So, your first parental leave is over and you’ve decided not to go back to work. Or maybe you’re still on leave and considering becoming a stay-at-home-parent. Good for you! It’s an exciting moment. It’s also scary. Not only are you forfeiting income and work friends, but you are also saying goodbye to part of yourself—your identity as a professional. The transition from traditional work to stay-at-home-parenthood can be tough—so can the transition back. Luckily, there are things you can do during your time off that will make the transition back to work a lot easier.
Here are some ideas:

1. Know what you want.
You eventually want to get back to work—but doing what? Now is a good time to think about whether or not you want to stay in your field. If you’re considering a career change, there may be some pretty big issues to factor in, such as additional schooling, income and work hours. Be realistic about what you have the time and energy to do.

Don’t know what you want to do? Try reaching out to your alumni association to see if you can get free or discounted career counselling from your university or college, if you attended. If you don’t live close to your alma mater, other local post-secondary institutions may offer general career counselling to adults for a fee. There are also scads of free online career exploration resources to choose from and most regional libraries have a robust career section. Start by checking out some library books on how to determine your strengths and talents. Many come with assessments you can take by yourself or to a meeting with a career counsellor.

2. Network.
Full-time parents can find it hard to make new connections, but there are some easy ways to build your personal and professional network.

Playgroups are fantastic opportunities to network. It’s not just parents that take kids to playgroups—you’ll also meet nannies, grandparents and babysitters, people who will be at different stages in their careers and may have experience in lots of professional arenas. The more regularly you engage with other caregivers—whether it be at birthday parties, preschool drop-off, PAC meetings, or playgrounds—the likelier they’ll be to share their job leads and connections with you.

3. Speaking of connections, maintain your own.
Just because you no longer work for your previous employer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep in touch with your best work friends. Former colleagues may move on to other endeavours in fields that interest you, so they could be a valuable resource during your job hunt.

Social media is an essential networking tool. Follow companies that interest you on Facebook and Twitter so you can stay updated on job postings and changes in management. LinkedIn is designed for professionals and allows you to search for and share business opportunities. It is an excellent way to connect with colleagues, clients and potential business employers. Spend a few minutes during nap time uploading your resume, adding personal and professional contacts and growing your network.

4. Stay current.
While you are changing diapers, cutting off crusts, and picking dried who-knows-what off the couch cushions for the umpteenth time, it’s likely that changes are taking place in your line of work. Keep on top of advancements, trends and major changes in your industry by attending conferences, conventions and seminars, if feasible.

If you don’t work in a specific field or are considering a career change, then focus on updating your knowledge of Microsoft Office and the major social media platforms. Look for suitable courses and workshops at community centres, university Continuing Education departments, and your local library. Can’t get away? Try an online learning website like Lynda.com, which you can now access for free through the Greater Victoria Public Library and Vancouver Island Regional Library if you have a valid library card.

5. Know Your Perks as a Parent.
Leaving work to raise a child is not quitting. It’s a change in employment status that can have unique benefits. If you belong to a union then you may want to check your collective agreement to see what it says about leaving work to raise a child. For example: I worked for the public service and, because I resigned specifically to raise a child under a certain age, I have access to internal job postings for six years after my last day of employment. When I return to work, I regain my seniority and vacation allotment. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your (former) employer or union to see if you have similar benefits.

6. Volunteer or work part-time.
It can be difficult to find the time and resources to volunteer or work when you have a small child at home. Unless you have easy access to affordable child care or your spouse works flexible hours, you’re going to have to get creative.

Volunteering is a great way to network, learn new skills and explore different professional fields. Typical volunteer roles range from board member of a non-profit organization, to concession manager for an amateur theatre company, to communications coordinator for a local charity. What you choose will depend on your interests and the amount of time you want to commit. Most larger communities have a website dedicated to open volunteer opportunities where you can search based on the type of work you want to do and your availability (for example volunteervictoria.bc.ca, volunteercomoxvalley.ca).

7. Work from home.
Working doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in an office. Is there something you can do from home? If you play a musical instrument then teach lessons during times that suit your (okay, your child’s) schedule. If you work in communications or journalism you can freelance by, you know, writing articles for local parenting magazines. Or maybe start a blog about your adventures as a new parent. Try to capitalize on any skill, talent or expertise you have.

It’s a brave decision not to go back to work after parental leave, but a stay-at-home parent can still keep a hand in the work world. A little nap-time professional development now and then will make it that much easier to eventually get back to the office, back to a paycheque, and back to…those free Timbits.

Colleen Davis is a stay-at-home-parent to an active toddler. In her spare time she reads, writes and does community theatre.