How to turn maternity leave into professional development?
Being at home with a small baby is one of the hardest things that a person can do. It requires no end of physical strength and energy, resilience and patience, problem-solving and multi-tasking skills, and the level-headedness and negotiation skills of a bomb-diffusing expert.
But there are parts of your brain that don’t really seem to get a workout during this time. And for many women who are used to being intellectually stimulated or working in a fast-paced job, adapting to this completely different role can be a difficult one.
Then returning to work after some time away can really test that stagnant part of your brain again.
So it is an excellent idea to keep the work and career parts of your brain fit and healthy while you are on maternity leave.
There are a few reasons why you might find this helpful:
· It will be less of a shock to your mind when you do have to wake it up again to return to work
· Most women find using this side of their brain to be enjoyable and interesting
· It looks better to your employer, or to a new employer if you are switching jobs
· It will keep you busy during long periods when your baby is sleeping, feeding or having tummy time
· It will keep you abreast of any changes to your industry
#1 Look after yourself and your baby first
Now we definitely don’t want to put extra pressure on you, so if you are just managing with your baby (or trying to manage a baby), please don’t think you have to be super-career-woman at the same time.
Maternity leave is supposed to be exactly that; leave. Time away from work to look focus entirely on your baby. So if your focus is 100% on bubs, that is fine. You do not have to take on any more.
But many women find this isn’t enough and can be a little bit lost focusing entirely on the baby-world. For those who want to work on their career path while they are on leave and who find this keeps them from drowning in nappies and Peppa Pig, doing a bit of professional development can be an excellent idea.
#2 Keeping up with changes in your industry
Many professionals are required to undertake professional training or experience every year to stay registered in their current profession. This is very true of industries where new developments are always happening, such as health, teaching, and legal professions.
Others aren’t required to as such, but it looks much better for them if they do keep up, including professions such as IT, marketing, finance, and e-commerce. Anyone who has come from an industry of working with computers or social media will find changes can happen very, very fast.
Once your baby has settled into patterns of eating and sleeping, which for most will be around4-6 months, you might find you are at a bit of a loose end sometimes. Between 6 months and 2 years, most little ones will have a couple of sleeps a day, and I certainly found when I was a mum home with my baby that I wanted something else to do.
There was never nothing to do I admit, but I wanted something more challenging than endless bottle washing and bleaching of tiny items of clothing.
#3 Talk to your employer
Have a chat with your employer or your HR person about anything you can do. They might be happy to fund some online training you can do from home, or even have a bit of paid work you can take on while you are on leave.
This enthusiasm will impress, and you might make a little money while you are doing it.
#4 Professional development that can help any industry
Even if your current employer doesn’t have anything for you to do, there are a few types of training that help almost all professionals to develop their skills and increase their range of capabilities.
Consider looking into one (or more) of the following:
· Management skills
· Dealing with challenging people
· Multitasking or time management skills
· Writing for business
· First Aid
· Suicide prevention
· Digital marketing
· IT software updates like Microsoft Office, MYOB, and Xero
#5 Postgraduate courses
Virtually all courses are now available virtually. Through providers such as Open Colleges as well as directly through most universities and TAFEs you can enroll in postgraduate courses or study them in part to improve your skills. Whatever your career path, there is guaranteed to be some further study you can do through a registered training provider that can help you upskill.
#6 Webinars and online conferences
There is a world of training online that you can tap into, most of which is free or very low cost. YouTube can be a place to start; there are instructional videos on here teaching everything from tying knots to knotting ties (plus a few more topics which are probably more relevant to your career than these two!)
You can also subscribe to services such as Skillshare, which for an annual fee allow you access to unlimited video training and webinars in all sorts of skills and interest areas.
#7 Conferences and networking
Again, talk to your employer to see if they will foot the bill for this, but if not, it still might be money very well spent for you. Plus, you could get a few days break from your baby.
If you are not a member of a professional association in your field consider doing this now. It can be an excellent source of information and a great way to stay connected and in the loop. If there are conferences available they would usually be advertised through these associations.
You could even network on a local level by going to meet-ups, either for a specific professional group or perhaps just for women in business or working mothers.
#9 Online support groups
Social media groups are another brilliant source of both information and connections. Search for support groups in your specific field, and once joined you can ask for advice about training you should be doing. With so many minds within reach, your peers across the globe are bound to have suggestions for areas of study, specific providers you should connect to, or influencers you should follow.
#10 Book Club
Look into new books that you think you should be reading in your field, and then either join or set-up a book club with some peers to read this book together. This is another thing that can be done entirely online. Get ideas for books you could target through your ex-colleagues, professional associations, and online support groups.
#11 Arrange your own group
If there is no established professional group you can join to get help on this, why not create your own? You can set up a group page on Facebook for free, and then send invites to people you think might be interested.
You could start a blog and update it weekly with new information about your specific industry; this will keep you up with changes, keep your brain active, and will look awesome to your potential employers when you go back to work.
If your blog becomes popular and you really like doing it, you can look into monetising it and then you may never have to go back to working for someone else again!
For advice on getting into blogging, you might find this article helpful: How to build a brilliant blog?
#12 Freelance or start your own side business
Many mothers have taken the untapped portion of their brain while on maternity leave and spun this into their own start-up business. You could freelance your services through websites like Upwork.com and Freelancer.com or set up your own online business selling handicrafts or importing products that you know other mothers would love.
Almost every mother has discovered a new product which saved their sanity when their baby was tiny, why not channel your enthusiasm for this project into an e-commerce store selling it?
Some ideas for online stores include:
· Maternity or breastfeeding clothes
· High-quality baby clothes or shoes
· Organic baby skincare
· Herbal teas
· Cotton, hemp or bamboo products
· Subscription boxes
· Food products, like readymade meals, baked goods or allergy-friendly options
· Wooden or unique toys
· Educational or mindfulness toddler products
For some ideas of mothers who have taken their maternity leave and created a business empire from it, check out the following:
· Natasha Stewart, Founder of Business Jump
· Kelly Jamieson, Founder of Edible Blooms
· Louise Pannell and Cassandra Wheat, Co-founders of Chorus
· Danielle Proctor, Founder of Rocky Road House
This website gives you access to career development professionals and many online resources to help you seek your own career advancement. This can include things like career planning, job search,and resume skills, as well as options for further study.