I loved maternity leave. Like absolutely LOVED it. I think I was lucky enough to have the perfect storm of a very easy-going little girl, plenty of sleep, and an amazing summer - just as she was old enough for us to do fun things together. So going back to work wasn’t a prospect I was relishing. In fact, it really did feel like the dream was over.
But don’t fret, there is light... I’ve now been back at work part-time for three months and I honestly feel like I have the best of both worlds. I have what can be a stressful job in a busy newsroom, and I never thought i’d see the day that i’d consider going to work as a rest. But, dear reader, it’s happened. Compared to running around after a toddler all day I sometimes look forwards to the days when i’m technically “at work” - is that bad??! Firstly, I get to sit down for most of the day. Unheard of at home. Unlimited teas and coffees - and lunch breaks! People come and talk to you and you can devote your entire attention to them without having to constantly check over your shoulder to see what the little person is getting up to. Imagine - an uninterrupted conversation! You can do a bit of trivial googling / online shopping / facebooking in lunch breaks without a) feeling guilty or b) having your phone / tablet ripped from your grasp. AND you get paid to be there - what’s not to like?
All of these things are great, but actually I think what I most enjoy is accessing the parts of me that baby-related activities just can’t reach. Using my brain for more cerebral tasks is really refreshing and not to be underestimated. I’ve found that concentrating on and completing work-related tasks is actually immensely rewarding - and has certainly returned to me a sense of confidence, I didn’t realise I was beginning to lack. I am still a worthwhile individual in my own right and not just defined as somebody’s mother. Don’t get me wrong, I adore being a mummy - but, very occasionally, I found myself wondering, whilst I was elbow deep in dirty nappies, whether all of my education and hitherto life achievements had been in vain if I was to ultimately end up singing the same three nursery rhymes over and over to soothe baby. I love being with my little girl, but I am also glad to have something of my own away from her. Something which forms part of my identity as a separate entity. And everyone knows absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? So what has also happened is that I really look forwards to the two weekdays that we do spend together. Granted, one of the days I usually devote a fair bit of time doing the mundane household tasks which just need to get done, but we still get out to the park or a play date. And the other day I make sure we always do something extra fun - which is a lovely way to end the week. Then we have the weekend with Daddy to look forwards to. In this way, across the week I feel like i’ve earned the fun days I get to spend with my 15-month old, as well as having contributed to the household both financially and domestically.
Having extolled the virtues of being a working mother - I really wouldn’t like the idea of going back full time. For now anyway. My husband and I are fortunate enough that we can afford for me to go back part-time and if you can manage financially - and if your work is amenable to it - I would very much recommend doing the same. At least in the short term. After almost a year of spending seven days a week with your little one, I can only imagine going back five days a week would be traumatic. Not just for you, but remember this is all your little one has ever known, so be as kind to them as you can. If you do go back to work full-time consider trying to stagger the start a little so it’s not so much of a shock to the system. Perhaps a couple of weeks working three days, then four days before you go the whole hog.
Start thinking early doors about what childcare measures you’ll need to put in place for your little one. Check out nurseries as early as you can, the good ones get filled up pretty quickly. But do also consider other options - like a childminder or a nanny. We ended up going for a nanny-share, which is good for us since she is more flexible than a nursery with her hours, and actually works out cheaper than nursery daycare. Grandparents might also be an option. This can be a real success as grandparents often like helping out and spending time getting to know their grandchildren without the parents being around. It’s good for them to forge their own relationships with your children. But make sure you are being realistic over what demands you are placing on grandparents - is it something that will be sustainable for them? One friend’s mother-in-law had to cut back on the agreed days after only a few weeks into the new arrangement as it was too much for her. This left a headache all round as they then had to find alternative options with zero notice.
If nursery is the best option for you, consider enrolling your child a month or so before you return to work. It doesn’t have to be full-time, but perhaps in ever-increasing increments. A friend did this and i initially thought she was mad. But going back to work for the first few weeks is difficult enough without having to worry about how your baby is doing and whether they’ve spent the whole day crying / not sleeping / not eating etc. Couple that with then having to juggle who will pick up baby in the middle of the day and stay home with them tomorrow, because they’ve picked up every bug going, then i could see it made real sense to be on hand for the first few weeks when these sorts of problems cropped up pretty frequently.
Lastly, leaving your baby for the first time when you go to work will always be tough, but remember you’ve done your best to find someone who will look after them almost as well as you do. And they will get so much out of being in a different envrionment (honestly, i actually think the days we have together must be boring in comparison as they don’t include ANY glue, glitter or tissue paper!) What’s more, though, they will have a mother who has a job and who is a great role model. And what’s better than that?