In the weeks leading up to my return to work after maternity leave, I struggled. My heart would race and I would end up in tears. I couldn’t bear the thought of not being around to witness every moment of my babies’ days.
My initial return to work was purely for financial reasons. I didn’t think we would be able to maintain the lifestyle we were living without my income, and we do not live an extravagant lifestyle by any means.
In the years since, I’ve learned that while my return to work may have been financially motivated, it was really necessary for my personal well being, too. I needed something outside of my children and my family. Something that challenged me and allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone.
When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I found financial comfort in a less-than-challenging job. It suited me because I was able to work from home often and I was bringing home a paycheque. But before I knew it, I was bored.
At the time, I didn’t feel as though I had any other option. Every morning when I dropped my children off at daycare, I hugged them tightly, inhaled their scent and felt like I had failed them as a mother.
Then I arrived at work and struggled to focus all day long and, again, felt like I was failing at work. When I got bored with the less than challenging work that I was doing I felt like I had failed myself.
The end of maternity leave is difficult, yes. But as mothers, I think we’re afraid to admit when something is tough because it makes us feel less than. Our need to be the perfect mother takes over and admitting that we’re struggling becomes an admission of weakness. And there is no way any mother wants to be seen as weak.
I wish someone would have told me that it’s ok to struggle. I wish someone had told me that the transition back to work would be tough both mentally and physically.
I wish someone would have told me all these things, too.
You don’t have to do it all. Hire a housekeeper, buy some pre-cooked food, say yes when your mother offers to do your laundry. You are not a bad mother if you say yes to some help now and then. You don’t have to do it all yourself. And if the dishes pile up in the sink or the laundry sits in baskets waiting to be put away so that you can have a few extra minutes to read a story, the world won’t come to an end.
You will drop the ball. You will forget to pack extra clothes for daycare or leave your lunch on the counter. For the first time in my life I missed appointments. Some days I struggled to offer up anything of substance in meetings. Your mind is trying to be in too many places at once and you will drop the ball. You might drop the ball at home or at work or maybe even in both places, but it will happen. It happens to a lot of us.
You will feel like a failure. You will watch all those balls come crashing down to the ground and you will feel like you just can’t seem to get your act together.
You will be judged. It’s inevitable. Someone will make you feel judged. Though you know it’s coming, it will hit you like a punch to the gut when it happens. I remember how I felt the day someone told me that a stranger was raising my children. The tears burned my eyes while I stammered some pathetic defence of working mothers. People will make assumptions that work isn’t important to you because of your children or that your children aren’t important to you because of your work. It will happen. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. The life decisions you make for you and your family are yours to make.
You will become a germaphobe (if you aren’t already). Start stocking up on hand sanitizer now. You will cringe at the sight of the runny-nosed kid running towards your child. You will cancel plans with family because they feel a tickle in their throat and you worry that tickle will become more. When the person in the office next to you sneezes you might as well start wearing gloves because you’ve used all your sick days taking care of your sick children, so you know if you catch that bug it will be business as usual.
You will be happy. I clearly remember my first day of work. My coworkers looked at me in confusion as I waltzed back from the bathroom smiling. “That’s the first time I peed by myself in a year,” I told them. Some mothers miss their jobs terribly when they are on maternity leave. Even if you aren’t working in your life’s passion you will be happy with the freedom and the challenges you are facing. You will be happy reading the paper without interruption during your commute and having conversations with people about something other than diaper rashes and nap schedules.
It’s ok to be happy. You can be happy at work and still miss your babies. There is nothing wrong with finding happiness outside of your children.
Work life balance is a myth. It’s bullsh*t. No one has work life balance. We are all just trying to keep our heads above water and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
Your kids will be alright. Your children will not end up in therapy years down the road because you returned to work. They will be ok. They will make friends in daycare. They will have fun doing crafts and reading stories with someone else. They will have good days and bad days and at the end of it all they will be just fine.
And in the end, you will too.
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