When my husband and I first decided to try for a family I had no idea of the impact Luke would have on my life. You have no concept of the love you are going to feel or the lengths you would go to in order to see your child be happy and flourish.
You also don’t realise how much you take having spare time or the ability to throw yourself completely into something for granted. These days my in office working hours are constrained by nursery runs. (Note the use of in office). I’ve also reduced my hours to a four day week. It was just something I needed to do while Luke was little in order for me to feel like I was achieving a balance and giving him enough of my time. It’s something I don’t take for granted. I’m very lucky to be in a position where I can afford to do that and where my company is supportive. At the moment a 4 day week, working mum who doesn’t want to travel more than a night away is not their ideal but there was never any question about whether I would be allowed to do it. I know people in other organisations who have had to take career breaks because they knew there was no chance of a work life balance. (They’re still lucky to have the option to step back)
I’m in a position where I need to work and I’m not good at doing things half heartedly. My mum stayed at home after having me so I felt a load of guilt leaving Luke. If I was going to have to spend time away from Luke it couldn’t be just going through the motions at work. I wanted to push myself and succeed at work. When Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In first came out I couldn’t wait to get it on my Kindle. I’m never going to be a Sheryl but so much of what she spoke about in the book resonated with me and reinforced what I already knew that I had to seize opportunities in work, step up and be heard. Putting it into practice and leaning in can be difficult as a mum.
One year back into being at work and that year was a steep learning curve. Here’s some of the lessons I’ve taken from it.
- I have accepted that it can be hard to compete with people who have more flexibility and spare time.
- I have worked hard to improve my concentration and focus in the office because I don’t have the same flexibility around working late.
- I have used techniques like the pomodoro technique and a personal kanban board to help me focus on a task through to completion.
- I have realised that people often make an assumption when you return to work that you want a simple, unchallenging project. Probably true for many but after a year out I was keen to prove that I was still up to date and capable. It’s your career you need to communicate what you want.
- How hard it can be returning to the office and the importance of having a structure in place to support mums returning to the workplace. Basics like getting in contact near when they are due to return, having a plan for the day they return to get them settled back in, making sure they have somewhere to sit, whatever equipment they need and ideally a plan of what they’ll be involved in over the coming weeks all help smooth the transition back to work.
At a time in IT where technology is rapidly changing and more is expected outside of work in terms of networking and developing yourself it can seem daunting getting back into the work place but at the same time it is exciting and full of opportunities. I think the key is to cut yourself some slack, accept that you won’t balance everything perfectly (who does!) and try to get yourself in a position where you enjoy what you are doing or have a plan which you are putting into action in order to get to that position. Be proactive and find the balance that is right for you. There will be frustrations along the way but I find some time spent clowning about with Luke helps keep me sane and happy.