So here we are, I am returning to work after maternity leave and I am on the final few days of what I can only describe as the best year of my life. I know maternity leave is not always fun and games and some people really struggle making that change from working woman to stay at home mum.
For me though, it has been a gorgeous, happy, heavenly time. I think I can honestly say that 2016 has been one of my favourite years ever and it is with some trepidation and a very heavy heart (here come the tears again!) that I am dipping my toes back into the office waters once more.
So, I toyed with the idea of writing a woe-is-me blog post detailing every mixed emotion and the heartbreak but who really wants to read that?! I don’t think even I do! It’ll only make me feel worse anyway.
As this is not the first time I’ve had a baby and gone back to work, it’s a familiar (albeit unpleasant) feeling. I’ve learnt a lot about raising a young child and holding down every kind of shift pattern available (night shifts, part time, full time, over time, working abroad – you name it, I’ve done it) during the past decade so I thought instead of a good old whinge, I would share with you exactly what it’s like to juggle work and motherhood. It’s gritty and I’m not sugar coating it I’m afraid but I wish I’d read a post like this when I was first returning to work after maternity leave because I think it enables you to be prepared for what is ahead.
Returning To Work After Maternity Leave
There Will Always Be Difficult Days
When my sister went back to work, the first piece of advice I offered her was to prepare herself mentally and emotionally for the difficult days. Some days your child is a bit off colour, you have no annual leave left and yet you know that what your child needs is to be tucked up at home with a parent. Some days your child will yell and scream and throw a massive emotional fit when you leave them in childcare. It’s worse when they can vocalise it. I will never forget Zak clinging to my leg at about three years old and begging me not to leave him. Those days are difficult. Those days are awful. But they will pass and normal service will resume. Prepare yourself for the feelings of guilt and accept that it’s just par for the course when you have to be both breadwinner and parent. You all have to suck it up and get on with it. I know that sounds harsh but it’s a fact. The good news it that there will be no lasting damage.
Stock Up On Calpol
Sorry for the doom and gloom but this is the reality. If you are using any kind of formal childcare then your little one is going to be coming into contact with a brand new set of germs and until they build up an immunity they are going to be sick, repeatedly. In all likelihood so are you but you don’t have time to be ill. Stock up on all medicines, emergency childcare options (Grandma?!) and whatever you do, do NOT use up precious annual leave on anything that isn’t absolutely mandatory.
Do NOT read the Daily Mail
Ok, this is a bit tongue in cheek. Read it if you want to but these types of publications often publish controversial and ill-researched articles about how much sending your child to nursery will damage them for the rest of their lives and they will all end up in prison and on drugs.
Sounds ridiculous but when you are feeling vulnerable, guilty and unsure it can make you feel worse. Do yourself a favour and go for a walk on your lunch break, meet up with a colleague for lunch or have a cry in the toilets. All will leave you feeling much better than feeding your inner demons with this drivel.
Whilst I’m at it…
Do NOT Explain Your Childcare Choice
You have looked into your childcare options and you have chosen the best one for you and your child. Do NOT apologise, explain or get into a debate with anyone about your choices. If a nosey parker in the office does ask you what you have done with your baby, I’d suggest you look under your desk and then shrug and say “I have no idea, I’ve left him/her here somewhere”.
You do not have to explain, justify or discuss your childcare options with anyone. Everyone has an opinion on the best type of childcare to use and you don’t need to hear any of them.
Drink All The Coffee
When you are having a bad day it is perfectly ok to drink all of the coffee, eat all of the chocolate, revel in the fact that you get to pee in peace and enjoy uninterrupted adult conversation without someone clinging to your leg and crying “up” “up” ten thousand times. Remind yourself that there are benefits to re-joining the world of work and focus on the positives. No wallowing allowed.
Hold Off On The Pictures
Until you have acclimatised to your new routines, I’d suggest you don’t put up pictures of your little one on your desk. It will only make you miss them more and distract you from your work.
Learn To Live Off No Sleep
You know what, as you are coming off maternity leave you probably already have this skill mastered.
I’ve found that going back to work or any big change will result in my son waking at night and wanting to be with me. Pretty much every parent I’ve ever spoken to has said the same thing. They wake at night for who knows what reason but I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s the change of routine and the fact that they missed you and they know you are there at night.
Sorry, I know it’ll make you feel bad reading this but it’s the truth. No point sugar coating it. We all have to deal with this though if it’s any consolation..
You are going to have to function as a working employee off very little sleep to begin with until everyone settles into their new routine.
Cry In The Toilets If You Have To
This is my personal opinion but whatever you do, try very hard not to cry at your desk or workspace. If you absolutely must have a good old howl then do it in the privacy of the toilets. Otherwise one of two things will happen to you:
- You will forever be known as the woman who cries at work
- People will tiptoe around you in a semi-awkward state as though you are an emotionally unstable nutbag who may or may not spurt breastmilk from her chest at any given point…
Neither is desirable when you have been out of the office for months and are trying to make a good impression. So if you must do it, please cry in private and then pull yourself together and get on with it. You can’t spend every day in tears.
Work to Live
As I mentioned earlier, I have worked pretty much every type of shift pattern and shit pattern that you can come up with during the past ten years. There were some pretty awful 12 hour night shifts on labour ward surrounded by other people’s babies when all I wanted was my own. There have also been 50 hour working weeks where I was determined to climb the corporate ladder and there has been everything in between.
You may or may not be an ambitious person. I am and always have been. However, a word of caution – I allowed work to consume me for a period of time when Zak was about 3-5 years old. I loved my job. It was brilliant and I will probably never have such a great job again. However, I told myself that I could have it all, pushed a 50 hour working week, worked abroad at least once a month and generally juggled my life as a single mum with my ambition. The result was burn out. Big time. I made myself and my son very unhappy.
Missing Zak’s first day of school, never having time for homework, being perpetually exhausted and therefore grumpy at home were the price I paid for trying to have it all.
Be honest with yourself about how much work you can manage and what you need to do to pay the bills. This is controversial but I think that your most important job is with your family once you’ve had kids. Also, kids don’t need you less as they grow up – they actually need you more. You are not going back to your old routines once they go to school.
Find your own balance that works for you and your family but please think carefully about whether you are working to live or living to work because there is a very fine tipping point between the two.
The Good News – It Gets Easier
Parents who are mid-juggle and who have only a milky haze of memories of their time on maternity leave are liable to bandy this phrase about quite a bit. To some extent it is true. What seems like an impossible separation from your baby will one day become a normal part of your family life and routine. How long it will take to feel that working is your new ‘normal’ will depend on you and your situation but it will happen. It won’t always feel difficult, painful and emotional I promise. In fact, on some days you will actually be glad to get to work for the break.
So that’s it. My 10 difficult truths about returning to work after maternity leave. It might sound all doom and gloom but it’s not. It can be brilliant to get back to adult conversation and to challenge your brain in different ways once more and you may relish your independence and time spent at work. However you feel about it I wish you the best of luck with your first weeks back at work.
If you have already done this difficult transition then leave your top tips for coping in the comments box below for those of us returning to work after maternity leave.