Putting some strategies in place before - and after - can make all the difference.
1. Don't undersell yourself
Confidence and career coach Liz Juffs says: "Remember you are the same capable person who left work to bring up your children. You'll be taking the same capable person back to work. You may feel rusty but dwelling on that won't help."
Liz emphasises the importance of positive thinking: "Think about how you'd like to feel, talk to a trusted friend about your skills and attributes, and imagine yourself returning to work feeling calm and confident."
2. What to wear?
These are often the first thoughts of anyone who is going back to work. Appearances do count. Find out the dress code: you don't want to look over-dressed if everyone's in jeans, but turning up in them when everyone's in business dress won't go down well either. A make-over needn't cost the earth: personal shoppers at all the large department stores are a free service. You won't be under any pressure to buy, but you might be persuaded to try styles that you'd otherwise ignore. Think about investing in a new haircut and ask an honest friend for advice.
3. Permanent or temporary?
If you are very unsure about going back to work, why not temp? This is a great way to get started without any real commitment. You can update your skills, see how work fits with family, and build your confidence. If you can't find any temporary work, why not volunteer? You'll meet new people and your confidence will grow.
4. Full time or part time?
If your job gives you the choice of hours, why not start small if finances allow? Negotiating a job-share or flexible hours can make the transition much easier. Sometimes these options are not advertised, but it's still worth asking. Having an earlier start so you can leave to pick up the children, working over your lunch break, or blocking part-time hours into longer, fewer days are all options that an employer might consider.
5. Who are you?
Make a list of all the positives about yourself. Anyone who has managed a home and family can multi-task. List everything you get through in one day - and you'll be amazed. Think how these transferrable skills can be applied in the workplace: at home in just a few days you may have negotiated with your children, talked tactfully - or assertively - to your child's teacher, helped with the PTA, dealt with home finances, and consoled a friend. Which personal qualities have enabled you to do this?
6. Let go of negativity
It's all too easy to keep putting yourself down with thoughts such as, I can't do that" or "I'm bound to make mistakes." The first step to changing these thoughts is to recognise when they occur. Every time you find yourself thinking something negative, zap it.
Liz suggests replacing the thought, "I'll never be any good at that," with "I could be good at that if I give it a go."
Psychologists tell us that it takes three weeks to change behaviour patterns. If you continue to exchange negative thoughts for positive ones, the negativity will disappear.
7. Set yourself a goal
Setting yourself some goals for your first two weeks back at work can be helpful. Instead of worrying about how you'll manage everything, set yourself some achievable targets of what you need to find out within the first two weeks. This might mean talking to your boss and agreeing on targets.
8. Have realistic expectations
It may take a little time to get back up to speed. Go easy on yourself. Just because you find the first couple of weeks tough, it doesn't mean you will never cope.
9. Keep a positive-achievements diary
It's all too easy to focus on things that go wrong. But keeping an account of your achievements is a great confidence-boost. Use a notebook to list five positive achievements in your day. They don't need to be world-changing: getting the children to school on time, turning out a healthy meal, getting though the day at work without any mishaps, all count.
Lay the foundations for when you are back to work: delegate. What can you change? If you have a partner, what can they take control of now? How can your children help? Small changes such as telephone or internet banking, internet food shopping, children making their own packed lunches, a cleaner for two hours a week, or sharing the school run with a friend can make all the difference.