Yesterday I sat in a local coffee shop, catching up with reading and making phone calls, whilst Micah was at nursery and I heard a group of maternity leave first-time mum’s (as I like to call them) talking about returning to work. Clearly they were educated, articulate, professional women who loved their careers, business analysts and analysts etc… as well as mothers who absolutely adored their babies who were all under one. As they sat in the coffee shop eating lunch and watching their children playing in a lovely play area. They discussed returning to work, one talked about being able to work from home flexibly and another explained that was not an option where she worked. All talked about working flexibly and going back to work 3 days a week. As they discussed their work and their decisions for post-maternity leave, it took me back to 6 years ago when Joshua was only 10 months old and I had to make that same decision to return to work. It was never an option for me at that point that I wasn’t going to return work, however I had no idea that, that my decision in 2010 August to return to work for 3 days a week would be such a pivotal decision that would forever change my life irrevocably.
Many women might say that when they graduated from their degree or entered their profession was the most important day of their lives. Most of these women would not be mothers. Whether you choose to return to work full-time and utilise, childminders, nannies, nurseries or au pairs or part-time and sharing your childcare between either of the aforementioned or grandparents, sister, partner/husband whatever, once you become a parent your focus from the career that may have consumed you begins to shift and you develop working mother’s guilt. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean you don’t love your career or job anymore, the passion is still there yet somehow it has changed, it has waned and become diluted by parenthood. You are consumed with thoughts of your child, especially if they are sick or something has happened and you are not the woman you were previously.
You believe the media hype, that women can have it all, and if you decide to return to work flexibly then you believe that you can have the best of both worlds, spending quality-time with a baby you adore and a career that you are passionate about. The truth is, it is hard and no one tells you this before you embark upon such a decision. Very few employers are as flexible as many women need them to be when their children are so young. Furthermore, although you only work three days a week, some how the expectations that your managers have of you, are still the same with your decreased work week. The emails still keep coming whether you are there or not and in additional you are expected to almost do the same amount of work when you worked 5 days a week. If like me, you don’t even get to choose the days you wish to work, you begin to feel resentful and you feel like you are forever playing catch up with your work. Even those 2 days that you have alloted to your precious bundle of joys to visit mother and toddler groups, parks, soft play and coffee mornings are slowly being eroded away as you see emails you need to review before you return to work. You find that you are emotionally drained, from the new triple shift, that didn’t exist previously (taking care of your little before and after work, as well as your two days with them. Also possibly you may be experiencing many sleeplessness nights, because you little one is still possibly not sleeping through the night as Gabriella O’Rourke reminded me, thus leaving you a physical wreck). Housework, relationship and work, it can all take it’s toll.
I wanted to say to these women. do not go back to work 3 days a week, it will drain you and you will regret it, there is a better way. However, there wasn’t really an opportunity for me to share this with them, so I thought I would share this with my facebook family instead.
There is a different way of working and being a mother, that can allow you to see all their milestones, like your oldest first steps or their first words, or taking them to their first day at school or play group. Don’t get me wrong, it is an opportunity but it is hard work, but being able to be a hands on mother, even when they throw themselves on the ground like Micah did today, is one of the most phenomenonal experiences and can change your life. I would never go back to being the career lecturer, that I was before Joshua was born.