Tag Archives: return to work

I Refuse to “Make the Most of It”

I’m almost at the end of my mat leave. It has really crept up on me fast here at the end. For so long, I felt like the months stretched far ahead of me and I had so much time to spend with my baby, not to mention my wonderful fellow mom friends.

First off, I’m going to do something moms don’t do a lot and toot my own horn: I think I did a good job this time. From the outset, I was really trying to take more of a paternity leave, ie. doing parental leave the way my husband did his with our older son. I also learned a lot from my first mat leave, especially the hard lesson that my child’s first year of life was not a project: it is merely the start of a lifelong relationship. These two personal epiphanies have made it possible for me to truly enjoy the past 11 months.

But old habits die hard, so when I suddenly, recently realized that my first day back to work was less than a month away, my brain immediately started racing. I was instinctually formulating a list, nervously scanning my surroundings and the corners of my mind for the things I might have wanted to accomplish, the activities I would miss the most once I returned to work or that I worried would fall by the wayside with no one in the house to do them all day. I had to make the most of it!

Thankfully, I stopped myself pretty quickly. I decided right then and there that I was specifically NOT going to “make the most” of this last month. For me, doing so is just too much pressure.

First, it stresses me out trying to figure out what the “most” would be – what’s the most important to me? What’s the most fun activity that I’m going to miss? What’s the most practical thing to get done? What’s the most efficient use of these last few weeks!?!???

Second, it inflates my return to work date as a gloomy cloud looming on the horizon, signalling THE END. In reality, the day I return to work is not the end. It is just the first day in a transition that’s going to last a very long time. It’s the first day I happen to go back into the office, but the negotiations between my work, home, spousal, parental, and personal selves have been going on for years and are just going to continue to grow and evolve. It’s the first day I’ve been going to work since R was born, but not the first since I’ve been a mom. I’ll be okay.

Third, it fills me with a kind of anticipatory ennui, dampening with melancholy these next weeks that I could be spending with as much comfort and joy as I’ve spent the last 40+. I want to stay in the moment, not spend each day subconsciously worrying about how I’ll remember it one day soon.

Nah, I got this. My life is not divided into discrete blocks of time – it ebbs and flows, and my circumstances change and evolve. I know I will evolve with them. Will I miss things about mat leave? Will I miss feeling so connected to little R that sometimes it feels like we are one person? Will I miss the ability to see my wonderful mom friends and their littles growing up on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis? Will I miss puttering around my home, spending so much cozy time? Will I probably cry about these things, more than once??? Abso-fucking-lutely. On all counts. But I’ve done so many big life changes already, and none of them have broken my life, or my self. The transition from couplehood to parenthood. From maternity leave to paternity leave. From one parent at home to two working parents. From one kid to two. This is just another transition coming down the pipes.

The (Un)Working Mom

UnWorking MomHey Mamas – I’m back! Lindsay has been doing a great job of holding down the fort here at Raise a Mother, but I’ve still missed touching base with our village.

The truth is, I’ve been a bit dumbfounded as to what I should write. I lost my job on October 19th, a consequence of the Canadian election results. The fact that it happened was unexpected and the fact that it happened in a very public way — I literally watched my job (and those of many of my friends and colleagues) slowly slip away on national television — have made it particularly difficult. Almost a month later, I am only beginning to stumble out of a sort of fog that has surrounded me.

The reality that I no longer have a job that I loved is hard to take. The other day I told Lindsay, “I’m supposed to be at my office right now, doing my job”. Because that’s how it feels to me – like it’s my office and my job, and that fact that I’m not there doing it is what’s wrong with the picture.

Of course, what’s really wrong with the picture is that it isn’t my job at all. Despite all my best efforts — the long and tiring hours, the weekends away from my family — I lost my job. Someone else is sitting in what is now their office, doing what is now their job. I am sitting in my house, trying to figure out where to go from here. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

I am definitely results-oriented. I like planning, organizing and checking off lists. I am the person who will add something I have already done to a to-do list, just so that I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off. And like many people I know with this type of personality, I place great value on these aspects of my character. They are intrinsically connected to my self-worth.

This has probably been the biggest personal challenge that I’ve faced in becoming a mother. During maternity leave I had an ongoing to-do list, to keep my mind busy and give me some structure. But I also had to learn to accept that the list was not going to get completed as quickly or efficiently as I might like. Some items might not happen at all. Because no matter how well you prepare or organize, life with children does not always go as planned. In fact, it very often takes you in a completely different direction.

Now I need to learn that same lesson in my professional life. I planned to still have my job and worked hard to keep it, but I can’t cross that goal off my list. I am actively reaching out to my network and applying for jobs, but until I land a new one, I can’t count that as a task completed. I need to find new ways to feel like I’m contributing, and I need new ideas.

One place I know I’ll be spending more time is here with you mamas at Raise a Mother. Have any of you gone through losing a job? How did you cope with the challenge of being unemployed, especially with kids? 

We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section, or in a guest post! 

Pity Party For One…

This week, stay-at-home parenting seems like the only reasonable solution for life.

