When I got pregnant, I panicked at the thought of taking maternity leave. I was worried it would be a career limiting move and I was worried that it might send my family into a financial free-fall. Then, I got a promotion 4 weeks before my due date. The prospect of not taking maternity leave became a reality.
Despite strong expectations of at least 6 months off, my husband and I decided that he would stay at home as a ‘stay-at-home-dad’, and I would take just 1 month off. I was determined to make it work, so I had to plan it, commit to it and make it a success.
Plan for it
I wanted to keep the momentum of my career going, especially as I’d be in a new role with more responsibility and opportunity. Of course, I had to educate relatives and friends that this was possible and achievable. If I had a dollar for the number of people who said ‘oh, you’ll change your mind once bub arrives’… This message doesn’t help anyone! And adding to my ‘wild’ plans for minimal maternity leave, I wanted to continue working until I couldn’t work anymore; this was also an unusual concept for some people to deal with.
Not listening to the nay-sayers was hard, and not second guessing myself was even harder. To prepare for success, I had a planning session with my husband, followed by a planning session with my boss before finalising. Here’s what my return to work plan looked like…
January, 1 day a week, February, 3 days a week, then from March, full time.
Commit to the plan
When I went back to work, one of the hardest things to deal with was everybody’s reaction to me being back so soon. I worked out that people are frightened of the unusual, and that I could use my situation to help people see it as normal. I need to lead by example. I was committed to the fact that financially and emotionally, the decision to come back to work sooner was the best decision for my family. But it didn’t stop me second-guessing myself and feeling guilty. So how do you ease your transition back to work, regardless of how much time off you’ve taken?
Be ready to respond: What will you say when people question your early return to work? Don’t miss this opportunity to educate others and set their expectations, and maybe one day people will stop questioning it.
Be easy on yourself: Use your first few days back at work as a test – work out what your new working day needs to look like for you to succeed. Get your boss on board and enjoy the transition.
Be comfortable and feel strong: Finding work clothes when your body is still changing, shrinking, leaking is really hard. Plan your work outfit early, and buy something new if you’re just not feeling it.
See the success
My bub is about to turn 1. When I look back at this past year I regret how much time I spent worrying that I was missing out. It was time wasted because now I see that I haven’t missed anything. I have a happy, healthy little boy, a fulfilled and proud husband, and a team of people at work who think I’m awesome. I’ve got the best of both worlds – it’s possible for anyone if you plan it, commit to it, and envision the success. So how do you realise that success?
- Remember the achievements since baby was born – forget about what you think you haven’t done, and focus on what you have
- Remember the moments – like getting big, sloppy kisses when you get home from work, and the weekends where ‘mummy time’ is all the time.
- Plan for the future – plan holidays, birthday presents, weekend outings, and the special time you’ll be able to give precisely because you have gone back to work.
I’ve come to realise that what I’ve got is something that not a lot of other mamas have. I have an opportunity to show my child that men and women are equal. Men and women can both be parents and they can both be the ‘bread winner’. If enabled to succeed, Dads can stay at home, do the cleaning and cook dinner, and Mums can be high-flying executives, business go-getters and awesome fun on the weekend.
With a bit of planning, more and more children can grow up with this experience; and it can only be a good thing.
Sally Maconochie is a professional writer and project manager with Aurora Marketing, based in Brisbane. She is also a ‘fresh’ mama. Sally has clawed her way to work-life-harmony with the support of a super-hubby (and stay-at-home dad) and a lot of coffee. She spends a lot of her time flying around the country working on multi-million dollar bid submissions, so the weekends at home with bub are even more special.