Please note that this post uses referral links – but only to products that I personally love and use in my own home. Read my disclosure policy for more details.
Four days ago, I return to work after eleven months of maternity leave. I confess that I have been dreading the transition. But, as this was my second maternity leave – I have managed the change before and I knew I would survive it again.
In many ways, nothing had changed. My commuter train was late, London at sunrise was as breathtakingly beautiful as ever – and I still couldn’t get our printers to work…
But, the reality is – I have changed. And therefore, for me, everything has changed.
So – this week has undoubtedly been a learning curve and here are the key things I have realised…
1. January is the worst month to return to work!
I always suspected this would be true… Not only is it cold, dark and depressing as all of the Christmas lights are switched off – but the anxious anticipation of going back to work could also ruin the festive season.
Tick, tick, tick – it turns out that my suspicions were right!
I somehow managed to pick the coldest week in years to make the transition back to work – when both my kids had runny noses and hacking coughs (and therefore were up all night) to boot.
But, you can’t exactly plan these things so – so, onwards and upwards!
As an aside – I had intended to give up my top two work vices – coffee and sugar – when I returned to work. This did not happen… and I don’t feel guilty. Frankly, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do in those first days, weeks (years?) to get by with your eyes open. Besides… this was delicious!
2. Recognise that your body and mind are going through a major transition and you need to be kind to yourself.
I believe we CareerMoms are stronger and more capable than we ever give ourselves credit for. That said – you can’t be WonderWoman all of the time – and you need to give yourself a break about that fact as you readjust to all the changes.
For me – this week, I have been getting up at 5am to commute into London and trying to keep focussed all day, looking professional and switched on – in heels – no less, getting home in time for nursery pick up – having quality time with the children before bedtime and then collapsing into bed myself, just early enough to get the baseline minimum sleep required to do it all again tomorrow..!
It is a new routine, and it is harsh… This week has been exhausting (and poorly babies certainly hasn’t helped!)
By Day 3 I thought I had the flu because every muscle in my body ached… but then I realised that I was now walking at five times my usual number of steps each day, many of them in high heels – and my poor body was just screaming for mercy!
Aside from the physical demands of going out to work – there is a huge new mental load to deal with! The anguish of separation anxiety, general mom guilt and, frankly, jealousy that in your absence, your kids are getting close to someone else as their new proxy day-time mom. All of these things are hard – acknowledge that you will all need a period of adjustment…
Get to bed as early as possible – and ask for help to lighten the load where you can.
3. You need to prioritise and pause (and not feel guilty about what doesn’t get done!)
The day before I returned to work, I had a to do list as long as my arm. It was overwhelming to think of how I was going to manage to get everything done in this final day of maternity leave.
And the truth is, I didn’t get it all done.
In fact I don’t think I ticked anything off the list… and four days later all those tasks are still sat waiting for my attention. And you know what… nothing really bad has happened!
Returning to work brings with it a whole host of new tasks and priorities. To work out what you need to do next – add to the bottom of your list – an extra item: “get some rest” and then reprioritise the whole list, with your working mom hat on. (Hint: “get some rest” needs to be in the top three this week!)
Actively look for items which really aren’t that important and you could just abandon them; cross them off the list immediately. Then find things that you would like to do but aren’t urgent and you can pause for the moment (for me – a key one was writing my blog. But, this last week – I just had to prioritise other things… like sitting on my commuter train staring into space like a rabbit in the headlights!)
4. No change is all bad – so, find the joy!
At New Year I found a note that I had written to myself in the week before Baby Amelie was born. It said:
“I am writing this to you now because I know you will forget whilst you are on maternity leave – but don’t be sad or anxious about going back to work. You LOVE your job!”
I appreciate I am very lucky to have been able to write this to myself – and I knew it was true – but I have still been dreading the end of my maternity leave. And on these first days back I still need to keep my eyes open so I could notice and appreciate what I actually enjoy about being back at work.
Being around adults I respect, feeling welcome as part of a community, walking through the heart of beautiful London, some time to myself, challenging opportunities – these are all reasons why I love working outside the home.
I have reframed my return to work as the exciting next chapter in my life – and I intend to ensure it is a good one!
5. The first week will be over before you know it – and you will survive!
Take it from one who is sat at her kitchen table with a cup of tea in hand, this on a Saturday morning… I got through this week – in spite of next to no sleep, illnesses and heavy snow! – and you will to!
Nonetheless – returning to the office is a major upheaval – and for all the benefits – you may need time to grieve the end of the beautiful chapter of which is being a new momma caring for a teeny baby.
As my family is now complete – I have felt this far more keenly than I did with the return from my first maternity leave – as I was pregnant again within a month of being back at the office. This time, however, I have a heavy heart at the thought that my baby days are over!
You need to understand that you are on a change curve and it will take time to adjust and to move forwards. You may be doubting yourself at the start – but as time passes you will start to take in all the realities of this change and accept it as your new normal. (If it makes you feel any better… you kids will undoubtedly have got used to the change before you do!)
You can then focus on exciting new opportunities that come with the change and get on with writing your next chapter.
Grab yourself a coffee – and make sure it is a good one!
Never miss a CareerMom post – subscribe here