Well, in the last few weeks I have officially returned, part-time, to work. For a few hours, a couple of days a week, I hang my ‘mum’ hat on the peg and limber up my teacher face.
I wondered how I should arrange my return to work, and spent a long time working out who would be free to have the baby, how many days I could afford to work and what the resulting impact would be on home life. A five day week (pre-pregnancy) would normally have been 50-60 hours of teaching, planning, admin, marking, assessing and making resources. It was hard to decide on a balance where enough money would be coming in but I wouldn’t be spending all my evenings and weekends working like before. Why bother having a family if we couldn’t spend time together? But why add to the stress of daily life by cutting the finances too tightly? It was a tough decision, as it is for so many primary carers who work outside the home. Different set-ups will work for different families, but for these few weeks until the summer holidays begin, I am working two days a week as a substitute for my colleagues, then in September I have a three day job-share arranged.
Lots of people have kindly asked after my return to work. They look, with concern, deep into my eyes and ask, “How’s it been?” I can honestly say that I’ve loved going back. However, that is because I am A) working part time and B) handing my son over to family while I work. I feel amazingly lucky to be in this situation, as working is just another example of how mums (in particular) get pulled in so many different directions. My amazing family have stepped up and offered childcare on the days I work, which is a huge relief to me and I am very grateful.
I recently read an article about the demands of parenting that described how being a mother is a giving, nurturing role, and that – just like a bank account – if you make too many withdrawals you’ll end up bankrupt. This is an amazing analogy for me. Mothering requires you to give, give, give, and then give some more. Your time, your body, your energy, your patience, your sleep, even the food off your wretched dinner plate! And for me, being away from my gorgeous boy for a few hours, a couple of times a week allows me to recharge. This is strange, because work is also demanding – especially work like mine that involves dealing with people. Especially small, enquiring, energetic people. But because the demands are different, I find it an important opportunity to give my mothering role a break. To continue to bank analogy: to allow my bank account to refill so I have more to give my son when I’m with him.
I like talking to my colleagues, I enjoy being in a professional environment, I like being the knowledgeable one rather than clueless guesswork of parenting, I enjoy, let’s be honest, the control. Parenting, for me in these early days, so often feels like you’re just rolling with the punches again and again. Baby throws something at you (sometimes literally) and you do your best to recover whilst inflicting minimal accidental psychological and physical damage to your offspring. So, at work, where I know (more or less!) what I’m doing and can (more or less!) control procedures and outcomes, I feel that I am succeeding at something rather than just surviving.
It will be interesting to see how things change in September, when I take back on the responsibilities of having my own class. Although supply work is demanding in its own way, it does free you from jobs like report-writing, parent meetings, ongoing discipline issues, classroom organisation, and more onorous marking and planning. I’ve enjoyed the increased autonomy, decreased scrutiny, and variety that supply teaching provides. Come September, I am once again responsible (jointly with my colleague) for the education, wellbeing and development of 26 young learners. And that’s a huge responsibility indeed. One that I appreciate even more now I’m a parent, as I understand how hard it must be to entrust your little person to a stranger, albeit a professional one, five days a week.
Right now, work is a lovely break from the baby and my time at home with the baby is a break from work. I am fortunate that I love my job and I’m in a position to work part-time, but it is hard work and ultimately my child now comes first.
How have you found returning to work after having a baby? What arrangements worked for you? Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?