For the most part I’ve been pretty positive about returning to work. I’ve returned to a job I know, which has helped. I love my job, which definitely helps, and I have the support of a fantastic husband who is sharing the childcare load and just being generally supportive by acknowledging that this moment in my life is not easy. However, nothing could prepare me for the real realities of returning to work. Because, it’s not the same. I now have a little person waiting for me to come home, who needs to be fed, bathed and read to. The freedom I was afforded pre-child no longer exists, changing the workplace – and “work me” – entirely. Here are the six things I didn’t expect when returning to work.
Transitioning in is good on paper
Like many parents, we struggled to get childcare sorted for little miss, leaving us madly visiting – or more accurately stalking – centres just weeks before I was set to return to work. We were lucky in that we found a place, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of missy plunging straight into 10-hour days. Fortunately, my manager was more than happy for me to “transition-in” with three-day weeks until we were comfortable. I couldn’t be happier. It meant that miss only did 1.5 days of care a week, and I got a little more time to ease into the workplace. For many, this may be a great way to approach it, but for me, returning to what was a full-time role, working three days is … well, stressful! Even with the support of my colleagues, I find myself scrambling to get everything done in time, and then being hit with a downpour of emails when I return from my days off. For me, three days a week has made the transition back more stressful on a work front, but it has meant more time with my girl, which I’m ever so grateful for. Do what works for you, but be prepared. As one of my colleagues told me – three days a week is a great home balance, four days is a good work balance. It’s about deciding what works for you.
My brain doesn’t work properly
This I didn’t expect. Before I returned to work I was working hard on my freelance work, building up my own blog and keeping my brain active. I thought I would be fine. Baby brain? I laugh in the face of such a suggestion! Turns out I was wrong. I don’t know whether it’s because my mind is occupied on 20 things at once or whether it’s just that I haven’t had to utilise certain parts of my brain in the last year, but I’m struggling. My analytical skills are shot and I’m feeling it. Sure, I sit in meetings and talk the talk, but then I walk out and all sorts of self-doubt washes over me. What if it never comes back? I’m told it does, but it’s worth preparing yourself for feelings of inadequacy for a little while, it takes some getting used to.
I am beyond exhausted
I didn’t expect to be tired. It may have been daft of me, but I honestly thought there was no way I could feel more tired. My little one has slept through the night for some time now, so I’m clocking my eight hours most days. But the sheer energy required to look after a one-year-old meant that I thought going back to work would be something of a rest. It’s not. Sure, I’m not as active, but I’m working hard to catch up on a year’s worth of changes, prove that I can do my role in four days, rather than five, and be a good mum at the same time. It’s exhausting. A friend of mine likened the return to work to running again after a long break. You think you can run 10km, and you do run 10km, but you’re sore for a week afterwards and you realise you should’ve taken it slower. So, be warned, it’s not as easy as it looks.
I’ve forgotten how to make small talk
Now, I haven’t spent the last year living under a rock, but most people I have caught up with have been friends, people I can talk to with ease. I am not accustomed to standing in the lift with a distant acquaintance and talking about the weekend. I’ve forgotten how to do it! I’ve forgotten the general niceties required of an office environment. I’ve become so used to people asking after me and the baby I’ve forgotten how to ask after other people. It took me by surprise. I didn’t know I was living in such an insulated bubble until I realised I had got through an entire Monday without asking anyone how their weekend was.
My filter has gone
In some ways this is a good thing. I used to be very careful about what information I shared in the workplace, conscious of workplace politics and internal turf wars. That has all gone. I am now having open and honest conversations and so far I’ve found it has worked to my benefit. The downside to this is the filter didn’t just apply to work-related conversation. For the past year I have kept company with people who are more than happy to hear about breastfeeding challenges and pooey nappies. Not only is this not appropriate in the workplace, but nobody actually cares, nor should they. It’s a challenge, but I’m hoping my social skills will make a return as I move into my second month.
You can’t do it all
I mentioned before that I have a supportive husband. And I do. We have always shared the housework 50/50 and, from this month, we now share the childcare 50/50, each of us working four days a week. It’s an ideal scenario, meaning hubby gets special time with little miss on his own, something he didn’t get a lot of in the first year, and missy gets a good home/childcare balance. For me, this is taking some getting used to. For the last year I have been at home, so I’ve been the one to take missy’s food out for each day, shop around for nappies on sale, put countless loads of washing on and nip to the shops when missy has ran out of essentials. And now, I need to remind myself that I can’t do all that anymore. This one is all about me and my inability to let go. When you only have one day a week with your little girl, spending three hours stopping in at baby shops to buy a sleeping bag is not a way to spend it. Nor is coming home from work and folding washing instead of playing with miss. It’s taking some getting used to as I realise that two working parents mean some things need to slide, but I’m sure I’ll get there in the end.
Related: Why we need to do more for dads
Of course, it’s not all bad, but I felt the need to communicate the challenges. I for one wasn’t prepared for these ones, and have sometimes found the return to work a lot more difficult both mentally and emotionally than I ever could have imagined. The obvious things, like the heartbreak of leaving your child each day, I was prepared for, but I wasn’t prepared for just how difficult returning to work could be. Of course, when you come home from work and your little one gives you the longest cuddle you’ve ever known you realise that everything is going to be OK, better than that, you can do anything.
Since writing this I have spent another month work and I can happily report that it does get easier, but I still think it’s worth preparing yourself for a few challenges along the way.