Making the most of your maternity break. This seems to be a topic that every returning or working mother feels passionate and, at the same time, confused about. The sole purpose of the six-month maternity break (now under the Maternity Benefits Act) for new mothers is to ensure proper care and support for the newborn, and the mom’s well-being. But what about staying relevant during that period?

Sustaining and enhancing this relevance for the woman as an individual and a professional was discussed by a panel, a couple of weeks ago. The Breakthrough programme run by the Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership (GCWL) is designed as a comprehensive training model targeted at returning and working mothers, from corporate and development sector and offers customised sessions for each cohort, created based on the needs analysis conducted by GCWL. The panel, moderated by Harpreet Kaur, Director, GCWL, had Ritu Mendiratta, HR & Admin Lead, Oxfam India, and myself engaging in enriching discussions with participating mothers.

The discussion made me think of what it really means to stay relevant and how can you, returning or working mothers, manage a career and motherhood. I believe that while the child or children will be the sole focus of your break, your own upkeep, physical and emotional well-being is of equal importance. In that spirit, the 5E pointers below are elements for the women to leverage.

Enjoy
First and foremost, enjoy the time. It is perhaps the best of the times when you have an abundance of it with your child(ren). After a point, the family and society start getting their timeshare of them. Relax and recuperate as babies can sense their mother’s anxiety. Do deep breathing in just 2-minute spurts as it increases the oxygen supply to the brain and makes you active and positive. Yoga and meditation will help as and when you get the time. Enjoy the extra attention the family and the society doles out on you; the spotlight, the pampering that comes from everywhere and everyone.

Explore
It is never too late to try new things whenever you get some time beyond your typical asks of motherhood. Indulge in things you don’t get time in your working lives for; your hobbies, reading, gardening, listening to music (babies may love that too), home start-ups (baking etc) or even dabbling in stock markets. They key is to explore what you like and expand your experience.

Enhance
While time will most certainly be a luxury for you, when possible, brush up your sector and functional knowledge, and keep up on industry news or latest happenings and ideas at work. Few quick reads, a news here or article there will ensure when you are back to work, you are updated. Doing Sudoku, for example, to sharpen analytical skills and keeping you focused may help. Try anything that interests you. Self-development, in any form, should be the mantra.

Engage
This a two-way street. What organisations can do to ensure their side of the engagement over the whole maternity duration (before, and after) can be a separate program or discussion itself! We will stick to how you can do your bit.

Engaging with your current team members, colleagues, or making new connections, industry or otherwise, will certainly be beneficial in your efforts to stay connected and grow your network. Of course, your options to return to work needn’t be limited to the current organisation – always a good option and opportunity to switch or start-up on your own. Social media (FB, LinkedIn, Whatsapp groups etc) can be a huge help in quickly increasing your reach and relevance.

Educate
Lastly, this whole process (maternity breaks, and returning or working mothers) is sometimes a new experience to the organisation (MNCs or otherwise), and more so for the small and medium enterprises. They are not equipped to provide for a caring and supporting environment to support you. Hence, it is imperative to educate and guide your organisation (HR or Admin team, leaders, HODs) as to what is possible when it comes to helping you integrate back to work with ease.

In terms of strategic actions to explore, you may recommend new formats of working (part-time, work-from-home, flexi-timings etc) if not already in place. Also, suggest a possible job rotation to ensure that you feel valuable to the organisation.

All in all, it’s a life stage and experience that you should cherish. Men can never (at least biologically as of now) experience this process that nature has reserved for you only. Shaping up a new generation while also rebooting your skills and rejuvenating yourself is hard work. So, give yourself a pat on the backs, stay happy, and stay relevant.

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Manish Sharma, the guest author, leads Human Resources Operations at Ashoka University.