I found returning to work after 11 months of maternity leave difficult.
I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my baby for so many days in childcare – reducing my time spent with her so drastically and her constant colds just reinforced it.
The work I was going to back to was a very different place to the one I had left, and I felt guilty all the time – I wasn’t spending enough time at home, I wasn’t spending enough time at work and so the guilt went on.
So is there a way to make it easier? I can give you lists of reasons why I shouldn’t have felt the way I did and how you can try to avoid feeling the same way but realistically, change is difficult and re-adjusting is difficult and we feel what we feel.
And no – I’m not being defeatist, I’m being realistic. And frankly, I think that is the trick. Be realistic.
So in the spirit of realism, here are some thoughts that I hope will help you find your feet quicker and easier.
Babies and daycare sickness
It doesn’t matter what time of year your baby starts childcare there is always something going around. And a newbie is going to get it all. It is part of the process.
If you can avoid starting childcare at the beginning or middle of winter you will need less time off from work. But you will not avoid it all together.
You can try starting baby 1 or 2 months before you start work but realistically, particularly during the winter months, baby will bring back every cold that goes around.
Set up a roster system with your partner, establish some working from home arrangement and have family or friends on standby to help carry the first year or two of illnesses. But ultimately, we have carer’s leave and sick leave for exactly these situations.
Make the most of workplace flexibility
If your workplace is flexible and you can work do fewer days for at least a 6 months period e.g. 3 days, before you change to 4 /5 days, make use of it. It will ease the pressure around flu season, with you able to be home for longer stretches of time. And it will also mean that you ease back into the workplace.
Work out a transition plan with your boss.
Returning to work plan
Be prepared. Outside of who picks up and drops off, there are other things to consider to keep the home running:
- Food preparation, cleaning and shopping.
- Back up plans if you are running late for pick up.
- Baby care rotation if bubs gets a cold and needs to be at home.
Who can you rely on and what are their restrictions?
Outside of home and baby, have a plan at work. Have a frank conversation with your manager about how to best transition in – ensure you have sufficient support, hand over and clarity around your responsibilities upon your return. And have a plan to expand your responsibilities and days with time if that is what you want.
Have a plan that works around both of your schedules
For some reason I have found that most women think it’s their responsibility to do all things baby.
It’s either just assumed by one or both parents. Talk about sharing the load, how things will work in different scenarios and what part of the load each of you carry.
For some fluidity is required as workdays and nights can change week to week. Taking time to compare diaries on a Friday or Sunday might be your way of making it work.
From personal experience, don’t try and take everything on yourself – there is not enough of you to go around!
Set realistic expectations on yourself
Everyone wants to do as much as they can for their family. It’s absolutely “normal.” But you also need to be realistic about what you can do in the time that you have.
Pushing yourself to breaking point doesn’t do anyone any good.
Set priorities – for the week, the month the year – that keep you grounded in what is important. Don’t take on too much.
Give yourself a break
Lastly, before you start back at work, book yourself into a spa treatment the day after your first salary comes in. Don’t wait until you get it, do it before you start so that you have something to look forward to.
It is exhausting – and will be for a while – so give yourself a break. And if hubby is partial to a massage book him one as well.