Before you go off work on maternity leave, you can never really anticipate what life is going to be like at the end of it. You are- rightly so!- focused on your baby. The birth. The new baby bubble. The milestones stretching out ahead of you- first steps, first word, first taste of solid food. All of that is important. All of that is essential. It’s the reason why you’re off work in the first place. During pregnancy, some doctors believe that a woman’s brain is literally re-wired, meaning that the way she thinks, feels and acts in certain situations begins to alter. And when baby arrives, her priorities have changed. All of this makes the return to work so much harder! So when is the right time to return to work? And how can you make the transition as easy as possible?
For women, the end of maternity leave is challenging on many different levels. First of all there are the questions of whether or not to even return at all. And if so, should it be full time or part time? And what childcare to opt for? Nursery? Childminder? Family member? How many ‘keeping in touch’ days should you use before you return? How can you ensure that your colleagues are confident in your abilities to do the job once you return? How can you yourself be confident in your abilities, or even your desire to return to work and continue in the same role as before? Your whole life has just changed, so how can you slot back into the office like nothing happened?
And then, of course, there is how to manage all of that with a small person who relies on you too.
The mum guilt that comes with the return to work can be immense. How to manage feeding, sleepless nights, who gets up with the baby, the housework the other children, the sick days… its endless. And this all needs lots of thought, which means that the return to work must be on your mind long before you actually return.
So when is the right time to return to work? When I had my first two babies, It took 12 months each time, and returned part time. It was hard to return, but I wanted to retain that piece of my life. I wanted to be a person in my own right, as well as mum. When I had baby number three I was unable to return part time, so I handed in my notice and lived out my maternity leave in uncertainty. When she was six months old I became freelance and started to work for myself. This meant that when baby number four came along, I was back at my desk before she was four weeks old.
Too soon? You bet. But I felt pressured to return, and the guilt this inflicted was awful. Looking back, it was so silly. I needed that time to be with my baby; I’d do anything to turn the clock back now. The days I spent at my desk with a newborn attached to my breast. The tears I shed as deadlines loomed and my baby wasn’t sleeping. And the regret I now feel at the time I wasted fighting against what should have been one of the most special times in m life. If I could re-do those early days, I definitely would.
So how to get the balance right? It is, of course, a personal decision. I wish that Best of Parenting’s The Working Parent’s Guide had been around two years ago! The book is filled with advice and tips for working parents and helps you to navigate the often confusing and definitely stressful return to work. Because I still struggle. I still find there are days where the children are around my feet, needing me, and I am typing one handed replies to urgent emails. There is lots I would change about my working life- I need better organisation, a proper working space, and a better routine- but there is so much I am grateful for. Working for myself means i never miss a sick day and I’m never late to sport’s day either. Working for myself means that I can finish that report before breakfast and take the rest of the day to spend in the park with the kids at half term. Working for myself means that the kids can come first, on my terms.
What I need help with now is organising my work and home balance, and making sure that my kids are always prioritised while they are so young. I’m only part way through the Best of Parenting book, but hopeful the answers are within!
When did you go back to work, and how was it for you?