How we make this working-parent-life work
After nine months of full-time motherhood, I went back to work between my babies. My career is part of who I am and I am very lucky to get such fulfilment from what I do. That said, I was not without some serious nerves about how to return to work and balance our new lives as parents. I know it’s been done many times before. Fellow parents in London, I salute all of you - the mad dash for the trains to get to pick-up on time, the search for a good, nearby nursery (that has available places!), schlepping a mini human and their kit across town in summer whilst trying to stay presentable and not break a sweat, high heels stowed in your handbag...
I spent a year and a half being a full-time, career loving parent (thanks to my former teammate Caroline O’Connor for this label - you can read more about her thoughts in Sandberg’s Lean In). Despite my early nerves, I’ve since learned a thing or two about how to make this new life work for our family. That new life also includes over half a dozen trips abroad for work. Back in December, a fellow first-time-mama colleague and I had a great chat about her return to work and I thought I’d share what I shared with her about this new gig.
Strive to be equals
First and foremost, your partner needs to be an equal parent. I’m so lucky that Sam is who he is, and is well and truly an amazing, pro-active and hands-on father. We both work full-time, and thus we both parent as equals. Each week we both look at our work calendars and figure out who can do pick-up from nursery each evening. When one of us has to travel, the other tends to up their load in the weeks either side knowing that a week of solo-parenting adds more demands on work and home time. We both know when George needs immunisations, or to bring cookies for a bake sale, or to wear his Christmas jumper. Everything little thing gets recorded in a Google Calendar we share. Sam also knows where everything is and what to do if something goes wrong. I could not have gone to New York for a week if Sam didn’t know where to find paracetamol in George’s cupboard. Knowing Sam is completely capable of solo parenting (my longest stint away has been 11 days), means I can be more fully present for work and enjoy the luxuries of child-free travel.
Sam also took three months off work when I first returned to work. After nine months away, not having the immediate stresses of childcare on our hands was a dream for me as I was able to take plenty of time to get back into the swing of work without having to rush to a nursery. We have our workplace and the UK to thank for that luxury, and could not be more grateful. If you have this opportunity, I cannot stress how important we have found it to be.
Our childcare solve
We are lucky to be able to afford childcare in London, and although we definitely notice a drop in disposable income we are very grateful that we can both choose to keep working. George has a combination of a wonderful nanny for a couple days a week, and then is in a nursery for the rest of the week. We’re out the door at eight, and pick him at six. Sam & I are also grateful that we can continue working from home in the evenings. I will leave the office at five on the days I pick up George, but can easily pick work up again once he’s gone down for the night. I take my hat off to parents who juggle full-time shift work or don’t have that option, as I also tend to work one day a week from home which helps with getting the odd load of laundry done midweek too.
The one struggle we did have in George’s first full year in childcare was illness. George had a few days off sick with various nursery ailments, meaning Sam or I needed to come and fetch him and take leave. We also both found ourselves getting ill much more than we used to. While we were warned by fellow parents, we were surprised just how frequently this happened. We previously thought we both had good immunity - then we brought home a child from nursery who sneezed directly into our eyeballs…
Go easy on yourself
My only goal in those first six months back at work was to learn how to juggle this new life. I didn’t set any grander ambition than that. Working a fitness regime back in to my week or maintaining regular nights out just didn’t take priority, and I’m pleased I didn’t try place too high an expectation on myself. We still had the odd night where George didn’t sleep through and it took a bit of time getting used to the swing of work again. Our weekends were slow and chilled and that suited us just fine.
Finding time for our ‘old’ life
Once we found our rhythm of being back at work, Sam & I started to pick up fitness again with us both taking at least a morning or evening a week to ourselves to go to a class or a gym. Now we have a nanny, we also tend to go out on a date night twice a month as she’s happy to babysit in the evenings too.
A total saviour of my new routine has been swapping out my handbag for a leather backpack. It means when I bend down to wrestle George into his buggy, he doesn’t get sideswiped by a swinging handbag, and I can stuff his jacket or a bottle of milk into it and still be hands-free. I’ve never been one to wear heels but I have also started stowing shoes at the office and my forty-minute walk to work is always done in flat shoes.
I am by no means an expert on juggling this work/life/mama balance, but these are a few things that have definitely helped me do what I do today. Like most things in life, it just takes time and a bit of dedication to get into a new swing of things. I’d love to know any of your tips!