When I returned to work after maternity leave the first time, I literally spent months thinking about it, worrying about it and feeling guilty. Surely my first priority should be my son? Why would I leave him for hours at a nursery for someone else to look after him? What would people think? I was torn between wanting to go back to the job I loved and doing what I thought at the time was right for my son. I remember vividly the first time I went to look at a nursery. I really just wanted to run from there crying because I felt so guilty about leaving my little boy.
My work were (and still are) incredibly flexible in allowing me to balance family and work life. They agreed a three day working week and I also work from home the majority of the time. But that didn’t stop the initial guilt I felt about leaving my first born, with, let’s face it, a lot of people I didn’t really know. Yes, I’d met them and felt comfortable that they were the right people to look after my son, but I didn’t really know them, or if my son would settle well into this new environment.
I remember the first day I left my little boy at nursery. As I handed him over to his key-worker (a lovely lady called Sue), I watched as he just burst into tears. I really had to drag myself away but all I wanted to do was to pick him up and go home. Instead, I went home and sat by the phone for the two hours that my son was there, waiting for the phone call to tell me he was far too upset and that I should probably come and get him. That phone call never came.
What did I learn?
Five years on, and with another child coming to the end of her time at nursery, I found myself remembering that stage in my life. At the time, leaving my son at nursery felt like the worse thing in the world. If I had known then what I know now I really wouldn’t have worried so much, so I wanted to share some of the things I wish I had known at that time to help anyone else in their return to work:
- Your child will be fine. For those of us who have to work for whatever reason, leaving your child in childcare will probably be one of the hardest things about returning to work. I remember leaving both of my children sobbing and clinging to me as if they were never going to see me again. At the time, it seems like those days will never end but they do. In what now seems like a flash, my 3 year old runs in to find her best friend without a backward glance for me. Unless, that is, her best friend isn’t there and suddenly I’m back to having a clingy daughter who couldn’t possibly stay at nursery and I once again feel like the worst mum in the world. I am assured by the nursery staff that as soon as I’m out of sight, my daughter doesn’t give me a second thought and is soon off playing with her new best friend for the day.
- It will get easier. I can’t stress this enough. Assuming you are happy and confident in the childcare set up, the guilt will lessen and it will get easier. This is a major change in all of your lives and will take some getting used to. Suddenly you have to juggle family and work life and that can be a huge challenge and pressure. So make sure you allow yourself time to get used to this new phase in your life. It’ll be a learning curve but you will work it out one way or another.
- Work can be good for you! I realised when I went back to work that I do actually need to work. I don’t just mean financially, but for me as a person. Before children, work was a huge part of my life and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed it. I was so caught up in what I thought was best for my son that I forgot to think about what was best for me too. I love my job, but it probably took being off on maternity leave for me to realise that. My work is a big part of me, and yes, it can be stressful trying to juggle work and family life but I couldn’t give it up.
You’ll notice that a lot of this hindsight comes from returning to work after my first child. The second time round was much easier, and actually by the end of my maternity leave I was ready to go back to work. I missed that other part of my life and the chance to focus on something for me. I knew that leaving my daughter would be hard but that we’d all get through it. I do miss my children when I’m not with them, but I feel I’ve found the right balance in work and quality time with my family.
So if you are about to return to work, thinking about returning to work or are going through the transition at the moment, I hope this gives you some hope that it’s not all bad. Quite often the thought of it is worse than the reality!