I once read a quote online that said ‘the expectations placed on a mum who works is to perform at work as if she doesn’t have children and to raise children as if she doesn’t work!’ With my third and final bout of maternity leave rapidly drawing to a close, this feels particularly pertinent at the moment!
I have always loved my job. It sounds corny but I always wanted to be a teacher and I do definitely think it was my calling in life. I have worked at the same school for 15 years and have done a variety of roles there- for the last 9 years I have been Deputy Head and have thoroughly enjoyed almost all aspects of it. Teachers in general have taken a battering in recent years and we now perform in a much more pressured environment with ever moving goal posts which take no consideration of the context that the children you work with come from. It’s tough and there are aspects of the education system I would instantly do away with given a magic wand but ultimately I can’t see myself ever doing anything else! I work with amazing and dedicated staff, love challenges that keep me on my toes and am constantly amazed and entertained by the fab kids that we work with!
However much I enjoy my job though, returning to work after a maternity leave is a blooming difficult thing to do and at this current moment, the prospect of balancing 3 kids, a house, day to day life and a job feels hugely overwhelming.
I’m not new to this returning to work business. This is my third maternity leave in 4 and a half years… I know; I’m every employers dream! I basically know that the anticipation of returning to work is worse than actually doing it! I also know that when I get to work I’m that busy running round that I don’t have time to stress about my kids or worry about what they are up to. I also know that when I’m at work there are some perks that I don’t get at home- like being able to drink tea while it’s still hot or being able to have a wee without anyone watching or being able to eat a sandwich! But having to say goodbye in part to the life and routine we have built over the last few months and having to leave an 8 month old baby and his bigger siblings at home while I go to work feels like a huge wrench and currently leaves me feeling a bit sick!
The end of maternity leave is an odd thing; if you had taken a year off work with a broken leg or a serious illness or a mental health issue, you would be gradually reintroduced to work on a phased return. But somehow, even though your life has been turned completely upside down by the arrival of a new baby; even though you’re probably knackered and drained and still a bit of an emotional wreck; even though you are a completely different person to the one who left work up to a year ago, you slot back in with no phased return or even reintegration meetings for most people; it’s basically as if you’ve never been away.
A year off work for any reason has huge ramifications. So many things can change in any workplace over the course of a year. During the time I was off with George the big changes were staffing. Almost my entire team had changed when I went back to work and this left me feeling isolated and like I had to start over! I would say that my success at work lies in the relationships that I build with people and my ability to read others… all of a sudden I had a whole new team of people that I needed to build relationships with and work out the best way to get the best out of them and how to read them! I also had to prove myself- the people I’d worked with previously knew who I was and what I stood for and my effectiveness as a teacher or leader (some of the time anyway!) I now had lots of new people who I had to prove my worth to.
And proving your worth when you’ve had a year off is bloody hard! I found that people were coming to me with questions that not only did I not know the answer to, there were whole parts of the question that didn’t make any sense! The year I had off with Esme saw the single biggest change to the curriculum and assessment systems in Primary schools in my career. I came back to work and sat in meetings were it felt like everyone was talking in a foreign language! I’d missed that crucial stage of discussing the implications of all the changes and trialling new things and seeing what worked and didn’t. All the discussions that had happened to clarify everyone’s thinking had happened without me present so my thinking was far from clarified! Basically, all the things that I had previously considered my strengths, all my skills and knowledge that I would have previously drawn upon were suddenly outdated and unrefined! I was constantly on the back foot and I hated it! Little things also change; things so insignificant that no one thinks to tell you; it’s not anyone’s fault, they are minor changes like the cupboard you keep things in or the timings of things but ultimately you don’t know what you don’t know and you constantly find yourself in the wrong place or having to ask about everything!
My confidence has definitely taken a hit and I would say that has got worse with each bout of maternity leave. I would previously have described myself as an ambitious person- right now I feel like ambition is somewhere towards the bottom of my ‘to do list’ along with tidy out the kitchen crap drawer and sewing labels into George’s new uniform! Someone once said to me that when you return to work you care a bit less but I’m not sure that sums it up accurately; When I’m there I still care just as much, I’m just as passionate about delivering a good maths lesson or helping children overcome a problem or supporting a new teacher in school. The issue is that I do not have the time or headspace to dedicate to work that I used to. I would previously have been in work by 7.30 and left sometime around 5.30-6. I still leave at a similar time but getting in as early is a physical impossibility with nursery drop offs and just the morning madness of trying to get five people ready to leave the house! (5 people and a dog! Must remember to feed the dog!!) But then I would have come home and carried on; i’d have spent hours perfecting flipcharts or marking or planning lessons. It’s just not possible to do that when there are 3 young kids running round! Nor should I spend that time doing that when I haven’t seen them all day! Our kids are actually pretty good at going to bed but it is still sometime between 8 and 9 when my arse actually makes contact with a chair or sofa! By which time, I’ve done a full days work, tried to fit in a full day of parenting in 2 hours due to the shitty amount of ‘mummy guilt’ I’m feeling, sorted the house out and probably done all this on less than 6 hours sleep from the night before. The last thing that I feel motivated to do at this point is whip out my laptop and start work again. I definitely work smarter now, I faff with things less than I previously did! But most of the time I feel like I’m spreading myself too thinly and not doing any part of my life well, or certainly ‘well enough’ by my own standards.
