So, you know how the story goes, one minute you’re pregnant and looking forward to a year or so off work (except it turns out to be anything but a holiday!) and then, it’s time to return to your day job. Like many others, I’d been working for many years working my way up the career ladder, which put me in a fortunate position to be able to actually have time off when I did fall pregnant and the baby was born. However, working life was not the same again! I am fortunate in the fact that my employer supported my flexible working request, and I was able to reduce my hours to work part-time three days a week whilst our daughter attends nursery. Here are some things that I’ve observed during my life as a working parent:
Wake up call
See that alarm clock you used to use to force you out of bed in the mornings? Forget it, you now have a foolproof method of a little voice waking you up in the morning. However, careful use of said alarm clock for an even earlier hour (timed carefully before wake-up) means that you might be able to grab a shower before work. Don’t rely on this though. Remember how that game buckaroo worked, and you didn’t know quite when the horse was going to pop, well that can be like the child’s wake up time. If you’ve banked your shower in the morning. Congratulations! You’re winning! Bonus points if you manage to get dressed and ready all within the time when you’re needed too.
Late wake up
Of course, on some mornings, you may find that your child will not wake up, you’ve had your shower, you’ve finished emptying the dishwasher, you’ve even managed to complete a laundry load, and your precious little one thinks this is a great idea to sleep in. This usually happens on days when you have an important meeting being back at work. Going into their room to wake them up feels so wrong, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet.
Start morning with a nappy change and book requests. We could do 4 or 5 books before I can persuade her to come downstairs to start getting ready. All worth it though. Why should reading be rushed? Once downstairs we can get dressed and catch up on a little television (Paw Patrol of course) whilst she drinks milk, catches up on daddy cuddles and I pack the bags ready for my day at work and her day at nursery. 3 changes of clothes? Check. A summer coat? Check. A winter coat? Check. Wellies? Check. Spare jumper? Check. A dummy? Check. Cuddly toy? Check. Several toys for the car journey? Check. Water bottle? Check. The time downstairs is usually fairly brief (unless she’s got up super early and I’ve just stocked up on caffeine whilst we’ve had ages to get ready and I feel like I’ve done a days work before 7am has even kicked in) — and then before you know it, it’s time to leave.
We drop off her daddy to work before leaving on our own journey which takes about an hour at rush-hour. She has an eye for recognising shops, and unfortunately I have to say no we’re not going shopping. I think how lovely it would be to take her on demand but we need to get to nursery/work on time. She has a nice time in the car, and we sing songs like Let it Go from Frozen together and she also spots things from her car seat such as the lovely brown cows in Windsor Great Park.
I drop her off at nursery and she mostly goes off like a dream. We are very lucky in the fact she adores her nursery, I see some parents struggle with drop-offs though especially when their little ones are crying their eyes out and very clingy. A tough thing for any parent to go through emotionally. We say our goodbyes, I then go back to my car to get all my work stuff, then walk across to the office.
People often say that going back to work gives you ‘a break’ from parenting. Well, it might give you a break from childcare, but it isn’t a break as such, because as soon as you get to work, you have to ‘hit the ground running’ (for want of a better phrase) — you may have arrived later than your proposed working hours due to child being late off, a tricky drop off or a code brown emergency nappy stop, so already that has cut down the hours you can do good quality work. Saying that, it is nice to be able to have an adult conversation with other adults (about topics that aren’t about Skye’s helicopter or Peppa and her muddy puddles!) and of course the infamous HOT cup of tea. If you’re especially lucky, someone might even bring you round a slice of cake with hot cup of tea. You also get to go to the toilet alone.
Nothing can describe the guilt you feel by leaving your child in the care of someone else whilst you go off to do something else. Of course it’d be nice to spend all day every day with her, but I feel that going back to work at least part-time was good for me financially and mentally, whilst also giving Little C a chance to experience different social settings in a learning environment. It does strike a note in me though when she asks to spend time with Mummy and Daddy at home!
