This January marks the second anniversary of my return to work after over a decade at home raising children.
Somewhat predictably, I had found myself feeling a little lost when Patrick, our youngest, started reception. I dreaded being asked "what do you do?" at social events and felt somewhat redundant. While I had always hoped to return to work, I struggled to see how I could resume my career as a City PR given our move to rural Sussex ruled out a long daily commute.
To a certain extent, I was lucky that my old PR skills, although rusty, enabled me to set up as a freelancer. But the old adage, " you make your own luck," also rings true. Like many mothers, I'd lost confidence and although I was terrified, sheer guts and determination got me through the early stages.
While it hasn't always been easy, I have learnt an enormous amount during the last two years and I hope the following tips will help inspire other mothers who may be considering a return to work in 2017.
• Brush up on skills - as far as possible, make sure your skills are up to date. In my case, this involved a crash self-taught course on social media. (Linkedin was only in its infancy when I left work in 2004 and Twitter didn't even exist).
• Network - networking with old colleagues and contacts made me realise that a new career as a consultant/freelancer could enable me to combine working with family life. Networking, via Linkedin, also led to my first piece of freelance work.
• Find a mentor - the advice and support of my two mentors, one a former colleague, the other a successful university friend, has been invaluable. Without them, I'm not sure I would have found the courage to make my first cold call. Hopefully, they also find their roles rewarding!
• Be flexible - while it may not be possible or desirable to return to your old career, be flexible and keep an open mind to all possibilities. Advances in technology work in our favour by making remote working a real possibility for all kinds of roles. There are also recruitment sites aimed specifically at mothers. For example, http://www.2to3days.com.
• Believe in yourself - after a long time at home, a lack of self-esteem is perhaps the biggest stumbling block for many mothers. Remember that skills learnt at home such as multi-tasking as well as maturity will be valued by employers. If you aren't ready to look for a job, try volunteering as a way to build confidence.
• Have fun - perhaps the biggest surprise of my return to work, is how much I've enjoyed it. Although very little has changed, it has been fascinating re-joining the corporate world after such a long break and working alongside people, such as millennials, a group I never really came across as a stay-at-home mother.
One final thought - remember you are not alone. While this may be the first time you have embarked upon work as a parent, this is a well-trodden path. The majority of UK parents (both mothers and fathers) work and it will quickly become the new norm for you as well.