So what is it really like returning to work after maternity leave? It’s easy to dread getting back into the routine, and leaving your child after such a long time off. But surely there are good points too?
Senior Product Manager Laura Sands has already shared her feelings about the prospect of resuming her career after a year’s maternity leave with us. Now she reveals what it’s actually like – the good, the bad and the ugly!
Back to work with a bang
So, after much anticipation and contemplation I back am in the working world. In many ways it feels as if I never left – as if my entire maternity leave was nothing more than a slightly peculiar dream. Halcyon days with a never-ending summer and a copious flow of coffee and playdates. Ha, how your memory plays tricks on you.
The day before my big return to work, was possibly the worst experience of sunday-night-itis I’ve ever experienced. But then of course it would be, wouldn’t it? Now though, I’m back in the rhythm of it, and back to finding ways to make every moment of the weekend count – moping around is certainly not allowed on a Sunday! And here’s what it’s like.
The kids are all right – Well, of course they are, and I don’t think that I was really genuinely concerned they wouldn’t be. Hugo seems to have barely noticed the fact that he is back at nursery full time, and George has taken to life at nursery with gusto. As any mother will appreciate, I was the one in tears as I left the nursery on the first morning. George likes to pretend he’s upset on occasion, but I know he loves the soft play, the painting, the food and is very happy there.
Those canteen meals – Yes, I am generally having them at my desk. But seriously, a made-to-order prawn and avocado baguette is still something I consider tantamount to manna from heaven. There’s no washing up and no sticky hands trying to steal it – what’s not to like?!
Using my head – Nothing grand you understand, but it’s refreshing and revitalising to feel as if I am using my mind (especially after struggling with baby brain). I can almost feel myself coming to life as a consequence of sparking my mind into gear, in a way that simply didn’t happen when I was scraping weaning vegetables off the floor.
The wonderful camaraderie of working parents – I’d forgotten about this. From the HR director, who saw me getting my first cup of coffee and asked how the lads were and how I was feeling (cue an embarrassing weep… well, it was my first hour back at work!), to the working mums and dads who sympathise at the struggle to leave the house on time.
I’m part of a new clique – Not the cool, out-every-night, Jaegerbomb clique (in fact, I’m not sure I was ever in that gang), but the gang that gets that your tiredness is a consequence of having been up three times in the night, and gets that your extreme focus and lack of banter is not because you have no time for the banter (on the contrary), but because you want to make the most of every moment you are not at work. It’s a change, and a change I like.
The dark – Of course this a temporary issue, but not something I’m any happier with on this basis. Leaving the house in the dark and returning in the dark has been horrible. My children look at me as if I’ve gone mad as I bundle them into the car. The first day back after Christmas was a particular highlight, with pouring rain to add to the delight of the pitch black (we have no street lights on my road). “Is it in the night?” asked a confused toddler as we drove to nursery. “No, just very early in the morning darling…”
Costa? More like Costcutter – At least that’s my reaction to those uninterrupted cups of coffee that I was looking forward to. I’ve clearly been spoiled by the maternity leave coffee culture, and raised my standard. The office coffee tastes like it’s been burnt and mixed up with a bit of Bisto for good measure. I now reserve my coffee drinking for those days when the kids have been up at least twice in the night. Tea and herbal infusions otherwise. (It’s probably better for me anyway.)
Business-speak – Eeek, it makes you wince when you hear it afresh. But after mere days I was using it again. In my defence, I did inwardly shudder as I heard myself say it. But it’s a survival mechanism – you use the language to fit in and show you are competent; that you ‘get’ it. And before you know it, you are KPI-ing and KOL-ing and stakeholdering just like everyone else. Nothing to be proud of, but I don’t think it’s killed anyone so far.
The work – Now, this isn’t meant to make me sound work-shy, which I’m not. It’s the volume of the work that’s the issue, rather than the fact that I have to do it. Pre-Christmas, all was fine. Nice even. I enjoyed getting up to speed with things and catching up with colleagues and agency contacts. But post-Christmas it hit me like a rock, and a large one at that. Suddenly I was faced with campaigns to develop, training courses to attend, and products to launch, and it’s created the sort of needless, purposeless stress that I’d forgotten about. And the tight shoulders and furrowed brow to match.
Always on – As I write this, I can see a pile of ironing so large that it needs mountaineers to scale it, and a raft of thank you notes still awaiting their Christmas thank you messages. My eyebrows need to be plucked and my toenails need repainting and… let’s not go any further. The truth is, that after spending every other night of the week working, ironing or just doing stuff, I used to refuse to do anything other than relax or pamper on a Saturday evening. That rule looks set to break, unless I’m happy to be up until 1am every other night of the week. It certainly makes me wonder how the parent in single parent families cope.
Finding that happy work-life balance
I think back with envy to life pre-children, when I would consider a cancelled work-out class a failure of work-life balance. Now, my measure of balance is happy children and happy parents. And I think we are there, even if I’m dog-tired as a result. But you know what? I’m still here.
OK, if I had my way I would be living a charmed (non-employed) life with my boys and hubby – the type of life that only inherited wealth seems to permit. And the children would never misbehave, the washing, ironing and cleaning would get done without my input and the kids would gratefully eat everything that I put in front of them. (I’m thinking Downton Abbey meets the Waltons.)
But, life isn’t like that. For the tiredness and pointless stress that this current work-life ‘balance’ incurs, I know that a real life at home without work would mean the stress of misbehaving children, more food on the floor than I could cope with and the dog-tired physical exhaustion that only comes after a day of looking after two small boys on your own. Not to mention less money in the bank.
The simple truth is that nothing is perfect. We just have to make our choices and make the best of what we choose. Suck it and see, some may say. Having said that though, I think I will be picking up a few Euromillions tickets next Friday… who knows, a little windfall could just the thing!
You can find out more about Laura’s experiences as a working mum on her blog.