This is what it looks like: hell. It’s hard. It’s everything you expect it not to be. The first day, and maybe weeks, are exciting and the novelty of coffees and toilet breaks on your own is a dream. Putting on work clothes makes you feel good and the extra money makes a huge difference to the pressure at home.
But then reality hits that this is what your life looks like now, and it’s plain bloody hard.
One thing you have to know: going back is tough for most women, no matter how glamorous their job or how generous their salary.
“I’m just trying to hold on. Trying to make it through.” Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon told InStyle magazine in 2016 about her work life harmony.
Yes, she has plenty of money to throw at childcare and home help, but Witherspoon said she uses an old-school solution: her older kids help out with the smaller one. “My mum worked, and I think it’s good for kids to see women working and being successful. I think it’s going to make them hard workers beause they see that I don’t get much sleep. This is the one life you get, and you have to live it to the very end.”
Last night my phone pinged with two text messages from friends who have recently returned. Their struggles were clear: “I’m okay but I’m so flipping busy and trying to learn everything and meet everyone,” said one. The other text read, “I’m okay (read: mostly okay, still struggling!) Returning to work has been a really good thing for me in many ways but definitely not smooth sailing. Hard to manage at times.”
I remember just how hard. Sleepless nights followed by putting on a brave face to lead a large team who didn’t care I was exhausted. Not coping, I almost threw it in many times and would cry on the train and took walks to catch my breath and reassure myself I could keep going. Or I called my husband to hear him tell me it would all be fine.
Here’s what to do to survive and thrive:
- Your ego. Leave it at the door. You know you’re fabulous—you’ve grown a person in your body. That’s enough for now. Don’t get sucked into being superwoman.
- Accept sleep deprivation. It’s real and relentless and the only cure is older children. Just know you will get through each day and Friday nights will take on a whole new meaning—wine, Netflix and a 9PM crawl into bed. Sound good? It’s the best.
- Your priorities change. You are now a mother. It’s not all about you. No more needs to be said.
- Your values also change. It caused short-term career angst, but I stopped being defined by achievement, advancement and recognition and am now driven by pleasure, family happiness and inner harmony. It feels good to define and accept new values.
- Your organisation has changed. Accept you need to re-connect with people, meet new ones, learn new things. Change is hard, but it’s just another challenge you can deal with.
So what are my practical tips and what I have learnt?
- Go slow. Don’t start on a Monday and do a full week. Ease yourself back. Start with a few days and build up.
- Seek out other women who have been through the journey and learn from their advice. They’ll have plenty.
- Do a trial run. Practice dropping your kids off for care and getting to work. Use our dry run through suggestions here.
- Always carry wipes. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told I have Weetbix on my collar.
- Talk regularly with your partner about what each other’s days look like. Be prepared for the dreaded call from daycare for pick up.
- Embrace the change. Use it as a chance to start fresh and enjoy learning again.
- It’s more of a marathon than a sprint. Go to bed early and look after yourself.
- Do not look at social media before bed. It will keep you up and is not healthy. Opt for a podcast or meditation app if you want to listen to something to wind down.
- Get organised. And we mean for everything. Pre-cook meals. Write lists. We have some great tools available to download.
- Make time to exercise. It’s good for the mind and soul. I did the 28-minute programs out there first thing before the kids woke, and I loved it.
- You don’t have time for office politics. Need I say more?
- Be open with your manager about how you are feeling. Don’t vent everything, but they’re human and can probably help in some ways.
- Help other women who are pregnant. It’s therapeutic to take on a role of helping and sharing your journey.
Written by Jodi Geddes, Co-founder of Circle In