Today is officially my last day of maternity leave, I have my normal Thursday and Friday off and then on Monday it’s time to dust off those work shoes and head back to the office. A whole new phase for our family of four starting right there. Back to working parenthood.
After our son was born I struggled to find my identity. A seismic shift had happened taking me from career centric to suddenly spending every waking (and often sleeping) moment with this tiny baby. I’d planned to return to my role after five months but found myself stretching it out to seven before heading back in. I was terrified; nervous that I was a bad parent for wanting to leave my son, worried that I’d no longer be able to do my job. I was desperate to go back despite it being tinged with guilt for feeling that way, I was scared people would have moved on and I’d be scrabbling around to catch up both in a work sense and a social sense and that fear drove me back into the office as soon as I could feasibly manage it.
Working parenthood is not an easy life. Working part-time is often touted as the best of both worlds when the reality is it’s a constant compromise. You’re not able to give yourself fully to home or to the workplace. It’s exhausting, challenging and above all, guilt inducing. But then I’m sure most parents feel that way whether they work full time, part time or stay home. The reality was I could do my job, I could still be a great parent… for me, time away from my son gave me back a part of myself and made me a better parent for it.
When I fell pregnant a second time, I knew I wanted to take longer. I no longer felt like I had to prove myself or my commitment to my role. I knew how quickly that time passes, that before you know it they’re no longer a baby and instead are terrorising you daily with the demands that only a toddler can make. I wanted to soak it up; the calm before the storm, the newborn days, those special firsts. This time around I worried less about taking her to every class and more about taking her in, knowing that it was going to be one of the few chances she’d have to get one on one attention with me thanks to her brother.
I finished work earlier than before, using that time to revel in my son and his last few days of being an only child. I read more, I slept more, I tried to practice self care. I was less overcome with doubt and panic and more focused on going with whatever my heart felt was necessary. It’s funny how your second child will do that. I was just as lacking in confidence as the first time (you forget so much!) and yet, I was confident in my ability to get through it. I compared myself and my baby less to others. I went to baby classes because I wanted to do something with her, not because I needed to find my tribe. I did things my way.
And this time, as my maternity leave draws to an end, I feel different. I feel less of an urge to go back. I’m not worried that people or systems will have moved on and left me behind. I vividly remember sitting at my desk last time, two days in, and realising that even the conversations were the same. My entire world had changed but for everyone else nothing had, it was just as it had been before… day in, day out. In my rush to return, I’d failed to notice how quickly children can change and it’s this that keeps me awake this time. With two children, I’ll no longer be able to compensate for our time apart by spending that time with them one on one. I’m scared that I will blink and miss it; her first steps, his funny mispronunciations… the little things that make up the memories.
We’ve looked at our options. We’ve discussed one of us giving up work, running the figures, talking about what it would mean but ultimately, it isn’t an option for us. I know that I need to go back to the office as much for my own sanity as for our lifestyle, just as much as Dave needs it in his life as well. I firmly believe that as women, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our careers for our families unless we choose to and I know that I’m in a fortunate position to be able to mix the two; to retain a high level role whilst having time to raise my family. So my work clothes are folded and ready, the kids are both settled in nursery and my out of office is about to be switched off. Right now, I’m nervous about how our lives will shift in the next few weeks but I know we’ll get through it because that’s what we do… Parenting, eh? It’s a constant emotional rollercoaster. Wish me luck!