I’ve just returned to work after a year’s maternity leave, and frankly, I’m loving it. But the adjustment has its difficulties. Here I give my tips for rejoining the working world and speak to two other parents about their experiences.
The 9-5 Office Worker
Like many big city commuters, I’m a full-time employee in a busy office. I go in on the Tube and work 9-5 (ish) Monday to Friday. I intended to go back to work from the start, and my daughter goes to nursery twice a week and is looked after by grandparents for the other three days. The transition at work was surprisingly easy; because I work in a positive, friendly environment and the team I rejoined was the same, it was as if I’d never left. I was immediately given my old responsibilities back and some new ones too, and after a few weeks back I can’t remember what it was like to be on leave.
The hard bit was nursery. For various reasons, I didn’t try to do so until a month before I went back to work and by then she was eleven months old and separation anxiety was kicking in. This made it a bit trying at first; after a few weeks of settling in sessions and half days my husband dropped her off for the first time and said “Oh my God, my child is crying and I’m not going back to check on her! What kind of parent am I?!”. To which I replied: “Me.” It’s not the same for everyone; my nephew took to nursery in no time, but if you do face wailing, be consoled; it doesn’t last forever - maybe a month at most. And they stop as soon as you’re gone anyway.
1. Reclaim yourself. I’d forgotten what it felt like to dress for myself instead of for being covered in banana. Enjoy rediscovering your style, whether it’s smart suits or hipster cords. It will actually help you switch on work mode.
2. Start settling your little one(s) into child care as early as you can afford and start looking for a place a few months before that. We were exceptionally lucky not to have to wait for a place.
3. Even if you can’t go part-time, see what you can negotiate. I work 8-4 on my daughter’s nursery days so I can pick her up, and my husband works slightly later on those days so he can drop her off.
4. Set up a proper transition back, even if that’s just an informal meeting to make sure your duties are properly set out and whoever’s covering you feels like they’ve been able to hand over properly.
The “WAHM” – Work At Home Mum
The handy, if slightly icky, acronym WAHM covers all manner of bases, from setting up your own business (though I swear I’d go postal if anyone called me a ‘mumpreneur’) or being a freelancer to being a remote employee. Alice Harold was a digital marketer working 60 hour days for a London magazine, and she had never really intended to go back into the working world. “I've always envisioned a life of wiping bums and baking bread, how wrong I was,” she comments.
“In practice full-time parenting was not so much for me. Six weeks into maternity leave and I was feeling like something huge was missing in my life, I could feel my brain slowing down and felt I was morphing into someone who wasn't 'me'. I had to get back to work but knew I couldn't return full time to an office. For one, my little girl has a rare medical condition so I'm loath to leave her with anyone who doesn't understand her precise needs as well as family, and for another I knew I needed more flexibility than before.
So I decided to start my own business, Mob Agenda, from home. I had my first contract within two weeks and have had projects on the go ever since. I can pretty much pick and choose my hours and if I go over the allotted 2.5 days childcare provided by my mum then I can play catch-up in the evenings and weekends. The time I have with my daughter is all the more precious and I make a real effort to do fun things with her - we love to go swimming together and every Monday we have a girly lunch out (as much as you can with a one year old who likes to throw her food on the floor).
There are downsides to this arrangement; working on my own at home can get quite claustrophobic and lonely so I have to make a real effort to get out once a fortnight for meetings, or wander into town to pick up a coffee on my lunch break. If we had another child I'm not sure my mum would want to handle two kids at once so other arrangements would have to be made, and I'm getting to the point where I have to turn down work that I'd love to be doing as I simply don't have the time. But for now it works: I'm staying current in an industry that moves at lightening speed so I can go back full-time at some point in the future and my work leaves me fulfilled and happy. And happy mummy means happy baby.”