Returning to work after maternity leave, the story 12 months on

On the Tuesday after Easter last year I sat on my couch, laptop on my knee and I typed. I pounded the keyboard and wrote from the heart, words flowed and emotions simmered. I pushed back the tears as I reflected upon the year that had passed, the time spent with the kids and I looked forward nervously to getting back into the routine.

The post that ensued resonated with a lot of people and ultimately was published in a national newspaper. My mixed feelings about the return to work and leaving my three small people rang true for lots of parents.

Black tights, black shoes, ready for action
Black tights, black shoes, ready for action

I was lucky to have so much time off, and luckier still that my work agreed that I could take one day a week parental leave meaning that I only went back four days a week. My Wednesdays off have been my saviour. When a small boy cries that he wants Mammy to stay home with him, it’s great to hug him and tell him that Mammy will be there to bring him to playschool in two days. It eases the guilt and reassures all. “It’s only two days, then Mammy will be here to bring you” I say before I disappear into the dark morning.

As I expected, we did get back into the groove.  But it hasn’t been easy. Now, life itself isn’t easy, and life with three small kids and two parents working outside the home is as they say”always on the go”. So while we got into the groove we were wrecked.

I stayed up late and felt tired. I knew that going to bed early would help, but I felt that I needed an hour to myself after the kids were settled and the lunches done, and once I hit the couch or took out the laptop an hour became two and I was depriving myself of sleep.

Work got busy. Home stayed busy. Toddler girl grew teeth, small boys had bad dreams in the middle of the night. The tiredness and laundry remained constant, but while consistency is usually a good thing, we didn’t welcome it in this case.

Throw family health problems and some work travel into the mix, add some of the usual childhood illnesses and sooner or later something was bound to give. We needed a break or a change.

I was allowed work from home one day a week during an especially difficult time and was astounded at the difference it made to life, but there was no room for it to become  a more fixed event.

Indo bittersweet return instagram image

Going back to work after your last maternity leave is pretty final. It’s harder than the other times. You’re still leaving your small person in the care of someone else and that’s equally hard each time but there’s less getting you through the days or weeks because this is how it will be, forever. No more babies means no more maternity leave.

But in a sense, there’s less tying you to a job. There are no worries about building up service to get paid on maternity leave for a start. Sure there’s the parental leave to consider, but you get to a point where you take a step back and see things for what they are, or how other people see them.

I was constantly being asked how I did it, or being told “I don’t know how you do it”. And I wrote (HERE) that frankly, neither do I. My husband and I just do it, because we have to.

That might sound bleak to some but that’s life for others. Working takes time, commuting takes time, and time is the most precious thing.

We try our best  make the most of our time with the kids. We do things, things I cheesily call “making memories”, ranging from days out to going to the beach in the middle of winter, to “make and do”, and baking cookies. Stuff kids and parents are meant to do together. We just squash it all in to the time that we have together, we make a big deal about “Fox Family Fun” (yes, we call it that) and we five picnic in November or ramble in Spring. Sometimes we just chill at home, popcorn on and watch a movie together (although as the toddler girl finds her voice she demands either Peppa or Frozen as soon as the TV comes on). We enjoy each other’s company. (For fear of this sounding too perfect let me categorically confirm that the usual parent-child tensions also arise in this house too, keep it real folks).

So, a year in I have to honestly say that I have enjoyed being back at work. I’ve enjoyed that side of me, black tights and formal attire, adult conversations, and being just me, not mammy-me.  An internal transfer meant that I’ve made many new friends at work, and some challenging projects kept me interested. But it was still hard. I haven’t enjoyed the driving or the traffic. In fact I’ve ranted about it constantly, even in the newspaper and on TV.

UTV TV
Me on UTV Ireland talking about commuting

After almost a year of going back to my same desk exhausted and beaten by increasing traffic,  I had a moment of clarity. I got busy before it left me. Two weeks later I resigned and (don’t panic) next week I start my new job. It’s a similar role, but this one is closer to home, more in terms of time than miles. It’s on the outskirts of the city which should cut around an hour off the commute that had regularly taken four-hours-plus out of my day recently. My new employer also has a “work from home policy” where working from home is encouraged, and I’ve maintained my Wednesdays off.

So yet again I find myself excited but nervous at this time of year. It’s a big step, I’d been with my last employer four years and had great relationships in the company.

But when I heard my small boy telling his Granny  “Mammy is getting a new job and there will be less traffic so we get to see her more and eat dinner at home sometimes” I knew I had made the right decision. Hearing the excitement in his voice and his four-year-old translation of what this news means to him sort of broke my heart.

Mammy has a new job, and all going well, it’ll be everything that small boy hopes it will be.

That’s what’s important to me right now.

That’s what’s important to me always.

Our family, the most important thing.

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42 thoughts on “Returning to work after maternity leave, the story 12 months on

  1. God Sinead, I actually welled up at the end of this. So delighted for you and your family. You won’t know yourselves. Congratulations on the new job and well done for seizing the bull by the horns. It’s very inspirational. I think a lot of mothers have a fear about making a change for all the reasons you said, but you’re proving its worth the leap of faith x

  2. Absolutely brillaint.
    Really proud of you taking responsibility, and doing something positive while exacting the maximum from the necessary compromises by using your head . That’s why we were given one.
    Up us !

  3. What a tussle of the heart…my tummy was in bits for you. Thank God all ended well for you. Had a similar tussle myself, couldn’t do it. Isn’t it mad that when things come to a certain point that opportunities ‘appear’ . Best of luck with your new role.

  4. Fantastic news, congratulations. So well deserved. I really love your attitude to family/work life – recognising the strains while keeping perspective, and never minimising the role of your husband. He must be thrilled. Besta luck settling in to the new norm.

    1. Thanks, I’m half looking forward to it, half terrified of the change. My husband does a lot, sure there’s room to add more to his role in the home but I couldn’t work and commute if we didn’t split the pick ups and drop offs.

  5. Congratulations on the new job, I hope it brings some more special times with your little ones. I actually took a slightly worse job in times of daily time however I go away for much shorter periods which was the bit of my old job that was killing me. An overnight stay is nowhere near as painful as 4 nights away from my boy. It’s still not perfect but I’m working on it!

  6. Goodness me this must be the greatest feeling for you!! Good luck. So much of this struck a nerve for me, especially the work life whirlwind but also your kid’s point of view. I had no choice financially but to return to work full time six months after having my toddler. It has gone so terribly from the very start due to child illness, the impact on my work and the demands of my job. I’ve decided to hand in my notice and locum-more money less hours and more time with daughter. It also means a leap of faith, which I never ever do. But I feel like there’s no other option and I’m not willing it carry on as we are.

    1. Good luck Sophie- I think you’ll make it work because you need it to. Full time is hard going and of locumming is a runner then go for it. They’re only small for such a short time.

  7. I love this, and I loved your post from 12 months ago. I hope your new job makes you happy and that those extra precious hours are filled with Fox Fun. Xx

  8. Well done on making the change. It’s hard to (find the time to) get out of a rut like that. We rented out our house and started renting in the city a few years back when we were both working because the commute was similar. 2 hours each way. It’s just soul-destroying. Now we’re about to move back and start the excruciating process of trying to sell and buy in a more convenient location!

  9. I’m delighted for you. What a year it’s been for you. I hope your new job gives you those extra minutes in your day to make magic moments.
    Best of luck for Monday.

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