Just before Circuit Breaker happened, I got laid off while on maternity leave. I never thought I’d be a full-time stay-at-home-mum (SAHM, for those not down with the mum-lingo) but Covid-19 had other plans. As I was struggling with life adjustments as a new mum, I decided not to start my job search immediately and to spend time focussing on caring for my infant.
But after a year of literally being home all the time, I really missed the camaraderie of colleagues, and using a part of my brain that didn’t obsess over sleep schedules, food recipes and baby milestones.
So when I started my new job, my husband and I decided our one year-old, M, would go to my parents’ during the day. She had been doing that twice a week already, so we reckoned it would be easy enough for her to get used to this new schedule on a daily basis.
On my first day of work at 9am, off she went. The day went well — I knocked off work and my parents brought my daughter home in the evening. As she came through the door, she gave me the biggest smile. While this made me happy, it also made my heart twitch a bit.
I didn’t think much of it until I was lying awake in bed that night… and by midnight, I found myself in tears. I had never felt so guilty in my life! I felt awful for spending the day away from my daughter and for actually enjoying it. It made me totally unsure if going back to work was the right decision.
Like many other things about motherhood, “mum guilt” surprised me. But it is real, very real. After basically spending a year tending to nothing else but my baby, doing something for myself and enjoying it somehow felt so wrong.
“Going back to work after maternity leave means juggling the demands of multiple roles,” says Ashwinni Manasseh, a counselling psychologist who specialises in perinatal mental health at Alliance Counselling. “This requires adjusting your expectations of yourself and being realistic about them.”
Becoming a new mother and starting a new job during a pandemic has meant there’s been a lot of change to deal with it, and I don’t always deal with change well.
There was a lot of adjustment – from trying to find the right timing for my parents to pick her up and drop her off, to juggling a flexible work schedule that sometimes meant working after the baby had gone to sleep.
We even got a nanny for a short while to give my parents a break in the mornings, but when it started to look like we would be going back to the office, it was time to find a more permanent and regular type of care for our daughter.
M started going to infant care when she was 14 months old and… immediately fell sick. This meant back back to juggling caring for her, coordinating with my parents, and work. Honestly, it was so exhausting that going back to work sometimes felt like a holiday.
Returning to a job I had enjoyed for almost two decades before motherhood definitely felt energising. I also found that doing something for myself meant that time spent with my daughter was very precious. I found I was more present when I was with her, and she in turn clearly loves our time together.
“Small moments of connection will help your child to feel more secure and help to maintain your bond with them.”-Ashwinni Manesseh
“If you have limited time with your children, try to focusing on quality time with them rather than quantity,” says Manesseh. “If you can only spend one part of their day with them, do it by giving them your full attention, without the distraction of devices. It could be meal time, bath time, story time or play time. These small moments of connection will help your child to feel more secure and help to maintain your bond with them.”
It’s been about six months now and through a combination of school and grandparents (and a flexible job), we’ve all managed to find a balance that works for us. I like that my daughter goes to a structured learning environment for half a day, then she has her grandparents (and her parents) for the fun stuff after and on weekends.
As for myself, having more than just my child to focus on has been good for my mental health. I’ve also noticed that when I’m away from my daughter, I’ve made sure to make the full use of my time well, whether that means being focused on work, or practising self-care. Having kids may means that things are always changing, but for now, I think we’ve found a work-life balance that works for everyone.