How to Prepare Your Family (and Yourself!) for Your Return to Work

Returning to work after a career break is not just a big transition for you, but for your entire family! No matter where you are on your journey back to the workforce, it’s never too early to start preparing your family for your return and all the big changes that will come with it. Planning ahead will save you a lot of headache and stress in the long run. Here are five tips to get started.

1. Involve the Entire Family

When you start your new job, there will be a different division of labor in the house. Think about everything you handle: whether it’s school drop-offs and pick-ups, taking family members to appointments, or managing the family calendar. Then, sit down with your family to create a new view of the “work of the home,” one where everyone might need to take on some new responsibilities.

Maybe cooking dinner is now on a rotating schedule, or your spouse does school drop-offs while you do pick-ups. Maybe it’s time for the kids to pick up a new chore or two. And don’t forget to plan for small emergencies – if the school calls, who will pick up the kids early? Each family’s circumstances are different. Find the division that works best for you, but make sure you won’t be left juggling all of your current responsibilities while working full-time, too. 

2. Ease Back Into a Work Routine as You Job Search

It might take some time for you to get back into the motions of working an office job. Create a routine now, while you’re still job searching, to make the transition easier for both you and your family down the road. 

The best way to do this is to treat the job search as your full-time job. Set up your desk space, get up early, block out a typical working day or as much uninterrupted time as you can, and make some progress on your return-to-work journey. Refine your resume, write your next job description, reach out to your network, or apply to jobs. Consistency is key: make sure you’re creating a routine out of this and not doing it as a one-time exercise. You’ll find that you get back into the groove a lot faster than you think. 

It’s also a great way to show your family what to expect when you start your new job. Tell your kids that when you’re working they shouldn’t disturb you. This doesn’t mean you have to be glued to your office chair for eight hours a day. (That’s probably not going to be the case at any job, either!) 

You can still take breaks, do school runs, make lunch, or make time to play with your kids. But you’ll be able to see how to handle the new work-life balance that a professional job will require and do a dry run of any new routines you create.

3. Talk to Your Kids About Your Return and What It Means to You

At Path Forward, we’ve seen parents return from career breaks of anywhere from two to more than twenty years. There is no “right time” to return to work – some feel ready when their kids are in kindergarten while others wait until they’re in college. 

If your kids are young, it might take more time for them to adjust to you not being as available as you were as a stay-at-home parent. Prepare them for the change. Talk to them about what they can expect once you return to work and what your new schedule will be like. 

But don’t forget to mention the positive aspects of you returning to work. Explain that this is something you’ve been working hard towards and that, while it will be a big transition for everyone, this is something that will give you new challenges and new fulfillment. You may not realize it, but during your job search you are modeling to your kids an example of setting goals and working to achieve them. “I believe that it’s so important for us as parents to lead by example and to try and be as happy as we can in our own lives,” notes returner Deborah Chin. “Pursuing a career was part of showing my daughter the importance of striving for what makes me happy and not giving up.”

Remember – kids are more resilient than we give them credit for, and they want to see you happy, too!

4. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

No matter how well-prepared you are, it’s inevitable that there will be some bumps along the way. Maybe some things will fall by the wayside around the house – a bit more clutter, some missed chores, fewer home cooked meals. It can be easy to get frustrated and think that you aren’t capable of balancing your work and family life. Our advice for how to deal with it? Lower your standards

The added stress of making sure the household runs exactly as it did before you went back to work is not worth it, especially when you’re dealing with such a big change in your life. So if it’s 11 p.m, the kids are in bed, and you have to get up early for your commute tomorrow, leave the toys strewn across the living room or the papers cluttered on the dining room table for another day. Accept that there might be a little more disorganization around the house and let it go. You might even find that your family picks up some of the slack without having to be asked!

One way to ensure a smoother transition back into the workforce is through a returnship program. Since returnships are designed for professionals coming back from career breaks, you’ll benefit from the specialized support and mentorship you’ll receive from both the employer and from Path Forward. Our partner companies know your caregiving responsibilities don’t end when you return to work, and offer flexibility and understanding about your need to balance work and home life. 

5. Have Patience With Yourself

Whether you’re restarting your career through a returnship or not, remember that while the transition might be a challenge, you’re not alone. More than 1,000 Path Forward returners and their families have navigated the rough waters you’re currently sailing.

It’s a big change, especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for a long time,” says Neema Bollampally, a returner who now also serves on Path Forward’s Board of Directors. “Time and patience go a long way. Ask for the help you need, whether it’s from your colleagues, your community, or your family. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing people were to help.”


Anna Khomina is a content writer and marketing coordinator at Path Forward.