Thinking of starting a family, but worried that your hard-won career will suffer? Don’t sweat it – according to the experts, all it takes is a little forward planning.

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No matter how much you want to be a parent, after spending thousands on a stellar education and fighting your way up the career ladder, the idea of taking a step out of your industry, even for a few months, can be hard to face. How can you make sure that when and if you’re ready to go back to work, you return on your own terms? Our experts share their ABC strategy.

A is for...Audit

If you want to go back to work after you’ve had a baby, the best time to start planning for it is way before your bundle of joy arrives. “Start with taking an audit of where you are in your career and where you want to be when you return to work,” says Kate Sykes, director of job centre CareerMums. “Even if you’re not sure what you want, write down some ideas. Are you going to downsize your career, maintain it or keep it escalating? Do you want to go back part-time in the same job, or downgrade to a position where you’ll be called on less for nights and weekend work?”

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Susan Jackson, founder of Ms Money, a financial planning service specialising in couples and families, agrees that research is your best friend when it comes to cash flow: “Take some time to audit your finances. Work out how much you need to live on, and what your assets and liabilities are, so you can start saving and planning now. Can you suspend your mortgage payments when you’re on maternity leave? Do you need to spend the next six months paying off debt?”

This is the time to find out what government help you’re entitled to, says Jackson. Visit www.familyassist.gov.au to find out how much you will get and when. Or see a financial planner.

B is for...Brushing Up

While many women think they’ll be back at work shortly after the labour, the reality can be very different. If you think you might want to return on reduced hours or days, now’s the time to find out the answers to the tough questions your boss will ask when that day arrives – such as who’s going to cover your hours.

“Research the flexible work policy and parental leave agreements your employer has in place,” advises Sykes. “Brush up on the national employment standards at www.fairwork.gov.au, so you know what laws are on your side, and talk to your colleagues who have had kids and then gone back to work in your company. Next, come up with a plan about how you propose things will work while you’re reintegrating yourself into the workplace. If you’re working two days a week for the first three months, who’s doing the other three? Will you work from home? If you make the decision look easy, it’ll be harder for your boss to say no.

C is for...Communication

“Talking to your manager or HR department about flexible work options, before you go on maternity leave, is critical,” says Sykes. “This is the time to have an open and frank discussion about how important your career is and where they see you fitting in when you come back.

Be clear about the skills you bring to the company and where you’d like to be in six or 12 months after your return.” It’s also important to be honest about how your approach to work may change. “Managing expectations of others is huge – you have to let everyone know where you’re at; that this is your life right now; and that you’re doing your best. The more you talk to people, the less you’ll feel like you’re letting people down or being judged,” says Sykes.

Talking to your partner is also crucial, adds Jackson: “Sharing the domestic and financial responsibilities with your partner is key and you need to discuss how things will work – right down to who’s paying the electric bill now you’re busy breastfeeding – so everyone is on the same page.”

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Sykes agrees: “You can’t do it all. Make sure your partner’s workplace knows when childcare starts so you can share those days when your baby gets sick and needs an early pick-up. If it’s always you dropping things to rush off, your career and relationship will suffer.”

Did you know? Although an employer is not obligated to say yes, you’re entitled to ask for a further 12 months maternity leave, after your initial 12 months.

For more information, visit...
Visit www.fairwork.gov.au.
Visit www.mychild.gov.au.
Visit www.familyassist.gov.au.
Visit www.centrelink.gov.au.
Visit www.careermums.com.au.
Visit www.msmoney.com.au.