How To Slay Returning To Work After Baby

Friday 21 June 2019

It’s something that every working mother faces, but none of us can prepare for – the return to work after maternity leave can be quite a rocky road.

You certainly aren’t alone in finding it a struggle to navigate a changed work place, trying to think professionally for the first time in a year or more and also coping with leaving your child. There’s a whole cocktail of emotions – intimidation, detachment, excitement, heartbreak – which you’re facing all at the same time.

I should know. I’m facing them too.

I returned to work in my marketing job at a university a couple of weeks ago, after a year away with my lovely daughter, Romilly Hero. It’s my second return to work experience (I also took a year out after having my son, Theo) and I like to think I’ve learned a few things the second time around.

Consider A Staggered Return

Getting used to balancing work and a young family is a learning process, and every working mama has mornings where its an uphill struggle to battle through getting kids up, dressed and at nursery – the mornings where you feel like you’ve done a day’s work before you even get to your desk.

If you can, consider doing a staggered return to work, using annual leave or even initially returning part-time. It’s a much kinder way to ease yourself in gradually and much less of a mental load to begin with.

Part time or full time is a highly personal choice that depends on your emotional, physical and financial circumstances. I don’t believe there is one right choice. I tried working part-time after my first maternity leave, and it didn’t suit me at all. The main problem was that my job hadn’t changed – it wasn’t a part-time job, I was just expected to do it in less hours a week. I found myself answering emails at 11pm, always feeling like I was falling behind or being passed over for good projects – and I resented all the hours I was putting in each night unpaid.

Time at home wasn’t quality time either. In my head it was all picnics in the park and trips to the aquarium, but the reality was more like my son strapped into his car seat while I dashed round the supermarket.

It works for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I decided that I was going to work, I wanted to be full-time and its been much less stressful.

However, this arrangement only works because of three things –

  • A supportive partner My husband truly does his fair share in terms of the housework, childcare and cooking, and none of it would work if he didn’t
  • Childcare options Having two children at nursery three days a week is horrendously expensive – the monthly cost is significantly more than our mortgage payment. We are extremely lucky to have childcare from grandparents two days a week, because if we didn’t, I couldn’t afford the nursery fees to work full-time
  • Setting Boundaries I’m in the office 8am-4pm, and this means I can be back with the kids by 4.30 every day. I want to be fully present with them during this time, so I’m very strict about leaving on time and I don’t look at my phone or emails (work or personal) until they go to bed
It’s a finely tuned balance but it just about works.

Slay The Worry Monster

Transitioning back into work, either part-time or full-time, is a harder process than you may expect. It’s a little bit like Sliding Doors – everything looks similar on the surface, but dig into it and there’s a years worth of background, process and development that you know nothing about.

The two major worries I’ve been experiencing are a) what if my child doesn’t settle at nursery? Will she hate me for leaving her? Am I going to scar her for life? And b) what if I can perform at work anymore? Will everyone know my brains fallen down a black hole of nappies and sleepless nights?

Firstly, try to forgive yourself for going to work. Your baby will not be hopelessly damaged by the fact that mama has a career – studies show that it’s the quality of the time we spend with our kids and not the quantity which is most important. Plus, I remind myself of the importance of my son and daughter seeing me as a woman progressing in my career and partly defining myself by working.

Secondly, try to be kind to yourself with getting back up to speed. You can and will get there, even if it takes a hell of a lot of coffee.

Get Prepped The Night Before

Mornings are absolutely crazy. Getting two adults and two kids ready to leave the house is like mobilising an army. The only way to manage is to get everything ready the night before. Kids clothes, my clothes, nursery bags, hats, suncream, wellies, lunches and whatever else that we might need.

It can be really hard to find the energy for this when the kids are finally in bed, so I zoom around and do it while they are in the bath. That way, when they’re both settled, I have a couple of hours for me – to take an exercise class, a warm shower, read some of my book, watch some Netflix, do some blogging or catch up on social media. Because yes mama, you do deserve some time for yourself!

Agree Your Morning Routine

Following on from prepping ahead, its also important to have the conversation with your other half about who will do what in the morning, and set your new routine together. Think about what time you need to leave the house in order to do a nursery drop off before work.

I get up at 5.30am so that I have enough time to make a cup of tea and go back to bed and drink it while snuggling Theo, who generally comes in just before 6am – I hate jumping out of bed and straight into it. Romilly wakes up at 6ish and I make her a morning bottle of milk and change her nappy while my husband gets up and dressed. The kids watch a bit of CBeebies in our bed while I hop in the ensuite and get washed up. Then he gets them both dressed and teeth brushed while I get myself dressed and do my makeup.

