No matter how much you enjoy your job, and certainly if you don’t, returning to work after maternity leave is often daunting. Even if you feel “ready to go back” it’s hard leaving the little person with creche or childminder. It’s difficult the first time, and it’s no less difficult after subsequent babies – not only are you now leaving a few more smallies behind, you now have a bigger challenge of fitting an even busier morning and evening routine around your working day. And somehow finding space for quality time with your children…
I can’t give you the lotto numbers you need to quit work, but maybe some of the tips below will help prepare for the big return:
1. Maybe not Monday …
Or maybe Monday is just the right day to go back – start as you mean to continue, jump in at the deep end.
Or Tuesday – I always went back on a Tuesday – I found it easier to have a slightly shorter week for the first week, also to have that final Monday off to get last minute back-to-work organisation done. And to an extent because by missing the start of the week in the office, it allowed me to stay under the radar for the first few days, to get back to where I was before I left at my own pace.
Others would suggest starting back on a Thursday so that you have a really short week to begin with, less of a shock to the system, not in the least for baby who is starting with creche or childminder.
There’s no “best” day, it depends on so many factors including the area of work that you’re in, but it’s worth thinking about in advance to help ease the transition on those first few days.
2. Start as you mean to go on
If you are someone who, like me, worked late every evening before you had children, but now need to leave on time to collect your child, I would suggest that you do this on day one when you return to work.
Nobody likes to be seen as the mum returning from maternity leave who is running out the door as soon as the clock hits five, but if this is your new reality, it’s better to start as you need to continue.
Otherwise you’re setting a false expectation for your boss, your colleagues, your reports, and it’s much, much harder to get up and leave on time if you’ve stayed late your first few days.
3. Have a plan B for creche-itis
Each time I went back to work, I asked my husband to be ready to take time off if needed, in order that I could avoid that stomach-churning experience of asking my boss if I could stay at home with a sick baby during my first days back.
It isn’t fair on working mothers, it’s so unfair, however taking time off does tend to send a negative signal. In my case, I had no history of sick leave at all but I knew if I had to take time off in the first few weeks, my boss would think this was potentially the start of a pattern of absenses. I wanted to get back to work and prove myself a little before I had to start those occasional but inevitable requests to work from home or take an unexpected day of annual leave.
Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do – maybe your partner can’t take time off either, maybe you don’t have family nearby to help out, but it’s good to think about it in advance if even to plan how to communicate with your boss when your child comes down with creche-itis.
4. Have a cooking plan
I am not good at this bit.
I used to cook every night when we arrived home from creche with baby number one. That wasn’t quality time with her, so I started leaving the cooking until after she went to bed. But dinner at midnight wasn’t working out so well either, so I started to cook one “double dinner” every second night, to limit the amount of rubbish evenings. This was still rubbish.
So I started batch cooking on Saturday mornings for the week ahead, freezing meals. This was hard work but was more successful for me than any of my previous attempts.
Now I have a childminder who cooks for the kids, so I leave enough of everything and she puts us in the pot too – finally a cooking solution that works – not cooking! (which doesn’t explain why I’m writing this at ten o’clock at night eating toast)
Lots of people are more creative and more organised at cooking than I am, so this isn’t to say that whipping up a quick, healthy meal after work isn’t possible, but it’s worth thinking about the approach that is best for you and trying a few options, to avoid the stress of those midnight dinners.
Another option is to have dinner at lunchtime, especially if you have a canteen at work, or just have toast every night for the baby years (I love toast)
5. The domestic-goddess office mum
- Get a cleaner if you can
- Buy your groceries online
- Find inventive ways to avoid ironing
that is all.
6. Quality time with baby
My husband and I used to think we had to play with our first baby after creche each evening in order to have “quality time” – it was like we were pencilling it in. We would sit on the wooden sitting-room floor with her in the still-cold house that had been empty all day, rolling a ball over and back, building blocks into towers…I’m sure she was thinking “what are you trying to prove? Get me up to my cosy bath and bed already!”.
We eventually worked out that instead of fitting in this so called quality time and then rushing bed-time, the trick was to head straight upstairs to her cosy room, and spend time on bath and stories and cuddles with no rush, no stress.
Now with three kids we still do the same – bedtime starts as soon as get home at 6.30 but it’s a long, slow process and it’s our chance to catch up with what went on in their lives that day.
In other families, there might be a completely different way of having quality time – the point is to think about how it might work and how to do it in the least stressful way possible for you and your children after a long day apart.
If you are breastfeeding your baby, you might consider continuing to breastfeed after returning to work (i.e. maintaining morning and evening feeds) – feeding your baby after a day at work can be a lovely way to reconnect, and a welcome chance to sit down while your partner cooks dinner or puts older children to bed!
7. Go shopping!
OK, not strictly necessary, not a life-or-death type piece of advice, but new clothes for going back to work will make you feel better on that first day.
And it’s (almost) never as bad as it seems in the run up to D-day – there’s a small sense of giddiness for most of us when we go back to work and catch up with friends and colleagues while having that first cup of not-cold coffee.
For more tips, you might like to read this post: Rebuilding confidence after maternity leave