Stuff the backpacks, sharpen the pencils, and charge the laptops — it’s officially back-to-school season. And while kids of all ages head back to the classroom, stay-at-home parents are about to get some time back. If you stayed home with your little ones until they were school-aged, you may be considering returning to the workforce. Exploring a return to work may be financially focused or more cerebral — perhaps you’re excited to build your career. Regardless of your reason, back-to-school season is an opportune time to reassess returning to work.

Whatever brought you to this transition, we know what a big decision it is. There can be barriers that make the return to work feel overwhelming or intimidating. But remember, you’re not alone. Mindfulness practice can help you evaluate what’s ahead and what makes the most sense for you. 

How mindfulness can help you return to work

Mindfulness can be an excellent tool to navigate re-entering the workforce. Being in tune with yourself and your internal world has never been more important. You’re a parent, but you’re also still you. You have needs, emotions, values, goals, and purpose outside your kids and home. 

Mindfulness is the practice of being present on purpose and the posture of being curious without judgment.” It’s a helpful tool to stop living life on autopilot and start being intentional about yourself and your needs: heart, mind, body, and soul. When you use even a few minutes of mindful practices, you can tune back in with your values, wants, and needs. If you slow down in this intentional way, you can expect your day to be more productive, restful, and in line with how you’d like it to be.

We want to help you feel calm and confident as you navigate the transition back to work. So, how do you do that? First thing’s first, you need to define your values. 

Step 1: Define your values

Guilt and anxiety can be incredible distractions. You can feel more like yourself and in control when you organize your life around your values. 

If you need more clarity about your values, browse these questions to explore the most important things to you and why (Life Reimagined, Berrett-Koehler, 2013). Trust your gut and allow whatever comes to the surface. 

  1. What motivates me to get up in the morning? 
  2. What keeps me up at night?
  3. What am I doing when I’m at my best?
  4. What things bring me the most joy?
  5. Why am I bothered by what bothers me?
  6. Why do I long for what I long for? 
  7. Why do I live where I live? 
  8. Why do I buy what I buy? 
  9. Why do I admire what I admire? 
  10. What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind? 
  11. Why do I read and watch what I do? 
  12. What do I find myself spending time researching more about unprompted? 
  13. What is a cause I’m passionate about, and why? 

When you understand your core values, you can connect them to your skills and strengths. The match-up of your core values and strengths will give you an excellent foundation for your professional aspirations. 

Step 2: Align your values to your professional opportunities

Returning to work will come with sacrifice and stress, so you must prioritize what you need in a new job. You may ask yourself questions like:

  • What am I seeking in my work? 
  • Am I driven primarily by financial considerations or personal fulfillment? Or a mix of both? 
  • Am I seeking autonomy and an identity outside of my home or family? 

If you want to help your family financially, but your values are stronger around being with your children as much as possible while they’re young, consider part-time positions or remote jobs that have a lot of flexibility. Conversely, if you value building your career, focus on companies working to support women and parents in leadership. If spending time helping others or giving back makes you feel the most purposeful, consider pursuing a service industry or looking for a team-oriented role. Check out this LinkedIn article on 20 Flexible Jobs for Stay at Home Parents and this Mindful Return article about How to Ask about a Family-Friendly Culture in an Interview.

It can be hard to hold on to hope that the perfect job for you and your family is out there, but remember you’re not in this alone. Many resources are available to help you stay creative and empowered in your job search. LinkedIn has excellent online resources like a job filter to help you find a job that matches all of your requirements and a community of support groups sharing tips for navigating the workforce as a parent. Mindful Return has a wealth of resources and courses on their website to get you started as well.   

Step 3: Communicate your values, wants, and needs 

Now that you’ve used mindfulness to ground yourself in who you are and what you need, communication can help empower you to succeed. Research shows that couples with strong, equitable communication and work to compromise and respond to their partner’s needs have happier and more satisfying relationships. With all of the big and little decisions attached to this transition, it’s not surprising that communication is key. You’ll need to redistribute responsibilities to ensure you’re both on the same page and working toward a common goal. Try assertive communication to share your needs and ask for their support.

But you don’t just want to discuss logistics. It’s essential to share your fears and needs for emotional support, not just pick-up and drop-off times. Returning to the workforce can feel daunting, and you can expect a learning curve. When imposter syndrome hits or guilt surfaces, share your insecurities with your partner and ask for comfort and empathy, not just a solution. You’re not alone in the transition — you get to be cared for too.

Step 4: Be aware of the barriers and then break them down 

Many working parents face barriers like balance, time constraints, difficulty focusing, setting boundaries, and managing childcare emergencies. There can also be an emotional rollercoaster, with some parents struggling with sadness or guilt

It may surprise you little that decades of research revealed that working women face family-related workforce barriers to a much higher degree, even when they’re off the clock. Women do significantly more housework and childcare than men in “the double shift.” 

To be clear, going back to work is neither easy nor simple. You won’t be able to function like you did at work before you had kids. And you won’t be able to parent at home like you did now that you’re working. It’s time for a rebrand. You are now a worker with clear boundaries. You’re learning to delegate and say ‘no’ when necessary. Your experience at home can bring incredible wisdom to your new teams, and you have so much to offer.

You are now a parent who is challenging yourself professionally and modeling your kids how to balance passions and always continue to learn, grow, and work hard in everything you do. You have many different facets to your identity, and you’re making time to explore and honor all of them.

Are you struggling with the transition of heading back to work? 

If you’re anxious or conflicted about heading back to work, it’s not just you. Returning to the workforce can feel heavy, especially if you’ve spent years at home with your children. That’s why it’s so important to give this transition the attention it deserves. Your preparation and awareness are essential to an informed and empowered decision of how, when, and why to return to work.

We admire your passion and drive and would love to be a resource for you as you head back to work. If you’re interested in individual therapy to explore this more, we have availability for in-person sessions at our Charlotte, NC office or virtually for residents of NC and SC.

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