(Please Note: This is a personal post about returning to work after maternity leave. This is not everyone’s experience, and all mums have different perspectives. I have absolutely nothing against working mums – on the contrary, you are a great encouragement and inspiration to me! x)
Two Thursdays ago, I returned to work after a year (maybe slightly more) of maternity leave. To say I had mixed emotions would be an understatement. The week prior to this start date, and particularly on the Wednesday night, I had so many thoughts and feelings circling through my head: anxiety, nervousness, sadness, and no small amount of fear. I was so unsure of how the following day would play out, both in the classroom and at home. How would the students react to a new teacher? How would I adjust to being back at work/teaching? Would I remember everything (or anything??)? (Blasted Baby Brain!) And then of course, there was Starfish at home. How would he go without me? Would he be well behaved? Would he have separation anxiety (that would make two of us!)? How would the morning feed go, as I had to leave before I could breastfeed him? Returning to work after maternity leave was always something that couldn’t be avoided, but wasn’t something I was excited about either.
Pros and Cons
Of course, there are many pros to returning to work that everyone kept reminding me of prior to my start date. The main ones that kept being repeated to me were:
- Enjoying a hot tea/coffee and going to the bathroom whenever I wanted (which, as a teacher, is difficult to do!);
- Enjoying adult conversations and feeling more like “yourself” (again, more difficult when you are a teacher and spend most of your day with children);
- It is only part time (2 days a week), so you get the best of both worlds;
- Coming back to a sense of my own identity and myself as a person.
So I totally get it. A sense of autonomy is amazing, especially as a mum when you really don’t have that luxury at home. Unfortunately, as a teacher, a lot of those things are taken away from me anyway. I must admit, I absolutely love teaching and the thought of one day getting back into it is amazing. However when I was preparing to start back to work, the main things I kept thinking about were the cons:
- Being away from my son after a year of 24/7 in each other’s company – resulting in some major Separation Anxiety for me;
- Not being able to continue (as much) the things I’ve loved doing over the last year, particularly blogging and socialising with my mum friends;
- Readjusting to early morning wake ups while also preparing my son for the day;
- My commute is a jerk and I spend almost a quarter of my working day in the car travelling to and from school;
- There is a lot of organisation and prep that goes into teaching, so my other days at home would still involve working (cutting down on my time with my son and the other things I love to do).
With all these thoughts, I sat and cried on Wednesday night, so unwilling to return to work the next day, but knowing I had to.
The First Day Back
I woke up early to get myself adequately dressed and groomed ready for the day. Of course, the one day that I wanted Starfish to wake up early so I could give him a quick kiss and cuddle before I leave, was the day where he decided to sleep in a bit longer. My husband was half asleep as I raced around to get myself organised and get my tea ready. Normally, my husband would have left before I even woke up to get ready for work, however it worked out that my husband took off the first two weeks I returned to work so he could look after our son (and hopefully help with my transition back into work). About 5 minutes before I needed to be out the door, my son started to stir. I raced in and picked him up for a cuddle. I held back tears. I changed him – which resulted in a massive meltdown on his behalf (translation: “give me food woman!”), and then I took him into our bedroom to pass him to hubby. As I looked at my boys and walked away, Starfish let out a huge cry – obviously because the boobs were walking away and wouldn’t feed him. By the time I had reached the front door, he’d stopped crying and I could hear him and my husband bonding. My heart broke a little more. I jumped into the car with my tea and started the hour long drive to work.
I won’t bore you with a step-by-step run through of my teaching day – it started with an admin meeting, some RFF (which means “release from face to face” – all teachers are allocated a certain amount of time off class to plan and do admin work while another teacher takes their class), and trying to manage a new class who have never met me before. And as with every classroom – full of students with unique strengths, backgrounds and personalities – I had to learn how to work with a vast range of abilities and dispositions. It was a long day. It was a tiring day – both physically and mentally. I just wanted to come home and crawl up into a ball.
