Well, that was better than expected!
Tired means the brain does not work.
Tired means mental block and lack of coherent sentences. (I think they also call that parenthood though?)
I must apologise for the radio silence.
It’s been a bit of a ride since Christmas and I feel like my body is still very much in recovery mode from all the broken sleep, illness, traumatic trips to A&E and crippling back pain. It's been a fucker.
But, I don't wish to dwell on that, as I have good news! I am coming up to 4 months since my return to work and I have survived! I'm actually even dare I say it, extremely happy to be there!
You may remember that I was very anxious about what I would find on going back. For various reasons I didn't have very high hopes, and I dreaded a time where I didn't spend every day with Jack. At the end of my mat leave I tried my best to focus on what little time I had left with him, and tried not to dwell on all my fears. Easier said than done.
I'm so pleased to say that those fears however, in my case were totally unfounded. I needed to go back to work for me as much as for the money. Looking after an ever more active and curious toddler on your own for most of the week gets more exhausting all the time, and I actually found it harder to make the time to take care of myself. I genuinely do not know how stay at home parents do it. I bow at your feet, you absolute warriors.../masochists.
Jack had a really long (7 week) settling in period at nursery, and leaving him for longer and longer each week gave me a taste of some freedom and time for me. I found myself looking forward to the days where he had his nursery settles, and starting to see how I might come to enjoy that freedom at work. And I bloody have. Make no mistake, I adore my little boy with every fibre of my being, but I could not stay at home with him all day every day. I need something for me. Some time to breathe. (Equally, he needs stimulation and a lot of attention, so going to nursery is the best thing for him now.)
You wouldn't believe the relief I feel when I can just sit quietly in a silent loo for as long as I bloody like without feeling like I have to hurry out in case he has pulled the house apart or covered the floor with cornflakes. The absolute joy I get from driving to work as the sun comes up, with my first cup of earl grey, immersed in a podcast is unbeatable. The amazing feeling of being able to get some exercise on my lunch hour at Boxfit or Zumba without worrying who is going to look after him or feeling guilty for leaving him is wonderful. Parenthood is such an amazing thing, and I am so grateful for Jack, but I fully subscribe to the idea that we all need something for us. For me, right now that's my job. My job and the passion I still have for the industry I work in is an important part of who I am in the same way that being Jack's mum is.
On my first day back at work I was so pleased to be able to make myself useful from day one. Maybe it was guilt, maybe it was a lack of self-belief, but I simply did not expect to be able to do that after my time away, which in hindsight is madness. I was out of the office for a year, not a decade, and as that wonderful slogan I have used before says "I had a baby, not a lobotomy." Why did I expect not to be useful just because I hadn't been in the office for a year, and was working part time? I gave myself absolutely zero credit for the capable woman I am. I let my fear of stepping out of my comfort zone rule the rational part of my brain which would have told me I was just as capable as ever, if not more so. (The levels of multitasking I can now do on a daily basis are epic as they are with all mums).
I've thought about it a lot, and I find it so strange that before you have your first child, your comfort zone is the world of work. You know where you are at, what is required of you, and you (assuming that you are happy in your job) feel comfortable in that but with room to learn and grow. Suddenly, in becoming a new parent you are thrown into the deep end and you are totally out of your comfort zone, learning as you go. With time, you become more comfortable in your little routines, and more confident generally, in your abilities as a parent. So then when you are suddenly faced with the return to work, it is hard not to feel intimidated, and to question yourself. But why? Why does something which has been your comfort zone, suddenly feel like a terrifying step into the abyss? Well, like anything you haven't done for a while and give a damn about, of course the unknown is scary. But it really doesn't need to be. If you can birth a human, you can do the job you did before that.
I know that I have been lucky in how my situation has turned out, and not everyone has the benefit of an employer that will offer them flexibility. However, I do believe with hindsight that where possible, you need to try and take control of what you can when it comes to your return to work. Not always so easy when you are a bag of nerves and your confidence is low, but worth trying to hold onto.
For my part, I work three days in the office, and a fourth from home, and then have one day off with Jack. This system seems to be working pretty well so far and provides a balance in my life which it really needed - time with my son AND something for me.
Granted, I have come back to some changes in terms of the work I am doing, but I have seen these as a challenge and made a point of making it clear I am there to be useful, and not to be discounted because I have a child. It has been a good time within the company to do this, and broadening my experience can only increase my confidence and hammer home the point that I am still just as capable and useful as I always was. It may sound ridiculous to say so, but it is genuinely surprising how some employers will treat women as if they are worth nothing once they have had a baby.
How will my system work if I suddenly get extremely busy and overtime is required? Well, I have already done some overtime to help out some colleagues, and although it isn't something you would always want to do, once little one is down for bed, I have several hours of an evening where I can help out, so there is still the option for me to be flexible.
So was I wrong to worry? So far, yes I think I was. I mean, if I was to step back in time now and try to persuade myself it was all going to be fine, it wouldn't have made me worry less. We are always going to fear the unknown, it's a natural human instinct, and it's there for a reason, but things are often worse in anticipation than reality. So, if your reality is that you are approaching the return to work, try to remind yourself of how capable you are, how far you have come. You have kept another human being alive, so you can damn well go back to work and do your job! Does it take more planning and organising and leave you knackered? Yes of course, but you're already a boss at that, you're a parent!!
I'll finish with a few tips I could have done with before my return to work:
1) Try and focus on the positives of returning to work - the time, space and freedom you will have to be you, without having a buggy/nappy bag/child/food stuck to you all day. I can't tell you how free I feel on those days just being able to do what I want, when I want . I appreciate that time and freedom SO much.
2) Take the time to enjoy your commute to work - listen to a podcast, (I can currently recommend Shagged, Married Annoyed for a good laugh and The Creep Dive for a weird story), read a book, do your make up, have a nap, but try to use it for you. As I mentioned, I stick on a podcast and a take a cup of tea on my drive to work and it is BLISS.
3) Don't go into your return to work assuming that your employer will make your life difficult for having a child. Give them a chance to prove themselves, because they might just surprise you.
4) Do not apologise, ever, for having to leave the office to pick your child up. Apologising doesn't change the fact that you have to leave, and acting as if you are somehow in the wrong for doing so gives someone the right to make you feel guilty or criticise you. Do not give anyone that licence.
5) If like me, your uniform during maternity leave has become a mix of pyjamas, hoodies, jeans and trainers and you are utterly sick to death of it, take the opportunity if you can, to treat yourself to a few new items in your wardrobe, or a haircut. I took the chance to smarten my wardrobe up a bit, and get a new hairstyle, so that work me feels a bit more done, and a bit more human.You may not even need to buy anything if you haven't had the chance to wear most of what you own for a year, going back to work is also the perfect opportunity to rediscover your pre-mum uniform wardrobe.
So all that remains for me to say to anyone returning to work, is that I wish you all the very best with this new step in your life. Always try to remember who you are and what you are capable of, because 99.9% of the time, it's a damn sight more than you think.