He leaves at 6.45am, as he runs into work, and I get the kids their breakfast if it’s a family day (on nursery days they get given breakfast there, so I’ll use the ten minutes to play with them or sometimes clean the bathroom or stick laundry on) and then make sure we’re in the car for 7.15am. I drop them off at nursery or with grandparents at 7.30am, and then drive to work for 8am.

If it sounds like a military operation, that’s because it pretty much is, but when the alternative is freeform chaos and unnecessary stress, I’ll take the drill sergeant approach!

Roll With The Punches 

Going back to work isn’t the easy step back that some people think it is, and employers can be shockingly bad at making the transition easier for returning mothers.

Sometimes the things that seem like they will break you turn out to be what makes you. When I came back after my first maternity leave at a previous job, I had the worst possible experience. My line manager was on long-term sick and no one had told me. I turned up and they’d deleted my email and all my files, lost my laptop and other things and neglected to inform me that the department was in the grip of a restructure, my previous post had been deleted and that I would have to interview that week to either move up a job grade, or be demoted. No one knew where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to be working on. Guess how that interview went.

The nightmare turned out to be a good thing though, as it spurred me on to leave and find something better. I did three exams, a presentation, an afternoon of group assessments and an interview with nine other candidates for my current job – all of whom I was convinced were far better than me. Being offered the position was just the boost that my battered confidence needed, and luckily, this second return to work has been far kinder.

Life can be strange and unpredictable, so try to go with the flow and make the best of it. Who knows where you could end up?

Make Arrangements For Sickness

Nurseries are cesspits of infant germs, and its pretty much a given that your child is going to pick up numerous coughs, colds and even stuff like chicken pox or impetigo when they first start.

There is nothing quite so awkward as asking for time off in your first few weeks back, so if at all possible, ease the pressure by agreeing in advance with your partner or another family member that they will take time off for the first few sicknesses.

Plan Out Your Day

There’s nothing like combining work and raising a family to make you an absolute productivity ninja. Every second counts, so make the day work for you by becoming hot on time management. I love my CGD London ‘Getting Stuff Done’ planner for helping me to shape my day, and I use MS OneNote to give me multiple tabbed notebooks across my iPad, phone and work laptop.

Use your calendar to block out time after each meeting to process actions immediately, and chunk 15 minutes at the end of each day to review your to do list for the day ahead. I’ve found The Scales Method really useful in keeping my day on track, plus I highly recommend organising your email inbox in this way as its drastically improved my email hygiene. Just remember to breathe!

Do Some Meal Planning

Having to do a full day at work and then think about what to feed everyone is beyond my sleep-deprived brain capacity right now. So to keep things super simple, I pulled together a spreadsheet of easy meal ideas on a three week rotation. There are options for family classics, meat-free dinners and Friday nights, where we like to have a treat.

It means I don’t have to think about it, and I can use my slow cooker to make sure we all get a healthy, home-cooked dinner with a minimum of fuss.

Use Your Lunch Productively

How many of us are guilty of working over our lunch break? Don’t get me wrong, I do it all the time as well, but I’m making a conscious effort to squeeze in half an hour to bash out some life admin (booking that car service, chasing up our architect, looking at flights for a holiday) or just to take some time for me – reading a chapter of my book or going for a walk outside around the lake.

It makes a big difference to my mental load and means there’s less to do in the evening. As I work on a university campus, there are also a few really useful things there, like a salon where I can book to get my eyebrows threaded on my lunch break! Investigate what is near you and you can get a lot done in that half an hour.

Work That Wardrobe

Going to work and leaving the kids can be hard, so try to pick up on the small wins. It sounds silly, but I’ve loved the chance to get into proper clothes again after a year on mama duties where I just lived in jeans and jumper most of the time. Office fashion is now totally my vibe, as is using a proper handbag that doesn’t contain toy cars, baby biscotti or spare socks.

And I enjoy the hell out of my first, uninterrupted coffee of the day at my desk. Appreciating the little things makes all the difference sometimes.

Be Kind To Yourself

Most of all, remember just to be kind to yourself. We put ourselves under such huge amounts of pressure trying to be the perfect boss and the perfect mother as well. Reject that perfection myth and acknowledge that it’s okay to ask for help or temporarily let standards slip at home.

Book in a treat just for you after your first few days back to say well done to yourself for juggling everything – I’ve got a day off in lieu so I’m going to treat myself to an extremely rare child free day popping round the shops and getting a massage at Beauty Temple.

Trying to excel in the office and at home is a lot, but with a few provisos, it can be done. Trust in yourself and if you need to bribe the kids with a bit of iPad time so that you can fire a few work emails off then do it – it’s okay to compromise, and accept that some weeks, your job will be more important, and others your family has to come first.

No one has all the answers, but you can find a way that works for you. You got this, mama!

Post a Comment