There is loads of commentary about what you need to think about should you decide to return to work after maternity leave. Between LinkedIn and Facebook, everyone has an opinion on the whole return to work discussion, the logistics, employee rights, employer rights, childcare, what to wear. All of these things are important and require meticulous planning, thought and trips to the dry cleaners. But there’s more to think about. Logistics aside, there are factors to consider that are more heart than head.
1. Some days just leaving the house will exhaust you physically, mentally and emotionally. Whatever your childcare arrangements, parting ways with your child may be fraught with tears. Possibly your baby’s and probably yours. On some days you might cry hot tears for the angst you feel and other days you will feel nothing but sweet relief. Even without guilt, teary goodbyes, though they are blessedly in frequent, still have the power to derail me.
2. You might feel guilty. Yes, motherhood guilt is a real and raw emotion that is sometimes underestimated and often misunderstood. Guilt free mothering is what they should be teaching at those antenatal classes.
3. But the thing is you might not feel guilty at all. That’s a good thing by the way. I use to feel guilty for not feeling guilty. What a useless, wasteful, ridiculous way to think.
4. You will almost always feel overwhelmed in one way or another. The water will sometimes feel over your head. At work, at home or both. In the midst of juggling you somehow (and I don’t know how) have to make peace with the mess that exists in your mind.
5. This next tidbit comes from the Recruiter in me. Don’t suddenly feel like you have to justify yourself in the workplace just because you became a parent. Need to leave work on time (or god forbid, early) to make pick up? So be it. Maternity leave did not suddenly turn you into a less worthy employee. You are just as capable, efficient and clever when you return to work as you were when you left. If you are interviewing for a new role, don’t feel as though you have to explain a “gap” in your resume. You took time off to have a baby and then look after this baby 24/7. That ain’t no gap. The decision to return to work is your right not your privilege.
6. You will argue with your husband/partner/wife. About anything really. Who got up in the middle of the night to find a missing blue matchbox car? (speaking from personal experience) Who had the crappiest day? This by the way isn’t a competition you want to win and if you keep score of “who is doing the most work” then that is a recipe for resentment.
7. Your child will get sick. A lot. This will probably happen at a time when work needs you the most. This is not your fault, don’t feel bad about it. No one should make you feel bad about it. Now is a good time to buy shares in Panadol.
8. At work you will relish the freedom and crave the peace. Hot coffee. Clean clothes. No Giggle and Hoot. You will feel complete and confident. Your identity isn’t bound by the demands of a little person. And then suddenly, when you least expect it, you will get a pang of heartache when you wonder at that exact moment what that little person is doing and your heart will be on the floor.
9. You might go a whole day at work, and not even think about your child. Selfish? No. Honest? Yes.
10. You will gain an interesting new perspective on what matters. This isn’t to say you won’t take your job seriously, but a 15 minute discussion on who keeps eating the Iced Vovos will leave you bored and amused.
11. Mia Freedman recently released her new book Work Strife Balance but she very nearly called it Balance is Bullshit. She should have trademarked that statement because balance is bullshit. You will need to look at the pre-packaged notion of what balance is because everything will be out of proportion at some point. Just go with where you need to be at that moment and forget balance. Work and home will rarely sing in harmony.
12. Some nights you will eat frozen meals.
13. Some people will tell you that you need to buy a Thermomix. I did. We still eat frozen meals.
14. If you are a working mother with a husband or partner you will be in breathtaking awe of single parents. This isn’t to sound patronising but holy shit single parents are bloody amazing. As a society we need to give them way more credit. As employees, they deserve a shitload more support.
15. Even with a husband/partner you will need to build your tribe. For support and for your sanity ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you flawed, it makes you human.
16. Parents who are human, raise the best humans.
17. You cannot do it all. Not ever. That is okay. You are okay.
Some weeks will be better than others. Be kind to yourself. There is no right way to do this, no wrong way to feel. . On those days when you think you can’t do it, remember you already are doing it.
Define your own version of what works and do that.