Going Back To Work

This is a post by Penny.  As you’d expect, it’s beautifully worded, and contains uncomfortable truths.  About looking after a baby and about being in the workplace.  About anxiety and how we battle it.  About how we only appreciate what we’ve done once the dust has settled.  

And it’s perfectly timed, because I’m going back to work next week, and leaving Ellie in nursery for five days a week, and I can’t even  begin to untangle how I feel about it.   

Over to you, Penny:

I can’t help it. I find it profoundly annoying that so many colleagues see maternity leave as a holiday.  They refer to it as “a year off” and say they quite fancy it themselves. Whatever Trevor.

The fact that a time off bringing up a baby (although not without its joyous highs) is not quite the same as a year sitting on a Thai beach supping on a bucket is not something I really want to get into here. We’ve all had our fill of “oh you’ll never understand until you’re a parent” parents. I’m not one of those guys.

However. In spite of the last year being the hardest thing I’ve done yet, the thought of it being over and having to go back to my office job still filled me with an inexplicable, primal fear. The kind of feeling you get at the top of the worst rollercoaster, that sickening lurch, but constant, just rolling round and round in your guts like a prickly nervous ball of jitters waiting to explode into your chest at any moment. Now I don’t love my job, which doesn’t help. And there were other contributing factors which added fuel to the anxious fire – being shuffled down due to a company restructure while I was off, a new manager who was out to thwart my flexible working application at any cost, the fact that there would be negligible difference between my pathetic monthly salary and a month of nursery fees, the list goes rather boringly on. But the fear-feeling about going back was somehow more than that. It was like nothing on earth, as if somebody had told me I was about to be burned at the stake and there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop it.

The back to work fear eventually developed to the point of mania. Applying for flexible working and being put through the wringer by a new boss plucked me from my happiest–ever state and flung me into the most anxious weeks of my life. I was haunted for months by the hysterical belief that my company wanted to take my son away from me, that I was being punished for something I hadn’t done. It wasn’t rational, but even knowing and understanding that how I felt wasn’t grounded in reality didn’t seem to stem the panic. Onlooking friends and family backed away from me slowly, calling me work-shy or hysterical. Maybe I was. Maybe it was the hormones. I don’t know. I do know from other mums that it’s not a unique experience. OK, there’s a spectrum, and I was grinding my teeth at the upper end, but it’s still a feeling a lot of parents have. The night before I went back my husband sat and told me (in a rare show of emotion) about how he felt going back to work after his two weeks paternity leave: “as if something was really badly wrong. I kept waiting for somebody to tap me on the shoulder and say ‘it’s ok, it’s only a dream! Of course you don’t have to go to work and leave your newborn baby at home! What kind of crazy reality would that be?” There is a deeply human truth in there somewhere.

Rather blandly, and reassuringly, a new normality sets in. I’m just coming to the end of my fourth week back at work now. It’s fine. I have not once cried at my desk, nor have I lain on the floor, red-faced and screaming about how I need to see my baby (these are things that I thought would happen at least once a day). Thanks to the company restructure, my job has changed from highly stressful and pointless to being just a little bit dull, which I am managing with better than I expected. I definitely need a new challenge, but I am looking for the right one. I drink more tea than I imagined possible, because I have time to do it now. I wander aimlessly round on my reduced-to-30-minutes lunch-break and wonder what on earth I ever did with a whole hour. I get to sneakily write for my favourite blog in a tiny minimised window in the corner of my screen (HIYA MAN SITTING BEHIND ME) on slow work days.  I am starting to realise that looking after a baby all day every day – even after the 6 month point when it started to feel normal and even manageable at times – is really, really difficult, and maybe you only really realise how difficult it was, and how far you’ve come, when you go back to what you were doing before.

Although not as bad as I’d feared, emotionally speaking, it’s still not easy. I look at pictures of my little boy every hour, and wonder what he is doing every minute. At least every minute. And I do still feel sad, but only very occasionally. I think that’s normal. For the first time in years I had a job where, in spite of not always doing it perfectly, I was really, truly valued – and that was bringing up my child. If I need to work (and I do, for a number of reasons) I need to find at least a tiny echo of that feeling of self-worth in my working day too. With a bit of patience and perseverance, I hope that will come eventually. Just like the figuring-out-how-to-live-with-a-brand-new-human stuff did. One day at a time.

Categories: Becoming a Mother, Money and Career
15 interesting thoughts on this


  1. rachelJHD
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Dearest Penny – this is poetic it in so many ways x

  2. Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Timely for me! I had my flexible working proposal rejected yesterday despite the fact that I had proposed a job share with the person currently doing my job! They said I can do full time but change my hours 9-5 – yeah thanks! (And even that would be on a trial plus they have the right to revert back to my normal hours whenever they want plus I have to be flexible!) Is this even legal?!

    If anyone has a good return to work after maternity leave story then please share it because I haven’t heard a single one!!! It’s sexist and shortsighted from businesses. And they wonder why there is a pay gap!!?

