Question… I would like to go back to work but have been out of the working game looking after my children for over five years. I’m worried about how I’m going to manage juggling work and family in terms of logistics, but also in terms of who I am – mum vs lawyer (my profession). Do you have any advice around this?

Our identity is so bound up with our work that when we become a mother – particularly when we decide to take a career break – many of us struggle with the Mummy phase. And the same is true in reverse – how do we recapture our working selves when we’ve been knee high in organic snacks for the past five years? But you are right to flag up your work identity: it’s important because it determines not only how we behave at work, but also how we feel about the work we do. To that end, here are two things we suggest to get you back on the right track. 

Top Tip Number 1

Be absolutely sure about the way in which you want to return. If you are clear that you want to return full time to a similar role that you had before, then shoulders back and in you go. On the other hand, because you’re returning to a high-stress, long-hour environment like law, you may be leaning towards a more flexible setup. If this is the case, think about the type of flexibility that will suit you. Think, also, about the type of role you want to return to. Once you make peace with the way you plan to return, not only does it make job hunting so much easier (more on this below) but your identity as a working mother can take shape authentically and in a way that feels at peace with your values and soul.

Top Tip Number 2

Reinstall your inner working woman. On a year-long maternity leave it’s absolutely not unusual for confidence to take a knock, so it’s not surprising that after a five year career break, you have a dent in your armour. Build your confidence by thinking through what you’ve achieved whilst away from the workplace – multitasking, organisation, maybe a more formal role as nursery class rep. These things might seem trite, but raising a small human being takes a whole lot of skills, and requires patience, tenacity, empathy and many other key ingredients to a successful and fulfilled working women. Don’t underestimate what you’ve done.

Now, for you, we’d also say, read up on your area of law and the changes since you’ve been away. That way, when it comes to interviews you’ll arrive from a positive place rather than one of self-doubt. Clothes are also important in the confidence mix. It’s likely that the suits you wore to work five years ago are no longer in style and (as we know too well) you may also have changed shape. Take yourself on a back to work shopping trip. A sleek dress, smart jacket and new block heel might be all that’s standing between Mum You and the New Work You.

General Advice

Returning to work after a long career break can be challenging because traditional recruiters won’t always appreciate how much you bring to the table. That’s where your achievement log (see above) comes in. Also, lots of law firms now run returnships programmes, for people who have been out of the workplace for several years. Not only is there the chance of a job at the end, but the returnees enjoy the benefit of coaching and support on a whole range of issues including, you guessed it, confidence. If, on the other hand, your heart is set on part time work, a host of part time and flexible recruiters such as Capability Jane and Hurston Eliot have sprung up, which focus on getting skilled people into flexible roles. Both of these have plenty of legal jobs on their books.

Finally, the logistics: going back to work will make the logistics of family life more difficult – support is vital. Make sure your partner is fully involved and prepared to shoulder some of the responsibilities (both emotional and practical) that come with busy family lives. If you’re not yet at the stage where you can rely on school or after school care, invest in good childcare.

Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins (Vermilion, £12.99)

For more visit or follow them on Twitter and Facebook

More in Features

By , 6th November 2023
My new literary suspense THE END OF SUMMER announced in The Bookseller

From book to screen

By , 28th February 2023
Free resources and tips for would be screenwriters, from a complete novice - and some professionals - as I navigate the process of adapting my novels for TV and film

Observer New Review Q&A

By , 22nd March 2022
An interview with Stephanie Merritt about Edith and Kim, the perils of writing about family, and why female spies often get overlooked

Researching Edith and Kim

By , 17th November 2021
From a compendium of stories about life at the Bauhaus to a Modernist memoir by the founder of the iconic Isokon, here are some of the books that inspired my forthcoming novel

Book festivals 2021

By , 19th August 2021
From a celebration of the life of John le Carré at Cheltenham to an exploration of women and crime in Chiswick, please join me at one of the following events, across the country (and the internet!)