This month marks a full year since I returned to work after my Maternity Leave. I don’t know what’s scarier, how quickly that year has gone, or the realization that I’ve been back for twice as long as I was actually off work?
I returned to my day job when H was six months old. Looking back, I don’t know if I was ready to leave her, but right from the moment I discovered I was pregnant, the plan was always to do Shared Parental Leave with Mr Makes. However hard it would be, I consoled myself with the fact that by returning to work, I was giving H the opportunity to have some bonding time with her Daddy.
I get so many messages on social media about how well I’m balancing everything. It means the world to be so supported and know that there are people cheering you on. However, I fear that sometimes I make it all look too straightforward, and that’s not the reality. There are admittedly some perks to going back to work; hot cups of tea, the ability to go to the loo whenever you want, and being referred to by your actual name (and not just ‘H’s Mummy’). But in general, being a working mum requires a lot of juggling!
This post is an attempt to answer those questions about how I manage it all. However, I’ll start by saying that I don’t think there is a right way of doing it, and there’s never going to be an approach that works for everyone.
Let’s begin with childcare. I’m lucky to have family close-by that can help with childcare which means that H gets to spend two days a week with her Grandparents. A further two days a week, H attends a local nursery, which she really enjoys. Finally, she spends one day a week at home with her Dad.
One of the first things I realised when I returned to work was that the majority expect the Mum to go part-time. This was a conversation that we had, but the reality was that when I returned to work, Mr Makes was in a role that had both longer hours and less flexibility than mine. He was concerned that he wouldn’t get to spend much time with H during the week, and so we agreed that he would reduce his working hours to four days a week, whilst I would try to work more flexibly. In reality, this means working from home one day a week, and taking a shorter lunch break so that I can finish earlier.
Alongside my ‘day’ job, I’ve also been trying to grow my business. Running a side-hustle alongside a full-time job can be demanding, and that’s before you throw being a parent into the mix. I’ve beaten myself up a lot over the last year about the time I’ve spent (or not spent) on my business. My light bulb moment came just before Christmas last year as I sat discussing my concerns with a fellow indie business owner. They told me that I wasn’t going to be able to spend as much time as other creatives, but it was TOTALLY OK. There are times when my business has to take a back seat. The days when I’ve had to leave work early because H is ill, and I need to catch up. When there’s other stuff going on, the washing needs putting away, or when I’m just too tired!
In practical terms, I’ve tried a number of different ideas for managing my time. I would say that generally, I find myself working more efficiently than before, and spend less time procrastinating. Most of the work on the side-hustle takes place either on my commute (social media, emails etc.) or in the evenings after H has gone to bed (packing orders, writing blog posts). I rely on a lot of to-do lists to keep me on track and stop me forgetting things!
I’ve also learnt the hard way that working all hours is not the answer. There have been times when I’ve definitely been burning the candle at both ends, working every evening right up until bedtime, but it’s resulted in me feeling burnt out come the weekend. I’ve now committed to at least one work-free evening a week, and I try to finish at least 45 minutes before I go to bed so that I can crash on the sofa with Mr Makes with a cuppa and a biscuit.
I also returned to yoga last autumn (I first started it when I was pregnant). Having an hour out to switch off, and stretch out my muscles each week helps me to relax, but also seems to result in a little burst of creativity when I get home. It’s easy to deprioritize ‘me time’ when you’re juggling a lot, but it really helps me feel that I can manage everything.
The reality is that being a working Mum does require sacrifices. I don’t get a full lunch hour that I can spend wandering around Oxford, and I can no longer waste hours at the weekend ploughing through boxsets, but I’m making it work. I’m spending as much time as I can with my daughter, whilst (I hope) setting a positive example to her. I want H to follow her dreams, and do the things she loves, regardless of what else she has going on in her life.
To anyone else there who’s currently juggling lots, whether you’re a working mum, a fellow creative side-hustling alongside a full time job, or someone who’s balancing lots of family stuff, you’re doing an amazing job. Just remember to make time for yourself.