    Anyway rant over! Penny I agree that it’s definitely the hardest thing I have done and I would be going back for a rest !!! When people said this before I had a baby I thought whatever I work way harder than them – surely they are sitting at home drinking tea! But it’s true!!! At least I would be able to per without an audience!!!!

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      That should say pee!!!

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Rachie I’m sorry things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped. I genuinely have heard lots of stories of going mums going back to work and feeling very positive about it! These seem to be mums who are in jobs they enjoy, and/or those who have managed to get a flexible working arrangement that works for them. When are you due back? If it makes you feel any better, I did find the anticipation of returning far worse than the reality and a lot of my friends have said the same. I know it’s horrible when you’re in that headspace though. Hope things pan out ok.


    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Rachie, I was very lucky when I went to back to work that my office were happy for me to change to a 3 day week; it was made a lot easier by the fact that when I returned everyone was doing 3 days and so I just remained on that when they changed back and never had to actually ask for the change beforehand although i’m sure I would have been allowed. There are currently 3 of us in my office (2 female & 1 male) who do part time since having children and although it sometimes takes a while to remember who is in when it works really well.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      I wrote about going back to work here Rachie: http://potteringsandramblings.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/hi-ho-hi-ho-its-off-to-work-we-go/

      Overall I think my experience was a positive one. I was very lucky that my employer let me choose my hours and is very flexible if I need to change them to work around childcare. They forget that I’m part time, on occasion, scheduling important meetings when I’m not in the office and such like but they’re usually quick to make amends when I remind them of that fact.

      I hope you come to a good arrangement with your employer that suits you and you don’t feel forced into something you don’t feel comfortable with xxx

  3. Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Penny, it definitely gets easier. I’ve now been back over a year and now its like I never left. I still absolutely love the adult conversation and the fact I can have a whole lunch hour to myself to eat / do what I like, and of course get to use the toilet on my own without a toddler following me in.

  4. Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Penny this is effing brilliant. It sums up EXACTLY how I felt returning to work. I’ve been back almost a year now(!!!) and it really is just a new normality for us now… until they turn 2 and we have to factor in trips to playgroup which will be a whole new kind of fun.

    You’re doing AMAZING xxx

  5. Katie
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit of a fraudster coming on here, with a comment, as I’m self-employed and only work part-time, with very flexible hours.

    Once I got childcare in place, that I was happy with (wonderful lovely brilliant childminder), then working was fine. It was all about the quality of childcare, and being happy that Ava was being well taken care of.

  6. mysparethoughts
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    A brilliant piece of writing P – you’ve managed to put into words how I’ve been feeling.
    I’m very fortunate in that my work accepted my request for compressed hours without batting an eyelid. My office is full of women and mothers so flexible working is the norm. But I still had that feeling of doom. I hadn’t used my brain in that way for a very long time. I hadn’t had to craft work emails or write documents. I still want to know what my daughter is up to throughout the time I’m away from her. I clock watch and send messages right after she should be down for her nap to ask how she settled or what she has eaten. I’m still waiting for my concentration levels to come back but I’m getting there.
    Nothing feels as important or crucial as making a person and keeping that person alive and entertained but I need to learn that my work is important too.

    • mysparethoughts
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      Returning to add that my return to work was so badly managed. There was a raft of new people who I wasn’t even introduced to. I felt like it was my first day on the job but I was treated like I’d been off for a week of leave. There needs to be recognition that things have changed.

  7. Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    This is so beautifully written. x

  8. Helen
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Penny, I am right there with you gal!
    I too have been back 4 weeks. I used to love my job ( I am a teacher), right now I do not because I do not feel I am doing it very well. I have not missed my baby nearly as much as I imagined I would and she seems to be very happy with our lovely childminder but I simply do not have 11 hours a day to commit to work anymore and apparently that’s how much time it took for me to do my job well!
    I struggle with the guilt of only really spending the witching hour (5.30-7) with my girl during which I have to feed her, tidy up the insane amount of food she has thrown around, bathe her, dress her, and put her to bed as well as do general household things.
    I have found myself really appreciating the weekends though and, although at the moment I certainly do not Love my job like I used to, I do enjoy the hot cups of tea and adult conversation.
    One day at a time is exactly how we are going at the moment and I am hopeful that everything will get easier with time.

    Helen (previously known as Leni but then disappeared to have a baby, didn’t sleep for 5 months and now, after a good few months of lurking, making a return to the awesomeness of AOW). x

  9. Fran M
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I get the feeling that your experience may be very similar to mine (company restructure, unwillingness to adapt to flex working requests)…good to know you can go through a really horrible time emotionally like this and survive. I can’t imagine how knackering being a parent and working is – but you’re doing amazingly. Be kind to yourself x

  10. Helen
    Posted June 26, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    For those who wanted to hear about any positive return to work flexible hours stories- the one and only perk (in my view) of working for the county council as aposed to the private sector is that they seem to a rarely refuse a flexible working request from a woman returning from maternity leave. I worked full time before baby and then took a whole year maternity leave- no questions asked- then returned to work 2.5 days a week. Could have chose 3 days but 2.5 worked out better for us. I feel very lucky- there’s no way I could have gone back 5 days a week.

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