The reality of returning to work after maternity leave.
This year, I was lucky enough to be able to take eight months maternity leave from work. Whilst this precious time off with my daughter was absolutely the best time of my life so far, I was also keen to get back to ‘reality’ and the job that I love and had worked hard to get. I went along to regular keeping-in-touch meetings and childcare was sorted beforehand, as was my ‘set in stone’ return to work date so I felt super organised, in control and as ready to go back as I possibly could be.
I wasn’t prepared for was how hard I would find it once I was back.
My first week back was an absolute breeze. My colleagues gave me the loveliest welcome back and it felt exciting and reinvigorating to be back in the thick of it again. After the initial tears at the first drop off, my daughter settled into childcare quicker than I had expected and the time away from her made me cherish the time we had together. Time I was starting to take for granted on maternity leave.
The second and third weeks were a bit harder. I don’t drive and commute to work by train so what seemed like a good idea to put my daughter in nursery next to my work was actually a logistical nightmare. I also had to drop her off to my mother-in-law two days a week. FML.
Work had also changed. Technically, my role hadn’t changed but the fast-moving nature of the business it meant that no matter how much I ‘kept in touch’ I still felt like I was a newbie. There were new faces, new procedures and in-jokes that I wasn’t in on. Despite going down from full-time to four days, I felt like I had to take on more work to show that being off hadn’t affected my creativity and productivity.
The fourth week was one of the hardest weeks of my life. The commute, returning to my job four days a week but not actually reducing my workload and feeling alienated culminated in me having a bit of a breakdown. I had felt so ready to go back but when faced with reality, I was struggling to cope and I maniacally declared to my husband and manager that I couldn’t do it. I was quitting my job.
I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive manager who understood the issues around returning to work after maternity leave and with some help I was able to make a few small changes that enabled me to find a workable solution without having to quit the job that I love.
For example, I was adamant that I was going to go into the office every day as I felt that ‘being seen’ around the office was important. As it turns out, ‘being seen’ everyday isn’t hugely important to my job. I was just putting extra pressure on myself because of the negative stigma attached to ‘working from home’. I’m much happier and more productive with one day a week working from home and the extra time I used to spend commuting I can spend with my daughter. The organisation I work for also benefits as I am more willing to go above and beyond for a company that cares about my wellbeing.
Three months on, I still have a long way to go to achieving that mystical mama/work/life balance but I feel I’m getting there. Slowly.
Here are my five tips for mama’s returning to work:
- Try and stagger your return to work. You might want to prolong maternity leave as much as possible but staggering your return to work even over a few weeks can really help you ease back into what is a massive life change.
- Don’t commit to permanent changes. Whilst this is not always possible, it’s important to realise that no matter how prepared you are you can’t know how you will feel or what will work until you are back in the swing of things. Try and give yourself some breathing space.
- Use your keeping-in-touch days. As unappealing as it seems to go in to work when you are enjoying maternity leave, using you keeping in touch days can really help you to keep up to date on work issues and the company so it’s less of a shock when you return to work.
- Know your role. Make sure your manager clearly outlines your role and responsibilities going forward. Your role shouldn’t have drastically changed but the company or organisation may have whilst you have been away.
- Think of the positives. Yes, you are going to miss your kid like CRAZY but there can also be a lot of positives to going back to work. These include little things like drinking coffee whilst it’s still hot, eating lunch and going to the loo without planning a military-style mission. I also feel my daughter has thrived and become more confident, happy and since going into childcare.