Stretching yourself part-time
Personally I’ve found that even coming back to work as a Part-time working mother, other colleagues just see me as having returned from maternity leave and back in the workplace, and the expectations are the same as they ever were. Emails may take longer to be answered, work may take longer to get done, that is the way things have to be. Obviously as a working parent you have other priorities, and it’s pointless to stress yourself out trying to work to the capacity you did before. It won’t be the same so give yourself a break. Luckily, I have a supportive manager who has been helpful in adjusting my workload accordingly. I just have to keep an eye and manage everyone else’s expectations!
Sometimes you have to drop it all
Children are unpredictable. They get ill. Fevers, sickness bugs, hand foot and mouth, chicken pox — you don’t know when the latest wave of illness is going to affect your little one. Be prepared to drop it all on demand when you need to collect your sick child from nursery. I have my files on a memory stick so I can easily whip this out and home in case I need to work remotely whilst looking after an ill daughter. You may find when they’re ill you need to try and just be there and look after them / cuddle them / be still, and then you’ll find yourself working in the wee small hours to catch up with whatever you need to do. A week later be careful as you then might end up with said illness yourself!
This is a difficult one. On the one hand, you are the same person as you were before children. You still have a brain, you still have the same ambition and desires regarding your career and the want to use your brain. On the other hand, if you are now working flexibly, part-time or otherwise, then you may find that opportunities become more limited. There is a lot of work being done to recognise this in many companies, and how flexible working should become the norm and not a barrier. There is a still a lot to be done on this, and I think that newly created flexible roles, which also include remote working would be ideal for working parents. Working parents can bring a lot to the table in terms of their new found experiences plus good quality existing skills — for example time management, organisation and planning, pastoral skills, customer service, empathy, digital skills — the list is endless!
Leaving on time
As a parent on nursery or school pick up, it is essential that you leave on time. If you are the only parent working close to the nursery, then it is your sole responsibility. You need to collect them at a certain time, not only because of the threat of late fees, but also the fact that they have been there for HOURS and you have a commitment to them in terms of tea time and bed time hours. Leaving at 7.30 a.m each morning and returning home at 6 p.m is a long day for anyone, let alone someone so small. Sometimes you just need to make your excuses and run (and not have to apologise if it makes you look unprofessional — as that’s just the way it’s got to be).
Another commute home
Pray that the traffic jams aren’t too bad as entertaining a tired child can be a mission! I’ve also found that I’ve had to change my listening material on the car stereo — whereas before I listened to the Archers (too boring unless there are sheep noises) and Scummy Mummies (too sweary), these are ones that are to be avoided now. Instead, choose nursery rhymes, kids songs or chart music. For some reason, my little one also likes to insist that she drives us home, so we sometimes have a tantrum about that. I do promise her when she’s 17 she can drive, but at 2 I draw the line!
Teatime and bedtime.
Teatime — if you’ve got protein, carbs, fruit & veg in, without the food splattered across the kitchen, then that is a winner. It’s then time to chill out, perhaps with a cartoon or a book, with a beaker of milk and cuddles with Mummy & Daddy. We might have bathtime (depending on how late it is, and levels of crankiness) and then it’s time for bedtime, a few more books, the usual teeth clean, nappy change, pyjamas on etc, before a whole family rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
The Mummy & Daddy hour
Between 9pm and 10pm (after we’ve tidied up tea time and any toys) is the hour that Mummy & Daddy get to chill out. Luckily it’s now Autumn so there’s often something good on television. Enjoy a nice cup of hot (decaff) tea and a snack before bed at 10pm (as any later we’d feel totally tired). Catch up on work should there be any leftovers from the working day that can’t wait until tomorrow.
Snuggle up to bed after having been in Little C’s room to gaze at her lovingly. Be in bed 5 minutes before you have to get out again, usually to replace a lost dummy. We hopefully sleep through the night (dependent on number of interruptions) and hopefully sleep all the way through to 6am (this is the winning benchmark, sometimes it’s much earlier, sometimes it’s later) and start all again in the morning…
Flexible working for all
It’s a bit of a tough one, but luckily I am able to work part-time so only do this three days a week. The other two I am able to spend with her at home and out-and-about doing various things and visiting friends and relatives. I think all employers should be legally obliged to offer flexible working to their employees in some capacity, as even though we are walking talking zombies from sleep deprivation and being a 24 hour a day parent, we are still people who enjoy using our brain and working, earning money and making a difference.