Before I had children I’d park my car at work and check my make-up. Now I have children, I park my car at work and scrape my child’s breakfast or snot from my top.
Coming back into the world of paid work can be a challenge. Especially if you’ve returned with an idea of fulfilling the ‘perfect-employee-and-mother’ look.
You stumbled through maternity leave in a fog of tiredness and most mums who return to paid work are still not getting a full night’s sleep. Your child’s nocturnal activity seems to magically correlate with big presentations and important meetings – to the point you start to question whether they’ve hacked your Outlook calendar.
That’s if you actually manage to get into work. Most mother’s return to work is punctuated with false starts and apologies for unscheduled time off to look after a poorly baby with an immune system seemingly made from a wet piece of tissue paper (seriously, this is the only explanation for the cold that lasts 8 months of the year). After the cold comes to an end they go on to contract a childhood illness you’ve never heard of or just thought cattle got – OK cows don’t have hands but you’re pretty sure and about the foot and mouth thing.
Throughout the baby and toddler years you’ll grow to accept shrugging-off the tell-tale signs of motherhood. To anyone who’s returned already these may be familiar scenarios. If you’re still on maternity leave then here’s a few things to tick off your list of parenthood achievement – think of it as a kind of NCT crash course for the office but with realistic expectations. This time you know a few fairy lights scattered around your desk isn’t going to distract from the inevitable teething pain of returning to the world of work…
First-up is the flustered late arrival of the mother into the office apologising and explaining how her baby poop or puked two minutes before leaving the house. And it gets no easier as they grow. Once your child’s a toddler leaving the house is a negotiation. You talk them into leaving the house, then they leave carrying various unsuitable toys like tiny hostages with them into the car. Then comes the micromanagement required of school-aged kids, down to each individual step: ‘walk, walk out of the door – walk straight ahead, no, don’t stop…
Then there’s the slightly dishevelled appearance. The ‘just-got-out-of-bed’ look is simply an ironic statement because you’ve actually been up for four hours even before you start work – 9am is basically your lunchtime.
You’re still trying to shift the last few pounds of baby weight, but you learn never to wear anything in ‘slimming’ black’ as you can clearly see yogurt handprints made by your little darling. Instead you opt for patterns which cover a multitude of sins in a meeting. And just in case you manage to get to work looking like you don’t have kids, there’s the tell-tale toys and baby wipes that spill out from your bag as you reach for your laptop.
But despite it all you’ve returned with superpowers. You’re more able and confident than you were before. Hell, you’ve given birth and regularly keep a suicidal midget from killing themselves – you can cope with anything now. You know what stress is – you’ve survived someone crying in your face all day, made dinner with one hand and scooped poo out of the bath. You can negotiate with the hardest customers now, they don’t daunt you — you’ve looked an angry toddler in the eye. By simply being a mother you’ve found patience and developed conflict negotiation skills you never knew you had. To top it all you can really multitask now – there’s nothing like the speed, productivity and efficiency of a caffeinated mother who has to leave work on time to pick-up her child.
So the truth is you may not return to work as the same person who left heavily pregnant. You may not seem as slick and polished but you’re better. You’re wiser, more accepting and more capable than you ever thought possible – it’s just that mothers take superpowers for granted sometimes.