The return to work after having kids can be a time of great internal conflict. Of nerves. Of excitement. Of guilt. Of no guilt. Of logistics. Of crazy money spent on childcare. Of questioning “Is it worth it?” or “When can I start?”.
This week saw my first client meeting as Mrs Robinson since having my boy 16 months ago. I have blogged a bit and been working from home in the last few weeks but I’ve not been in front of REAL LIFE HUMAN clients in that time.
It marked the physical start of going back to work for me and of my cosy maternity bubble bursting.
My boy in a bubble
Dom asked me the other day what the early years of motherhood have felt like for me.
The only way I can describe it is as being me, but under chicken wire.
You can see me and I can see you. I don’t seem any different yet I am slightly tethered by this invisible mesh. It does loosen, gradually. Then one day you realise that you are beginning to float again. You want to grab on to a balloon and soar but you can’t quite. You feel like a different version of the you before. Not better, not worse. Just different. Responsible, I guess.
He looked mildly confused so we turned the telly on.
Even though working for myself has its advantages (namely the luxury of flexibility and not having an adult boss, just 2 mini ones) it doesn’t mean you avoid those feelings when starting up again. Oh no, far from it. You are on the frontline of everything.
My bosses. They are as tough as they look.
Like most things, it’s down to confidence. Something that can take a serious trouncing when you’ve been bringing up baby.
There are no appraisals or 360s at home to let you know you’re on the right track. If a colleague were to poo their pants in your presence, sometimes several times, on a daily basis you would probably, hopefully, lodge a complaint with HR. But you have been lovingly wiping it up for the last X months. Your barometers of survival and success have changed and that’s OK. Just getting through the day in one piece can be enough.
Here are a few ideas to get you work ready when the big day comes:
1. Boost your confidence – acknowledge your OLD skills
Phoebe Lovatt of the Working Women’s Club suggests “swapping your to-do list for a done list” as a way to get motivated.
This means listing all the things you’ve made happen in the last 6, 12, 18 months (That includes keeping a small person alive) and appreciating all that you have achieved. If you’ve been OOO for a while, read over old emails, it always really surprises me what I’ve written in the past but it also reminds you that it is all there inside you when you need it.
Dig your CV out while you’re at it and reacquaint yourself with all that you’ve got under your belt so far. See?
2. Boost your confidence – acknowledge your NEW skills
Parenthood has flung a lot at you. It’s the steepest of learning curves. I was thinking about the types of roles in the advertising industry I could recruit for and realised I’ve done most of them myself in the last few weeks alone. I suddenly felt very qualified:
MD – Right team, our goal this week is to get to school before they ring the bell. There will be bonuses for those who make this happen.
FD – Sorry darling we don’t have enough pennies for that *insert horrible lump of plastic branded with Frozen* today.
Planner – My insight is that my small ‘clients’ are fickle. Planning is often wasted.
Media Planner – In Q2 they will move from Peppa Pig to Ben and Holly before moving on to Paw Patrol in Q3
Creative – Wow this cardboard tube is a telescope/ a mast/ a horsey/ a really nasty weapon in your hands. Let’s put it in the recycling now.
Art Director – Let’s make a lovely card for Nana’s birthday
Creative Director – The card is lovely, darling, but I think it needs glitter
Client – 10 minutes later. I hate glitter.
Copywriter – See PR
PM – I now have an online colour-coded-calendar-per-human in the house. Gross I know.
PR – Thank You/ Birthday/ Christmas cards x 1 million
Social – An Instagram account devoted entirely to pictures of my sprogs. You don’t have to look.
Receptionist – Sure, I’ll take that parcel for number 20.
Cleaner – Noses, bums, tears and surfaces mainly.
Canteen – 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Though I do outsource to chez Nana, chez Grandpa, Wagamamas, Nandos, Pizza Express* delete according to emotional state/ how near it is to payday.
Procurement – I have joined CostCo. It has come to that.
Having this right and feeling happy about where your babe is spending their days is basically key to your at-work peace of mind.
So many things to consider:
Distance/ Flexibility/ Opening Hours/ COST/ Childminders/ Nurseries/ Nannies/ Au Pairs/ VIBES VIBES VIBES
You know the deal and what is most important for your needs. My only advice would be is to go and see them ALL. You might think you want a nursery environment and then find a gem of a childminder that just FEELS right and vice-versa.
