We’re doing okay…A guide to going back to work
July 6, 2011
I approached Bethany, editor and blogger here at Kids in the Hills, a while back and offered to write an article on the joys and trials of returning to work after a yearlong maternity leave. The fact that it’s now six weeks later, and I’ve gotten up at 6am on a Saturday to pen this article, pretty much sums up what my foray back into the working world has been like!
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I am one of those people who isn’t very good at sitting still. That, combined with our financial situation, plus my desperate need to speak to adults in person and not just on Facebook, led me back to work after my one-year maternity leave was up. I enjoy my job, and the people I work with, so it wasn’t too hard of a decision to make.
That being said, going back to work after a maternity leave is never easy. However, as this is the second go-around for my family, I feel we’ve learned some key things along the way that have made the transition much easier. Since we can all use any little bit of help we can get, we thought we’d share.
Find a childcare provider that you LOVE – we lucked out, and a Freecycle ad for a used toy bin led us to a woman who has been our lifesaver for the past four years! We found someone whose values and parenting style are similar to ours, and we couldn’t be more grateful. Start looking for care early; it takes time to find the right fit. Ask friends, family, co-workers, and seek advice from like-minded people – they will often lead you to other like-minded people who share your values – and what better person to be caring for your kids.
Routine – our lives are so much better once we got into the rhythm of this whole thing. Things happen at certain time, on certain days of the week. Wednesdays and Sundays are bath nights, Thursdays are movie nights, Fridays are often boy’s nights. Saturday is dump day, and grocery day. The kids know what to expect, and when. And so do we. That being said, having room for flexibility is also a huge key.
Choose your battles – my son went to daycare and school for about three weeks this winter, wearing his father’s ski goggles on his face. Some things aren’t worth fighting about, and if it makes getting out the door easier in the morning, then just go with it!
Meal planning – I can’t even begin to tell you how much meal planning has saved us…I can’t even imagine how we did it before. We make a plan, shop for it all at once (on Saturday mornings…see above!) and that’s it. No last minute stops at the grocery store, no scrambling to figure out what’s for dinner at 6:30 p.m. when we walk in the door with two tired and cranky kids, no food going to waste at the end of the week. We chose things that are fast to prepare, but still good for us, and we usually make lots, so that there are leftovers for us to take for lunch. And corollary to meal planning, there is the crockpot. It can be a working family’s best friend! There’s nothing like walking in the door and having it smell like someone’s been cooking all day and dinner is ready.
Realize that as hard as you try, you can’t do it all. There are only so many hours in a day, and days in a week. When there are only so many of them that you get to spend with your family, they become even more precious. It’s okay to ask for help – my help comes in the form of a bi-weekly cleaning lady. Scrubbing toilets fell even further down on the “things I loathe” list when it was taking me away from my kids, so it just wasn’t happening. This way my house gets cleaned on a regular basis, and everyone is happier.
Don’t forget your partner – when days are long (and nights are sometimes longer) it’s easy to tend to the children, and the house if you’re lucky, and then fall into bed, exhausted and too tired to speak. But a strong family bond makes everything else easier, and that starts with you and your partner. Make time to spend together (and notice I said “make time,” not “find time” – you have to set it aside) and strengthen the foundation that led you to where you are today.
And don’t forget yourself – everyone needs time for themselves, and when you’re a mother, it can be one of the hardest things to find. But allow yourself to enjoy it in bits and pieces. A 10-minute shower in total silence can be just enough to recharge your batteries. A stolen moment for a cup of coffee in between daycare drop-off and your 9 a.m. meeting can be all that you need. Find joy and victory in those little slices of time, and let them carry you through to the next one.
I’ll be honest with you: our days are packed jam full, from dawn to dusk (and often way past). The laundry piles up, the kitchen is never totally clean, field trip forms go missing, things get forgotten. But at the end of the day, none of that really matters. We do what’s important, and let the more trivial things slide…and I’ve also had to lower my expectations of what I can do in a day. Our busy days means we have clear priorities for the time we do spend together, and try to make every single moment count. And really, if you’re not making every single moment that you live count, then what’s the point?
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It’s Sunday night now, and since I’ve started to write this piece, I’ve also done a full day at work (on a Saturday…boo!), gone grocery shopping, cut the grass, staked out the new pond we are going to dig in our front yard, washed one week’s worth of laundry, and folded three weeks worth (there was a small backlog..) I’ve cooked a few meals, played a few games of dinosaurs on the living room carpet, and slayed a few bad guys with my pretend lightsabre with my four-year-old Luke Skywalker by my side. I’ve packed lunches for school tomorrow, have clothes set out for the week, including my husband’s, which he stuffed into a suitcase and headed off on a four-day business trip with this morning. I’ve yielded work phone calls and texts, shopped for soap display units, answered some emails, and blogged. I got barfed on.
And I wrote this article.
It’s likely no more than most of you have done, but when you really think about it all, it’s worth a pat on the back. And it’s also worth getting up in the morning, and doing it all over again, and again and again. The kids are happy, my husband and I are happy, and even the dog seems pretty content. And that’s how I know we’re doing okay.