Tribe's Caitlin Menzies shares her experience returning to work from maternity leave and how she's learnt to juggle being a new mum at work.
I have had two babies and two stretches of maternity leave. Heading back to work after maternity leave can be hard – it was for me, and the second time has actually been harder. Luckily, Tribe could not be more supportive! However, that doesn’t change the fact that being a mother (or a father) changes you.
The first challenge you face is deciding when is the right time to return to work for you and your little one(s). Once you’ve figured that out, how do you go back? Full-time, part-time, fortnightly rotation with your partner? I think it is really important to keep in touch with your employer throughout maternity leave. I checked in every month or so, sometimes going in to visit, sometimes over a text. This really helped keep the conversation open about returning to work and when I was ready. It kept them up-to-date about how I was feeling and gave them time to prepare when I was starting to feel ready. It also allowed them to deal with any hesitations I was having and discuss the flexibility that worked for both of us. After my first child, I came back to work part-time when he was almost six months. I was nervous to leave him for a whole day but once I got to the office, had my first sip of hot coffee in six months and got sent a picture of how happy he was, I knew I had made the right decision for us. Second time round, well, I’m still trying to figure this one out. What I have found is that kids require so much of your time, thoughts, care and love that when there are two in the mix, that is a little less time, thought, care and love you have for other things in life, including work. Finding a balance can take time.
So, if you have figured out when and how you are coming back from maternity leave, the second hurdle sounds like a simple one - getting out the door on time. You would not believe a child’s ability to somehow know when you are tight on time and decide that today is the day they are going to refuse to get changed, not eat breakfast and not want to be put down. Somehow, you manage to feed, dress and drop them off just in time. I pack bags the night before and try to get up before the kids to get myself ready (not always possible as I have 5.30am risers!). What has helped the most is having flexible working hours. I recommend having the conversation upfront with your employer to understand their expectations. If you sometimes get into the office a little late, do you have to stay a little longer at the other end? Perhaps as long as you are delivering, they aren’t strict on a start and finish time. Having this understood upfront saves you from a lot of stress when you are juggling yourself and little humans in the morning. Bonus tip - try not to book a meeting first thing, give yourself time to get into work and set yourself up for the day.
Phew, you’re finally in the office, so you should just pick up where you left off, right? Not at all. Coming back, I was not the same person as when I left for maternity. My identity in terms of how I had seen myself my entire adult life had changed, but I still wanted to be a focused career woman. Being on maternity leave didn’t stop me developing as a person, quite the contrary. I had new strengths I was bringing to the table, such as the skills I developed negotiating with an extremely stubborn two-year-old. I just needed to figure out how it all fit in together. Not only had I changed, but Tribe had also changed. They had grown, there were new faces and some old faces had left. The second time around, a little thing called COVID-19 happened! You need to recognise you are going through a transition. Set expectations and allow yourself time to adjust to your new norm. While you may be returning to a job that you know how to do, you are learning how to do it as a working mum. Try not to measure success based on your first few weeks back – life has changed dramatically and self-doubt can creep in where it hasn’t before.
Give yourself time and be gentle in your judgement. Mum guilt is a real thing, but tomorrow is always a new day. Concentrate on the positives and enjoy the independence being at work gives you, then go home and give your kids an extra cuddle.