HOW TO: Survive the return to work after maternity leave

I’ve been back working full-time for 2 months now and I’ve taken a longer break from blogging than anticipated. Mainly because I haven’t figured out how to fit everything all in and blog as well.  Granted many have trodden this path before, but my goodness how on earth do they do it?

I changed jobs during maternity leave (see this post for more info).  So not only did I return to work when little dude was 9 months, I went into a new job.  New people, new culture, new working practice and new industry.   All this means, I have to swot up when I have free time (*scoffs* yeah right – free time), and spend a lot of time in meetings. I obviously don’t like making things simple for myself.

The new job is, on a good day, one and half hours door to door (there’s not many good days… bloody southern rail… please stop striking!!!). Luckily I get to work from home 2 days a week, which helps.  Although the last 8 weeks I’ve been in the job this has only happened a couple of times because of meetings and my god have those weeks when I am not working from home been exhausting.

The job situ alone would have been enough for me to handle normally, but throw a nearly one year old into the mix with sleeping problems, teething, and illness and I’m suprised I’m awake and dressed most days.

Below is a list of points/musings/random facts that I have learnt during the last 8 weeks, and I hope might help some of you in the same position.

Your brain will be mush for another 5 weeks

My career head didn’t quite kick into gear after maternity leave until 5 weeks in, and yes I am working full-time.  I couldn’t fathom how I had managed to work on multiple projects all at the same time, manage emails, meetings, have lunch, and chat with people about adult things when I went back.  It took me a while to remember how I used to work, and the knowledge that I had before.  It felt like all of it had been pushed out to make way for nursery rhymes, the Peppa Pig theme tune, and Iggle Piggle chat. It does come back though! Slowly but surely it does come back!

Have a plan

I planned what my working week was going to look like. I planned out all the house chores, bedtimes, childcare, drop offs, picks ups, commuting/trains times, and rough weekend itineraries before I went back to work.  Having my working week planned out visually with all the activities made me feel a ton better about fitting everything in before returning to work. I recommend doing this if you have any worries about getting parenting/life done while working.

Know that your plan will not go to plan

Even though I had a plan, I did not keep to it… come on, what did you expect? Though, I knew it would happen.  My first week back, I was in the office 4 days compared to my normal 3.  It also snowed and it took nearly 3 hours to get back home that night.  The point of having a plan is that it made me feel like I had it together before I returned to work.  It gave me rough outline of how to fit everything in, and I knew what I needed to catch up when I didn’t.

Go easy on yourself

I had a plan, didn’t keep to the plan, so did I beat myself up about it?  Nope.  What’s the point?  My house is a tip, I have a pile of washing that could rival the hardiest of mountaineers, and I’m pretty sure there’s some caked on food stuck to the high chair from 6 weeks ago.  Do I sit there every night stressing about it?  Nope.  Hmm actually that’s like a semi-lie.  Truthfully, there are some evenings ,when I’ve gone up to bed at 7:30pm with little dude because I am knackered and all I want to do is play on my phone, that I do beat myself up about not being productive.  Then I remember, I can not be productive 24/7 and it is OK to chill out and stare at a screen / read a book / stare into space if helps me recuperate for the next day.  I will catch up on the chores.

Understand that weekday evenings will be different

Weekday evenings are now a rush of getting in after work, making dinner, having dinner, bath time, and bedtime all in a 2 hour window.  This is not what I thought my evenings would be like.  Some evenings are a complete write off where I get nothing done (see above point), and that’s OK.

Have something to look forward to each week

Whether that be a date night, a girlie night or a weekend trip, having something that isn’t routine planned in the week makes less humdrum.  Saturday is our fun day.   We always have something planned as a family or with friends. I try to have a night out once a month on the weekends, and see friends for lunch during the week.  I’m working on having a weekday evening out too.

Make time for play

I know that being at work makes me a better mum, because the time I spend with little dude is quality time for me.  I don’t have the hours in the day with him during the week, so I make sure I’m present when I am with him. I try to plan a couple of activities a week where it’s a little less ordinary than him playing with his toys.

My fav at the mo is throwing rice crispies in a box and putting him in there with it too and throwing a load more on his head. Messy play without the messy clean up.

Negotiate flexible working arrangements

After negotiating 2 days a week from home when I got my job, I also managed to negotiate my working hours in the office a week into my job.  I leave the office at 4 and make up the work when I’m at home. I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to work crazy hours long into the evening so I don’t have an issue with working in the evening after little dude is asleep. Having an understanding manager and working for a family friendly company means I have working hours that work for me. It’s worth having a chat with your manager to see how you can make work, work for you. Having this flexibility not only means I’m happy at home, it means I’m more engaged at work and have respect and loyal to my manager for helping me out. Win win.

Prepare for the crying / separation anxiety

Most kids cry when you leave them in childcare.  Little dude is like most kids and cries every time we leave him at nursery.  Every single time.  But when we look through the window after we’ve left, he’s there with his key worker smiling like larry playing peekaboo like the whole crying saga never happened.  Seriously?!  He also cries every time we go to pick him up.  I’ve read because they don’t know how to express the how pleased they are to see you (oh mummy’s been gone for a very long time, and now she’s back and she hasn’t left me forever emotion), they cry.   The first few times this happened it pulled at my heart strings and I teared up.  I am now hardened to it like stone, and I know he’s fine and being cared for.  He also seems to have a good time with whoever is looking after him.

It’s taken around 5 weeks for him to settle into his new routine and we didn’t really ease him into it.  I think if you’re going back to work full time just be aware there’s a transition stage for your little one, and some days will be hard when they cry, but they do adjust and to their new routine, they just need time.

Last thoughts

Returning to work after maternity leave isn’t as scary as it seems.  Yes there is a lot to fit in, but like with all things you adjust.  Give yourself, and your little one to get into the rhythm of things and you’ll see that things just get done, and you have time to spend with each other.

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4 Comments

  1. It sounds like you’re doing a brilliant job in a really busy situation! It will get easier as little one gets a bit older. That first year when they’re catching all the bugs can be trying but it will pass. xx

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