Returning to work, like any facet of motherhood, feels different for everyone.  It can feel liberating, terrifying, empowering, confusing… It can leave you feeling grounded and purposeful or cause a full existential crisis that pulls on the tethers of your identity; leaving you wondering who you are and what on earth you should be doing.  Or, as is my experience, a heady cocktail of all the above.

Whatever the feelings you have coming in, your return to work will benefit from some thinking on: what is important to you?  Because self-knowledge is power and making conscious decisions about where you want to focus your time and attention helps you to:

  • Feel grounded in times of change and uncertainty.
  • Agree favourable terms of your return – so you can go in knowing what’s vital, what’s up for negotiation and where you’re undecided.
  • Move closer to/achieve your personal and professional goals.

If possible, take some time away from your stakeholders (the little ones and the employing ones) to reflect on the following questions.  If you’re like me and your love language is stationery, then this is a great excuse to buy a new notebook.

1. What are your non-work priorities?

When you speak with your manager, you will talk through what is key for your role – priority deliverables, meetings and challenges.

So, we should ask the same questions about what’s key for you outside of work. What is necessary? Meaningful? Brings joy? e.g.  a certain train for pick up, flexibility to attend school events/classes, reading, meal prep, bath and story time, connecting with friends, meditation, being up to date on MTGM…

Write a list of what is important to you and rank them.

Nb. This list will and should look different for everyone.

2. Let it go!

You don’t need to go to the same extreme as Elsa and leave your kingdom to perish.  However, you do need to give some things up, hand tasks over or put them on the backburner, if you’re going to give your priorities a proper go.

Which tasks, actions, thinking traps are likely to sneak in, distract you from what’s really important and drain you of your time and energy? e.g. managing the full family’s calendar, one more Netflix, doomscrolling, thinking about how annoying your colleague is…

Write a list of what is not important (right now).

Categorise them as Delete, Delegate or Wait.

Nb. This list will and should look different for everyone.

3. What’s your preferred approach?

In an ideal world, do you prefer the idea of work/life integration – dipping in and out – and flexibly shaking it all about? Or do you err towards the stability of clear boundaries and keep work and home separate?

4. What excites you about returning to work?


5. Who can you lean in on/learn from?
  • Who are you excited to reconnect with at work?
  • Whose experience regarding returning to work do you value?
  • Who can support you? By helping you to honour your priorities, support you in the wins and the challenges and/or share some of your load?


Keep coming back to these reflections.  The answers to these questions aren’t right or wrong or set in stone. Our priorities shift with our circumstances and there will likely be resistance internally, at home and at work.

However, recording and occasionally reminding yourself of what you set out to accomplish (and the balance you wanted to achieve between life/work priorities) will give you a better chance of navigating those rough waters without being knocked totally off course.

Following your conversation with self, my next blog will talk through how you can translate this into an effective discussion with your line manager before you return to work.

This article was written by  Emma Gill, one of Careering into Motherhood’s Partner Coaches. Emma provides return to work and career change coaching.  You can book a free coaching career consult here.