One of my lowest parenting moments came when I returned to work after having Esme- I felt completely swamped and I was drowning in my own expectations of work and home life. I went to put the kids to bed and was really conscious of how much work I needed to get done for the following day so rushed through our well established and lovely bedtime routine and got the kids in bed as quickly as possible. I sat on the sofa and sparked up my laptop and about ten minutes later heard crying from upstairs. I went to investigate and found George sobbing in his bed- he was heart broken because in my haste to get downstairs and start working again, I’d forgotten the part of our routine where I stand at the door and tell him I love him with silly actions. It would have taken less than 3 seconds but I had rushed and forgotten something that was so important to him and left him questioning why ‘mummy didn’t love him?’ I got into bed with him and cuddled him till he fell asleep and the work didn’t get done that night- I was sobbing too much myself to see the screen on my laptop! That night gave me a wake up call and I now prioritise what I have to do at home and make sure that it does not impact on the kids- the flip side of that though means that I’m often working much later than I should and sleep (which is already at a premium) gets delayed even further!
I’m also really worried about how the kids will feel about my return to work… they’ve got used to having me around! We are really lucky to have such supportive families around us who provide us with childcare so we can keep nursery to a minimum for Esme and Ted but wherever they are, it means establishing new routines and trying to get a handle on what they need and being incredibly organised with their things. Ted has to get used to me not being around- he is by far the most content baby we’ve had but I think he is possibly also the most clingy with me and is currently going through a phase of looking round and being suspicious when he goes to someone new. We have months of settling him into nursery and grandparents ahead and it feels frustrating when we have only just got things structured and sorted!
This is the first bout of maternity leave where I have felt like I could be a stay at home mum and not return. Not because I don’t want to go back to the lovely people I work with or the job I love, but because I love that my life at the minute is all about our family. I love having the flexibility to be able to take George to school every day and establish relationships with his teachers and other mums and children in his class. I love being able to pick Esme up from nursery and have some contact with them and find out how she’s doing and seeing her interacting with her little friends. I love that I can dedicate time to help Esme get ready to start school in a years time or play games or help with Georges homework without everything feeling rushed. I love spending time with Ted and watching what an awesome little dude he is becoming. I love being able to attend sports day or fair day or special assemblies in school or help on a school trip; I love having the flexibility to say yes and to put the kids first. It already feels like a mammoth squeeze to fit all this in when I’m not working- how the hell will I be able to do it when I’m away for 10 hours a day, 3 days a week? I love being able to say ‘yes’, I don’t want to feel like I’m going back to being an ‘in a minute mum’ and that minute never coming!
My job at the minute is to be a mum; my performance appraisal would probably read something like ‘seems to be managing with the work load although has demonstrated moments when it all gets on top of her and has a tendency to ‘loose her shit’! Basic KPIs being met (all 3 children still have all limbs and social services have yet to be called!)’. It’s blooming hard work being at home but I am loving it and love the rhythm and routine that we’ve found over the last few months. I’m really lucky that I still get to enjoy that for a couple of days a week and don’t have to go back full time; the prospect of my two days at home are what are currently keeping me on the right side of ‘nervous breakdown!’ I could stay at home but financially it would be really tight and I’m under the impressions that mortgage companies get a bit sniffy if you stop paying them! Plus we need two wages coming in just to keep up with the demands of keeping shoes on 3 pairs of feet! Plus, I like work! I like my job and like to push myself! One of my reasons for starting this blog was to do something to keep my brain ticking over- there are only so many times you can find your car keys in the fridge before you start to question your sanity! Work pushes me and challenges me and I like that!
I need to get my head back in the game, need to put my big girls pants on and in the words of my very good friend, man up! It will be hard, it will feel overwhelming, it makes me feel sick just writing about it. But I suspect it will probably be ok… the anticipation is usually worse than the event in my previous experiences! I just want to make sure that the balance is right and that life feels like we are living it rather than just ‘surviving’ it!
And if all else fails and it is as bad as the nighmares I’m currently having… there’s always the Euromillions! The ticket is currently on direct debit!