Why returning to work after maternity leave wasn’t what I expected

After a little more than 12 months off having my son Levi, I went back to work.

I was ready, excited and felt prepared to re-enter the workforce.

Levi had already spent a few weeks getting used to his new life at daycare. There were no tears when I dropped him off which was such a relief and meant no return to work guilt.

You can read more about how the daycare transition went here.

I spent the first couple of weeks back at work re-learning my job. It’s amazing what I’d forgotten and amazing what I knew in the first place. I got reacquainted with old colleagues and met new ones.

I’m a journalist and video producer at Parliament House in Canberra. I started back the week before the Federal budget was handed down and just before the election was called so there was no soft landing.

I loved being back in the office. As amazing as it was spending my days with Levi, I welcomed using my brain in a different way and having conversations with someone other than a one year old. It was a form of me time.

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What I struggled with early on was knowing where I fit in, back in the workplace. Life went on when I wasn’t around. They got by without me and things had changed.

This isn’t me complaining about my employer. My bosses told me they were excited to have me back and were so accommodating with my desire to return part time and work three days a week.

They even accommodated my request to work certain hours so I could drop Levi at daycare and pick him up.

My colleagues have been great. I enjoy going to work. I want to work. I enjoy the challenge work brings.

Everything is just different. I’m different too. It’s a hard thing to pinpoint.

Before having Levi, I was about career progression, taking on all the tasks, doing it all myself and working extra hours if I needed to.

My priorities have shifted now. I’m juggling a child and a job and the child comes first.

It’s stressful having to have my phone next to me, hoping daycare doesn’t call because that means Levi is sick or something has happened and I need to leave work. As well as thinking about work, I’m thinking about what to make for dinner and if Levi slept well at daycare for example. I read somewhere it’s called the mother load.

My biggest return to work concern is that I’m letting my colleagues down.

This probably isn’t shocking news. I have spoken to plenty of other first time mums who’ve also returned to work part time. One said she was “struggling to get the balance of meaningful work that can be done in 3 days” and another said she wasn’t included in meetings she used to be invited to and that was a bit hard to take.

It was a tougher transition than I thought it would be and also took longer than I expected but after a few months I’ve settled right back in. I’ve figured out what’s expected of me and what I can comfortably do the days I’m at work. I’ve found my groove. 

Research and studies reveal working mums, particularly those working part time are some of the most productive. That’s not surprising. We have to multitask all the time and get things done quickly.

So, to any mums struggling with their return to work, hang in there. You’re not alone and are most likely doing better than you think balancing that mother load.

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