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The return…coping with going back to work

11 April 2017

I remember being pretty stressed about coming back to work after having my son. It feels like such a big change – for anything up to a year, you’ve had a completely different lifestyle; for much of the time it’s just been you and your baby.

I was upset at the thought of being away from him – but this, I’m told, is a normal and a natural way to feel. The first day you go back to work (and possibly the second, third, and fourth), and your baby sees you leave the house, they will cry and scream blue murder.  And you will leave the house to the sound of their cries and feel like the worst person in the world.  

Whoever is looking after them will no doubt tell you later that they calmed down after five minutes. This won’t stop you feeling awful, but they are fine, and it does get less fraught and dramatic as you both get used to it.

Once you’re back to work – though you will probably feel a bit guilty – there is so much to enjoy:

  • You can go to the loo – alone!
  • You can drink a cup of tea or coffee – whilst it is still hot
  • You can go an entire day with no one being sick on you – or worse!
  • You can have conversations –  with adults
  • You can even eat your food at a regular pace instead of bolting it down so you can deal with the baby

Best of all, you aren’t responsible for anyone’s immediate safety but your own. Your colleagues will not, I would hope, try to headbutt a door frame just to see what happens, grab onto your necklace and inadvertently strangle you, or be drawn to table corners or sharp objects. There’s a lot to be said for all of the above. Also navigating your way through the streets without a buggy – the thrill of not having to apologise every five seconds as other people get in your way.

I’m fortunate to work in a supportive sector. 67% of the third sector is made up of women, a higher percentage than in either the public or the private sectors. It makes sense that charities want to support female staff who are pregnant or returning to work. At The Children’s Society, I’ve been very grateful to my line manager, who has been incredibly supportive, and my team, who have been both caring and understanding. Still, the most difficult thing about coming back for me was coming to the realisation that:

Being a parent is EXHAUSTING.  

I also often felt totally overwhelmed, and found myself wondering why I was struggling when everyone else was coping.  But that wasn’t the case – everyone is always struggling and just about managing. 

When I first came back to work, I was confident I could manage everything. On mat leave, I was able to batch cook and freeze nutritionally balanced meals for my son, organise a schedule of activities for him to attend with his Nanna and the child minder, all while being on top of the laundry situation and so on. Hahaha.

Once back at work, there’s no time for this level of organisation, and, to be honest, you will never be in control of the laundry ever again. You’re now in laundry infinity and there is no way out – just accept this.

So I’ve realised that I need to be kind to myself and not aim for perfection – it’s a myth. Holding down a job and being a parent means that some things have to give. Aim a little lower. Child – alive, dressed, fed = big tick; you – alive, dressed and holding a large coffee = another big tick. Do whatever it takes to get through your days and don’t forget you. Self-care isn’t just a buzzword, it is essential for parents – especially new ones.

And talk to other parents whenever you can – we have all been there, we know it’s tough, and we can all support each other.

Adapted with permission from Emma’s blog.

Emma Callagher

director of digital, The Children’s Society

Emma Callagher is director of digital at The Children’s Society, where she has worked for nearly seven years. The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. Emma previously worked for The Arts Council as its head of digital and print media.