up between ourselves and others. Many of us are afraid to set boundaries with our families, bosses, or co-workers, fearing their negative reactions. We worry about offending people or seeming self-centered. Often it feels safer or easier to just say, “yes,” when we want to say “NO!” In the moment, avoiding potentially uncomfortable conversations seems like the best approach. 

In order to set healthy boundaries, we have to remember that our top priority as a mom is taking care of ourselves. When mama is fully sourced, she has extra for those in her care. Boundaries are a gift: one that you give to yourself and to others. Think of them as a how-to guide of how we want people to treat us. 

If your boundaries are a bit fuzzy, start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is my definition of a personal boundary?
  2. If I could set up my ideal boundaries—at home and at work—without any fear of repercussions or retribution, what would my boundaries be?
  3. In what areas of my life do I struggle with setting boundaries (work, family, friends, etc.)? How do I feel when my boundaries have been compromised?
  1. Break Up with Overwhelm

For many new parents, particularly working moms, overwhelm and inadequacy are constant companions. No matter how hard you work or how much time you have, you can’t seem to get out in front of the feeling that you’re not doing enough. While each person’s overwhelm is its own special blend, they all share a strong family resemblance of exhaustion, frustration, and scarcity.

Fundamentally, overwhelm is a dis-empowered relationship to your workload and responsibilities. Overwhelm is a fear-based conversation. It’s low-grade fear in a productivity disguise. Overwhelm doesn’t ask how you’re doing, it asks how much you’ve done, and when you’re going to do more.

If you feel that overwhelm is your default setting, ask yourself:

  1. How do I know when I’m overwhelmed? What are my “tells?”
  2. What are my current coping strategies when I slip into overwhelm? 
  3. How can I interrupt my state of overwhelm? Examples: self-care, get support, stop before I say yes, take a break.
  1. Build Support Structures

Mothers are under-supported. This is a problem. And yet, somehow… Mothers are expected to solve this problem. On their own. While under-supported. As women, we feel pulled to do it all, however it’s often at a tremendous cost and “doing it all” isn’t actually our job. Women manage busy careers while often managing the majority of tasks on the home front; from managing the household, to schedule planning, or caring for aging parents and arranging childcare. This leads to overwhelm and exhaustion. 

At LUMO we believe that this support deficit is not just a “mom problem.” It is an EVERYONE problem. And the sooner we start getting others enrolled in the support of moms, the happier the whole world will be. But sometimes the thing keeping mom from getting the help she needs is her own lack of willingness to get supported. The fear of what asking for help or support means about her. Is she not doing enough? Is she not a good mom? If she asks for help will people judge her, or see her as lazy or incompetent? 

If you’re feeling under supported, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my relationship to support? Is it easy or challenging for me to accept assistance?
  2. What support structures do I need that I have been resisting? In a perfect world, in which getting help was effortless, what kind of support would I have?
  3. What support resources do I have that I haven’t tapped?

The “paradox period” can certainly be challenging and rife with emotional and logistical curve balls, but the more grace, compassion, and space you give yourself to find your own way through this curious transition, the less paradoxical – and more peaceful – it will be. 

And, mama, don’t skimp on the support!