“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one; the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job” – Annabel Crabb
Today, the 26th April 2017, marks one year since I returned to work after 9 months maternity leave. It’s been a year of hit and missed goals, falling short of a lot of the expectations I place on myself, eternal disorganisation and a lot mixed feelings…
Before I had a child or even contemplated a child I had a very clear idea of how I would raise them. Now, as we all know, these ideas are somewhat far fetched once the hypothetical kid becomes a reality, but still I thought –
- It’ll be important to return to work ASAP after popping out a child. (Note the lack of any real consideration of logistics)
- I’ll want to be back at work so that I can talk to adults and have human interaction. This is a notion that you hear people bat around a lot.
- Overall it will be better for my metaphorical kid, “My mum worked and it did me no harm” (the latter point I stick by)
My views didn’t change much while I was pregnant, and I would find myself often spouting cliche phrases willy nilly –
- “I’ll be wanting to pick back up where I left off. I’m trying to establish a career.”
- “6 months off will be enough”
- “I’ll be happy to get back to work for a break” – now, this is the one that is most laughable looking back. Before I had Oscar I didn’t consider work to be a ‘break’ so I’m unsure why, all of a sudden, I believed it would be a breeze post baby while trying to juggle every other aspect of my own life and that of an additional human…
While on Maternity Leave I began to realise my feelings about returning to work were not so clear cut. The logistics of only taking 6 months off struck when Oscar was 4 or 5 months old and the reality of the commitment associated with exclusive breastfeeding hit. Maybe I wouldn’t be ready to return to work after 6 months when my child was shy of 5 months new and still feeding every 2 hours in the day and every hour through the night (yeah, I know, dick). It was too soon. So I extended my leave to 9 months, because that was when the SMP stopped and I already felt skint, so going to no income wasn’t an option. Now, I’m lucky to have an extremely supportive partner (that’s you Robin, if you’re reading this, you’re the best) but it was still a big deal to me to rely on someone else to foot the bill for my car, for my phone, etc.
So, as the day drew closer, we organised a childminder and I reassured myself that my return to work was the best thing for us all and it would instill a good work ethic in Oscar.
Then the day came. One year ago today – my first day back. I was worried, but it passed quickly and it was fine… although it still felt like a one off, I had to remind myself I’d have to do it all again the next day, and the next, and the next. Since that day there have been days, weeks, actually, there have been months that I’ve struggled.
It’s not as much that I miss Oscar (is that awful?!) – he spends his days having fun with his Dad or at his childminder who is wonderful and I’m so glad he gets to socialise and make friends, but I struggle to keep on top of things, struggle to keep life ticking over. There have been whole periods of time where I’ve felt like I’m running a shite tip, and far from a tight ship. Times that I’ve not washed our bedding in longer than I’d care to admit. Nights when I’ve picked Oscar up after work and counted the minutes to get him to bed even though I barely get to spend more than 90 minutes with him on an evening. Weekends where I’ve cried because everywhere I’ve looked there’s been something needing cleaned. And of course the many many days that I’ve suffered severe FOMO that I’m stuck in work and Robin + Oscar are out having fun. I’ve forgotten to post birthday cards, I literally still have one in my handbag from a friends birthday in December (sorry Jess). I’ve failed miserably at times to text even my closest friends back… I read them and immediately forget. Sometimes I can’t remember when I last cooked a meal (sorry Robin, and thank you for the many meals that you’ve sorted). Even in work, weeks have passed where I’ve felt like I’m always a step behind, perpetually in a state of chaos – to do lists growing and nothing getting ticked off – all squeezed into 4 days instead of 5. I’ve struggled to concentrate and find my focus. For all these reasons it’s been harder than I thought. I’ve not been able to “do it all” all the time and it’s got me down. I’ve felt as if I’d lost any passion I had to work and wanted to chuck it all in.
I came to a crossroads around Christmas when I just felt a bit miserable. I forced myself to think of the positives. I have my wages coming in again and that’s great (don’t get me wrong, I’m still skint after a week, but it goes towards my child’s clothing addiction). My three day weekend is amazing and I really do try and cram lots in and get out on adventures and I make such an effort to be present with Oscar during this time. I’m lucky that having such a hands on partner (i.e. The way all dads should be…) that works shifts means Oscar spends up to 90 hours a month with him while I’m at work and the rest with his childminder where he learns so much (so not only does Oscar spend a tonne of quality time with his dad, but we save ££ on childcare – winner). I’m learning (read: desperately trying) to be more organised – a £1 weekly planner from Primark has become my best friend at work and I’ve learnt that if I don’t write something down it will not get done. Every week I make a conscious effort to tick off all those wee red flags of death on Outlook. I’ve even tried and failed to meal plan – I’m still a work in progress I suppose…
Most importantly I’ve learnt that I can’t always do it all, but that’s OK! I’ve only made a series of small changes so far, but they are are putting me back on track and I’m enjoying my work more again. I still do not see it as ‘a break’* and there are still times I wish I could be spending more time at home with Oscar but overall it makes me appreciate the precious family time we do have. I’ve gained some perspective and I’m learning not to sweat the small stuff.
So, if anyone has gone back to work after their maternity leave and is struggling, hang in there, it’s a big adjustment and it’s going to take some time. [Sidenote: If it’s your friend and they have been a bit crap at texting you back, cut them some slack because they don’t mean it, they might just be a bit overwhelmed – don’t forget about them]. It gets easier, and the best way to make it easier is to be kinder to yourself, stop piling so much pressure on yourself! It’s genuinely IMPOSSIBLE to do it all, and anyone that claims they do is probably a big liar liar. Don’t let little squares on Instagram deceive you, there’s more than likely a pile of dirty washing in another room or a cobweb out of shot or a sink of dishes, the list goes on… Remember: Little and often, small changes, BUY A £1 PRIMARK PLANNER, hell if you can afford to, get a cleaner (life goals), it all helps. You’re doing the best job & your kid loves you – that’s what matters.
I’m not going to pretend to be Oprah, but that’s my wee nugget of advice for what it’s worth. What’s your advice to Mamas starting back to work after maternity leave? Let me know!
* Update 27/04/17 – I was thinking about this notion of work being a ‘break’ this morning when I was brushing my teeth and I think I might be ready to articulate it. When people say to you “Oh, you’ll be glad of the break when you’re back at work” they are making a huge assumption. They’re assuming that you want and need a break from your child – but maybe we don’t?! Now, don’t get me wrong, there have been countless days at home when I’ve looked at the clock and though “Robin will be home soon, thank god”, and as he’s walked through the door I’ve disappeared to another room to just sit in peace for a few minutes. Or I’ve enjoyed some time away from being ‘mum’ to go out for dinner with friends, or on a spa break (Mar Hall – I praise you), but these have been breaks of my choosing – when I wanted them. Work is different. Do I want an imposed 9 hour break from my child 4 days a week? Probably not. I don’t want to have to leave him in the mornings when he wakes up all cuddly and cute and go to work, which is by definition, far from a ‘relaxing break’, but we do it, find a way to make it a bit easier and crack on.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, let’s not get them confused, eh?!