I never thought it was possible for the words, “Everyone just stop pooping!” to creep in to my vocabulary so many times in one week. Thinking about going to work or returning soon? Brace yourself. It’s a roller coaster. It’s manic. Case in point – I’ve started and stopped this piece more times than I care to admit. I returned to my corporate marketing job almost two months ago after my second tour on maternity leave. I had illusions (or delusions if you will) of grandeur…leisurely lunches sitting outside when the weather was nice, nipping out to hit the sales during the day and coffee breaks without someone throwing a muffin at me. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, but we are surviving. Hopefully a few words here will make someone else’s adjustment easier.
My little maniacs are only 17 months apart, so I was back at work for 5 months before exiting stage left for another round as a stay at home Mum. I never really settled in the first time I went back to the office. My brain never switched back on since I knew another year of maternity leave was on the horizon. I took on a few projects to keep the lights on, but I was never 100% invested. Here’s what I’ve learned about settling back in to the office:
· Things will change and move on, but not that much. I think you’ll be surprised at how it may all look different on the surface, but the underlying politics never change. Same sh*t, different year.
· Read The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins before you step foot back in to the land of Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel. No explanation needed.
· Find a mentor asap who has either returned to work in the past few years from parental leave, or just gets it and will be a sounding board.
· Set clear boundaries about your working hours. And be realistic about these. For me, this means 8:30am-5:30pm, with the occasional later evening or login after the kids are in bed if I feel like I need to get ahead of things or a big deadline is looming. Most nights though, there just isn’t time. By the time I get home at 6:30, spend an hour with the kiddos, get them to bed and eat dinner, I’m ready to fall asleep on the sofa.
· Which raises a good point – make sure your role is clearly defined, and your objectives and responsibilities won’t leave you scratching your head during mid-year and year-end reviews.
If it was only about work, well, it wouldn’t be that bad. Right? I underestimated the sheer amount of organisation it would take to keep things running smoothly with my other ‘job.’ It was bumpy at first, but we’ve figured out some tricks to eliminate some of the stress at home. Cut yourself some slack and give the family months to settle in to the new version of a routine. Most importantly, remember that none of us robots…least of all, kids. You just have to ‘go with it’ sometimes and turn up late to a meeting or go to work wearing with sopping wet hair because you had to wrestle your toddler in the door at nursery in a torrential downpour (not that this has ever happened to me or anything, my kids are perfect!).
· Two words: MEAL PLANNING. Every Friday during lunch, I open up Ocado (our grocery delivery service here in London) and Pinterest for some inspiration, and I plan every single meal we are going to eat the following week. There is no time for last-minute trips to the store. Your slow cooker will become your best friend. All of our meals are made in the slow cooker or prepared ahead of time, so we simply have to reheat when dinner rolls around. We have it down to a science now where we only cook 3-4 times a week, with leftovers for lunches and dinners. Think soups, stews, curries, risottos, casseroles and stir-fry’s.
· Do everything the night before, so you can wake up and get out the door. The obvious things are laying out clothes, putting out breakfast items, packing bags and making lunches. Don’t cringe, but one of the game changers for me has been showering and washing/blowing out my hair before I go to sleep (unless I’m running in the morning). This saves at least 30 minutes in the morning. And, embrace the whole not washing your hair ever day thing. Your schedule and hair will thank you.
· Schedule your workouts. We wake up at 5:30am every morning to prep for the day and I head out for a run a few times a week. I also take advantage of a great gym across the street from my office and book in a few classes and a personal training session each week. If you aren’t looking after your health and well-being, you aren’t going to be at your best!
The way I look at it, you are saving your company and family in the long run by maintaining your physical and mental health. If anyone gives you a hard time in the office, remind them about all of those jokers who head downstairs every hour for a cigarette break…that adds up to over an hour each day (easily) and they are dying a slow death. Enough said.
· Get picky about social engagements. When you are away from your kids all day, you cherish the hour with them every night and your weekends. I’m by no means saying you should become a hermit. Get out there for a date night or to catch up with good friends, but don’t feel guilty if you decline that birthday party invitation or book club. My husband and I aim for one night a month out with our respective friends or to attend a work engagement, and one night out each month for a date. Everyone is happier.
· Outsource. Cleaning, laundry, ironing, gardening, the list goes on and on. Whatever you can squeeze out of your budget to buy back more hours either for yourself or with your kids, do it. You’ll remember those afternoons at the playground. You won’t remember cleaning the toilets with such fondness.
· Make home beauty treatments your new best friend. Nails, threading and hair…I no longer have to spend hours at the salon. Find reputable people in your area who do home visits and get in to a routine with them. Life changing.
I’m not quite convinced that anyone ever really cracks the whole ‘balance’ thing. It’s all trial and error, with a little bit of luck thrown in for good measure. You will have good days and bad days. You’ll get to work with bananas smeared in your hair and realise that your outfit looks like you got dressed in the dark (because you did!). And some weeks, it will seem like the world is crumbling. Sick kiddos and deadlines always seem to collide in our family! But, you know what? We just do the best that we can and go until we can’t go anymore. Remember that your family comes first before any job. Work to live, don’t live to work.
-Molly Rosedale, mother to blue-eyed cuties K and A
From NY, living in London