28th February 2020

The 9 stages of going back to work

When the time comes to hand your baby over to someone or other who seems trustworthy so that you can go back to earning a living, you will have seriously mixed emotions. You know you’ll miss your precious offspring with all your heart, but you’ll also feel excited about being you again. Plus, having kids can really help clarify what you do and don’t want from work. You won’t have the brain space to get as bogged down with office politics and will feel like a proper grown-up. This might make you more awesome than ever at your job – or it might make you question everything and embark on a whole new career. But whatever line of work you’re in, there will be a few common themes…

1. “I’m ready…”

It’s like the ultimate back to school feeling (er, especially if you happen to be a teacher). You might even have a new pencil case, or perhaps a new bag (because all your old ones are full of rice cakes, baby wipes and despair). You’ll massively over-prepare, planning your first day outfit, your first day lunch and your first day commute until every second of your day is accounted for. And you’ll be excited, but nervous too. What if you’ve forgotten how to do your job? What if they liked your maternity cover more than you? What if they’ve moved the toilets?

2. “I’m not ready!”

Then reality hits. You’ve got to do your job AND factor in the new routine of your baby. Pre-procreation, you used to idly spend an hour or two getting ready in the morning, sipping tea, taking in a bit of breakfast telly and straightening your hair, but now you’ll be lucky to have 30 seconds to brush your teeth. Tense negotiations will take place with your partner over pick-ups, drop-offs, nappies, breakfast… it’s like starting this parenting business all over again. HOW DO PEOPLE DO IT?

3. “I’ve got this”

A day or two in, you are Living The Dream. Hot drinks at your desk, delicious grown-up lunches from the new place round the corner which is noticeably lacking in highchairs and crayons, wees whenever you want them (well, unless you’re stuck in an unbearable meeting) and best of all, ADULT CONVERSATION. Speaking of which…

4. “Oh god, I’m so boring…”

Then it dawns on you: all you do is talk about your baby. And show people photos of your baby. You have become That Person. But what the hell else are you supposed to talk about? You make a mental note to watch some topical TV shows so you can bring them up and pretend to be someone who has a life outside of CBeebies.

5. “I miss them”

The first week or two back at work feels a bit like a holiday. It’s only when you realise that this is it now, you are a working mum and will be for the foreseeable future – say, 40 years, give or take another maternity leave or two – that reality bites. The juggle is real. And you feel sad that you’re no longer the person your baby spends most of their time with. So, you book a load of annual leave and start planning some holidays.

6. “Am I taking the piss?”

If you’ve negotiated a shorter week, or reduced hours, so you can actually see the adorable little person you love most in the world for more than a stressy minute a day, you’ll have a horrible cocktail of guilt swirling around in your stomach. You’re convinced your full-time, non-parent colleagues will think you’re a good-for-nothing skiver, but you’ll also feel guilty for being away from your baby at all. The truth is, most working parents massively over-compensate for these feelings and work harder than they ever have before, plus you should never forget that if you’ve managed to wangle some flexibility with your employer, they obviously highly value you. So swallow that guilt along with the overpriced sushi you just wolfed down at your desk because you’re scared to take more than nine minutes for lunch.

7. “Uh oh I’m drunk”

The first time you go for after-work drinks is quite the milestone. Not only does it mean that you won’t see your baby before they go to bed, but it also means your colleagues are about to witness your newly lightweight self drinking white wine spritzers – the mum drink of choice – on an empty stomach. MUM ON THE RAZZ ALERT. Except you, of course, spend the first part of the evening talking about your baby with long-suffering Jacqui from HR, and the last part… you’re not sure… but you’re pretty sure the post room guy gave you a shot of something aniseedy? For the first time, you’re glad you’ve got work the next day – work on a hangover is WAY more bearable than looking after a baby with a hangover.

8. “I’m rich!”

That first pay cheque after months of statutory maternity pay will make you feel rich beyond your wildest dreams – and like a real functioning adult again. But don’t get too excited and blow it on ridiculous shoes because…

9. “WTF?”

… when the childcare fees have come out, you’ll wonder why you bothered.

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