I’m working four days a week, and they are in nursery together for three days, and have their grandparents for the other day. I’m incredibly thankful for this, and grateful to my parents and mother-in-law for agreeing to do this on a roster. It’s a great opportunity for the children to spend proper time alone with their grandparents, something DH and I both feel is really important for them.
In the weeks leading up to my return to work, I thought an awful lot about how to manage things so that the children found the whole transition as easy as possible. I had also seen enough tearful returning mums to realise that I had to be kind to myself so that I could get my head around it all, particularly as I was starting at a new company who would probably not appreciate the waterworks on my first morning!
Here are some ideas and experiences that I hope you’ll find useful if you find yourself in a similar position.
I’m assuming that anyone reading this has already got childcare sorted out, but if you’re looking for some help on this, then why not check out our Childcare section for useful articles posted by other parents.
10 top tips for back to work after maternity leave
1. Start the settling-in early
The Eldest was already in nursery, so there were few worries there, and The Youngest was already very used to going to soft-play and socialising with other children. I didn’t anticipate any problems, but when I heard that I was due to travel with work on his first day at nursery, I decided to settle him in even earlier, so that the routine was established before I had to go that distance.
I’m extremely glad that I did this, because although the first couple of sessions went really well, after that he started to struggle, and we even had to go back to me staying with him for an hour.
The lead nursery assistant told me it was common for a child who appeared to settle-in easily would often get upset once the proper sessions started, and thankfully this seems to be getting much better now.
2. Get someone else to do the drop-off, but do the collection yourself
OK this one seems like a cop-out, but remember what I said about being kind to yourself as well? In the end, very few people are going to find the parting as upsetting as you, and it’s hard enough to go back to work without having to walk away from a tearful face and outstretched arms. There’s nothing worse, so if you can avoid it, do. Ideally get the same person to do the drop off in the early settling-in period, so the routine is established by the time you actually have to do to work.
Then, when it’s home-time, go get ‘em. You’ve had a hard day at work and you deserve a treat. The outstretched arms are wonderful now, and the cry of “My mummy!” will get the evening off to the best start.
3. Smarten up your act
You may have read my post about the last week of maternity leave in which I fantasised about having the time for a hair-cut and makeover. Well I did and it was so worth it. A new cut and some handy (free) advice on doing my makeup in 5 mins were just what the doctor ordered.
I went to Space NK and had a long chat with a lovely lady called Emma who really helped me out. But most department stores will do the equivalent thing. It’s usually free, or there might be a small fee redeemable against a purchase.
You could also book a session with a personal stylist in a department store – again free and often really helpful.
4. Get everything ready the night before
And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING – no matter how small a job seems, it will magically magnify by the next morning, and turn an already stressful situation into some kind of car-crash. Remember, the kids will pick up on your stress, so do your best to minimise it. Get organised and leave nothing to chance. Bags packed, cash out, keys where you know they should be, etc etc. Basically everything your mother would tell you to do. Grr, she was right.
5. Don’t feel bad about calling to check
Call as much as you like. And if the carer makes you feel bad about it, then perhaps it’s not the right environment for you to be leaving your children in. This goes back to the point about being kind to yourself. If you’re worrying, call.
6. Take photos with you
Initially these might make you sad, but it’s more likely that you’ll feel better for a quick peek at a few piccies on your phone, or even better, a video. So make sure you take a few snaps in the days leading up to your return, so you have some happy memories to go over in your lunch-break.
7. Allow extra time for your journey home
I was caught out yesterday when my train was held at signals, and the 1/2 hr I had in reserve melted away. My tardiness was compounded by a stupid panic decision to jump in a cab instead of take the tube. Not the smartest move as it was peak rush hour. I arrived, a stressed-out, sweaty mess at the nursery, with no push chair and no obvious way of taking them back the mile to our house.
Thankfully the nursery had a double pram to lend, and DH soon appeared with the car, so it all ended well. But the lesson is understood. The longer the journey, the more time you need to leave.
8. Expect the unexpected
As I mentioned above, The Eldest was already in nursery and so I didn’t think that he would be overly phased by the fact that I was at work rather than at home. I was therefore surprised on my first morning when he clung to me in tears instead of happily going to nursery as usual. ‘No like mummy go to office’ he told me. Was it the change of clothes? Was it the concept? I have no idea, but now we know he’s been affected by it we are being very careful to make sure that he’s upset as little as possible.
9. Ditch the guilt
Yes, yes, it’s easier said than done. But repeat over and over to yourself that mummy guilt does no good. You’ve decided to go back to work, and whether it’s because you’re compelled to financially, or whether it’s something you need to do for yourself, there’s no shame in it. You’ve make sure that the children are well-cared for. You’ve got their clothes ready, you’ve maybe prepared food for them, you’ve done all you can and they will be just fine. FINE. FINE d’you hear!
10. Make the most of play time
Remember, work is not for ever. And it’s highly unlikely that you were engaging in happy, active play with your children every minute of the day when you were at home. Admit it, you were blogging, or on twitter, or shouting at them for not tidying up, or despairing of the fact that they flung their food all over the kitchen, or running around doing laundry, hoovering, taking phone calls – you were doing millions of things as well as playing with the children.
So now, make those minutes you have with them count. Get your partner or someone else to chuck a load of washing in. Let the floors get a bit sticky. Enjoy the indian summer with lots of running and laughing and tickling. If you really make these moments count then you’ll all face the working week with a smile.
For more information on this subject, check out our Working parents section
Photo by flickr user stevendepolo