Toptip: Your local authority should have a list of Ofsted registered childminders in your area on their website.
4. Plan A, B, C and D…
Getting the logistics sorted is also key to you being as relaxed as possible when life does its thing, which no doubt it will.
Get a back up childcare plan or two in case your childcare goes wrong or your little one gets ill in those first days back. Just knowing which friends and family members are on stand-by/ have a front door key is a life-saver.
For the first couple of weeks fill the fridge with easy stuff; stir-fries, pizza and salad and packed lunch bits. Bits and bobs are easy to pick up on the way home but you don’t want to be doing big food shops or having to think about what you’re going to eat whilst you’re getting settled.
4. The night before shit-mess
I have learnt by trial and error that doing stuff before you go to bed, however annoying it seems at the time, will make you love yourself for it in the morning.
I bought 4 of these magazine racks from Tiger and we have one each lined up under the stairs. I chuck my daughter’s school shoes, cardi, book bag and PE kit in hers. I chuck nappies, wipes, shoes, hats, a spare pair of clothes in my son’s. My handbag, keys, purse, sunglasses etc in mine and it has so far avoided the inevitable morning screams of “Where are your shoes?” Dom has not used his yet under claims he doesn’t want his wallet at kid level. But I keep putting his shoes in it. All in good time. Plus I enjoy asking anyone that will listen, “have you looked in the box?”
Easy, Tiger. I wish this was my house but it’s not.
6. Look good, feel good.
Yes I know this is shallow but I was totally flummoxed by this. I realised that I have lived in a uniform of Joni Jeans and a stripy t-shirt for the best part of 2 years plus my body shape has changed and I don’t even know what I like anymore. So when it came to my meetings last week I didn’t know where to start.
I put something on that I thought was a bit Joan Holloway and then caught my reflection and realised I was more Ma’am than Madmen.
I spoke to previous #mumbossofthemonth Caroline Mcleod Smith of Style Bureau – she says:
“Invest in quality timeless pieces in plain, neutral colours and then add the wow factor through striking outer layers, statement shoes and bold accessories…think classic black tapered trousers and cream blouse with the addition of an on-trend tweed cocoon coat, block heel pumps and bold colour tote bag. Those finishing pieces will show you’re totally on it, even though you got ready in 5 minutes flat amid mayhem.”
I am watching in awe at the moment as Mother Pukka goes on her #FlexAppeal crusade for flexible working for parents. It’s something I want to incorporate into the roles I recruit for and the clients I work with.
But how do you even start the conversation with your employer if you would like to work a bit more flexibly?
Clair Milligan – Head of Talent and Talent Development, Next Tech Girls Champion and Diversity & Inclusion at top city recruitment firm Empiric says:
“Flexible working can mean lots of different things – remote working, adjusted hours, working a set number of hours over a week at different times (as long as deliverables are met), job sharing…
Think of the work that you do in terms of deliverables and not hours served.
Can what you do be done remotely, outside of the standard 9-5?
If it can’t, can you perform a different role in the company that allows for flexibility?
Talk to other people (colleagues, friends, family) who might have already worked flexibly and how they went about doing it successfully.
When approaching the conversation, have as many ideas and options as you can about how it could work.
Avoid deciding that the answer will be “no” before you’ve even asked. We often limit ourselves because we think we already know the outcome before giving it a chance. And if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
And remember nothing is permanent. Things change and the needs of your family will change over time. This is flexibility for now not and necessarily forever.”
8. And finally, be nice to yourself.
Get some rest. It is very tempting to use the time after the kids are down and eating has happened to OD on social media. Weddings of people you have not even met are not for your tired eyes. And “just one more” of your current box-set might feel like life or death at the time but not so fun at 0530 the next morning when the small-human alarm clock goes off. I am the worst at this. Must. Try. Harder.
Make peace with your guilt in whatever form it takes. Most mums I know feel guilty at some point, whatever their choices. If you work you feel guilty because you are not there. If you are there you feel guilty when you stick another DVD on. You might feel guilty because you don’t feel guilty. I have even heard of grandparents feeling guilty in hindsight that they weren’t as hands on and child-centric as our generation. You can’t win. I don’t have the answer for this but just try and enjoy the view wherever you are.
And just remember. You made a brain. And a vagina or a penis. With your body. Stick that on your CV and smoke it.
More coming from Mrs Yellow soon. Please find me on Instagram to see the latest posts.