But now that I’m a mother, that’s not how it works. I was excited to go home and see my son. Yes, I had called home at least 3 times that day to check up on hubby and Starfish. One phone call was Facetime so I could see him. He was confused, and excited about the mobile phone. So I was anxious to get home and see him in person. So I “raced home” (meaning I took the 1 hour 10 minute drive home), and ran through the front door. I got big smiles and I gave big smiles back. Then within 5 minutes, Starfish was whingey and sooky, and only wanted dad.
I was gutted. I had been away ALL. DAY. All I wanted was to spend my afternoon with him before he went to bed. And who did he want? The adult who had been at home with him all day. I found myself adding one big extra CON to my previous list. I sat and watched, utterly deflated and mentally picking up the remaining pieces of my shattered heart (okay, okay, totally over the top and melodramatic, but I was super upset at the time).
After he went to bed, I chatted with hubby about my day and how I didn’t want to return the next day. I was adamant. How could I keep doing this, when above all my son didn’t want to spend time with me when I got home from work?
I’m typing this now after 2 weeks of work (4 days as a part-time worker, two Thursdays and two Fridays), and a full on week. After my first 2 days at work, we went on our first family holiday, which included a stop at Symbio Zoo on the way home for Starfish’s 1st Birthday, and then straight back into work. This is the first time I’ve sat down to write in two weeks. Since writing is my way of sorting through my thoughts, I’m only now able to start working through my current thoughts and emotions since returning to the work force.
So “how am I doing?”, as everyone seems to ask me? Still adjusting. This is the first official week of our new routine. Today it is back to being just Starfish and I at home – hubby is back at work. This Thursday and Friday, our babysitters will start to look after our son and I will be in full prep mode before that to make sure everything is ready for them (instead of being able to leave hubby to fend for himself). This week I can start trialling how to fit my writing in amongst social engagements with our mum/baby friends, as well as spending time together and getting school work sorted.
But ultimately, I’m starting to learn a few interesting things about the whole situation since returning to work. I remember having a conversation with a mother’s group friend recently when I asked if or when she’d be returning to work. Her words were, “I can’t wait!”. As we chatted more, she mentioned something that has stuck with me and I really do agree with her. She said, “There are some mothers who are made to be stay-at-home mothers, but I’m not one of them”.
I never imagined that I would be, or want to be, a stay-at-home mother. I’ve always loved working with kids and teaching, and I always give 120% to whatever it is that I’m doing (hence why when I started blogging, I just launched myself at it!). And after going through Postnatal Anxiety when Starfish was a couple of months old, I really struggled with my identity and wanting my autonomy back. But now, as he’s gotten older (and a heck of a lot more fun!), I’ve really enjoyed our time together. Our time of playing and play dates. Our breakfast dates and his trying to feed me his crummy ends of toast. I have enjoyed writing and helping other mothers through the blog while he sleeps. I have really come to love the life we have set up for ourselves. Returning to work is obviously a big step away from that.
And amongst all of those things, returning to work is a symbol of change. I will never be at home full time again with just my first-born son. Next time I am on maternity leave full time will be when we have a second child. It will never just be Starfish and I again. That season is over, and everything has changed. He is growing up quicker than I can keep up with. We just celebrated his first birthday and had his first birthday party, and now we start to move into the period of having a toddler. When will life just slow down for a minute?!
If you are returning to work soon…
Firstly, this post obviously only reflects my own personal thoughts and feelings about returning to work. I have spoken to many mums with different emotions and perspectives about the topic. I have come to realise that I am one of those mums who would love to be a stay-at-home mum (or more specifically, a work-from-home mum, as I have been doing for the last 6+ months). But I just want to clarify, I have nothing against working mothers! If this is you, you are amazing and I am inspired by you! Share you secrets with me for how you do this (in the comments below!).
Unfortunately, being a stay-at-home mum doesn’t cover the bills these days, so it is off to work I go. Returning to work, I am now learning new lessons; lessons about patience, and understanding; lessons about perservering even when you don’t necessarily want to do something; and lessons about letting go.
I’ll try and do another post soon in a month or two after our new routine is settled. Perhaps it’ll all be better then!
Tell me about your Return to Work Experience in the comments below!
Or if you’d like to do some more reading, you can read this interview I did for my lovely friend Shannon before I returned to work!