I’m hoping this will sound familiar to someone else:

We eat out an unreasonable number of times due to a lack of groceries, and of time to get any. I manage to stay on top of a few loads of laundry and a bit of tidying only by getting up early enough in the morning to be ready for work 20 minutes before I have to head out the door. I’m in desperate need of some girlfriend time, but already feel like teaching dance for an hour and maybe going to yoga once a week is the limit of time I can be away from contributing at home without feeling guilty. Our evenings entertaining friends (and I’m not ambitious here, just another couple sitting on the couch eating popcorn and chatting would be amazing) seem few and far between, almost a thing of the past. My partner and I both feel like we wake up, are in ‘go’ mode all day at work, come home to dinner/bath/bedtime for the baby, and finally plop down for a a brief period of half-focused-doing-nothing in the same room before collapsing into bed, knowing in several hours the cycle starts all over again.

I get it now. I get why for generations, and in many cultures still, the norm was/is to have one stay-at-home-parent: this whole two-working-parents standard we have is just unsustainable. A colleague who’s a grandmother says, “I don’t know how you’re making it work.” I say, “Well, you did it with your three kids,” eagerly hoping for some tips, to which she replies, “Yes, but I stayed home!” Another colleague says she only got through this stage by hiring someone full time to care for her daughters, cook, clean and bake while she was at work.

In moments of bleakness, my husband will often shake his head or dejectedly sigh and say, “Cycle of productivity.” This week, I really feel the weight of that. The crazy thing is, I don’t feel like I’m that productive, not in a creative/achieving sense. Busy, sure, and productive at work, yes, but what is this garden-variety productivity really worth if you don’t feel you have time to appreciate or savour your life as a whole?

I want to live in the moment with my son when we are home together. I want more than an hour at home with him per day that’s not swallowed up by the evening ‘schedule.’ I want to feel like I have more time for relaxing in the calm space of my home than it takes to get that home to a state of calm. I want my husband and I to have the energy to really be involved with and invested in one other after our kid’s in bed, not just find comfort in our solidarity through the slog.

I’m sure there are lots of things we could do to work towards these goals, but in moments of bleakness, those solutions just seem like something else I don’t have the time or energy for. Maybe it’s also okay, though, to spend a little bit of time having a pity party every once in a while. I know the cloud will lift eventually, and when it does, I’ll be eagerly hoping for tips again, so leave ’em in the comments, dear readers.

When Returning to Work Doesn’t Break Your Heart

I had to go back to work early after the birth of my son, by the standards of most people in my life. Not early compared to my yoga-teacher friend who had six weeks off, or my friend whose mat leave living overseas was only two months, but I went back at six months, which is early to many. Having talked with other moms, I know I was in a great position to return to work – I got to start back at only three-and-a-half days a week, and our parents were willing to do the needed child care until my husband could get pat leave (I know – lucky!) when I started full-time hours.

But in the weeks leading up to my return date, I was a wreck: I was jealous of my mom-and-baby-group friends, looking ahead to a time when they would continue to have play dates with their babes while I sat at a desk wondering what my kid was doing all day (turns out he was still at mom-and-baby group, just with Dad). I was embarrassed about handing my son off for care without a regular nap schedule, as if that would somehow signal incompetence in that I’d had him for six months and still didn’t know what I was doing. I was anxious that my absence would somehow weaken our bond – or, as my sister put it, I “kind of did” want him to stay a bit of a mama’s boy even though I knew meaningful relationships with other caregivers were important and good, and would make my life a hell of a lot easier in the long run.

The moms in my village gave me great support, encouraging me that John could help with the household duties more so I could spend more time with Arlo when I was home, assuring me that all mothers felt this way when they went back to work, and even telling me it was okay if I just cried all day in the bathroom for the first day back.

So imagine my shock when I had (dare I say it?) a wonderful day. Everyone asking about the baby and wanting to see pictures, getting to see friends I hadn’t seen much since Arlo’s birth, wearing grown-up clothes with no chance of food smears or drool? Of course I had a great first day.

But then the guilt-inducing thing was, I kept having great days. I like my job. I like my colleagues. I like walks at lunch by the river behind my building, bike rides with friends to work in the morning, and drinking a whole cup of tea while it’s still hot. Best of all, every day when I came home, Arlo was limbs-flailing, goo-goo-ga-ga ecstatic to see me (a reaction that had largely been reserved for working-Daddy or post-babysitter greetings until that point).

This is where assumptions about motherhood paint us all into corners. Here I was, with all the support in the world (online and in-person) to get me through a shit time, but I was actually having an okay time, and the fact that I wasn’t falling apart made me question a) whether I was a good mother, and b) whether I would still have the support of the mama-world or be marked as a deviant of the tribe. I haven’t really tested this theory in the online world (and I’m a little scared of the reaction I could get here, to be honest).  Among my friends and family, though, I was relieved to find that my unusual (or perhaps just less-oft-voiced) experience of being, in some ways, liberated by a return to work, hasn’t reduced the support I’ve felt at all.

We’re all going to have awful times as mamas – hair-tearing, heart-draining, insanity-inducing moments. But we’re also going to have hurdles that end up not being as bad as we thought they might be. For some of us, going back to work is in column A, and for others, in column B. Where we end up probably depends on a wide range of factors. But wherever you fall when you go back to work, it’s okay.

~ Lindsay

Pieces of me

In our house we have recently boarded the emotional roller coaster that is the end of maternity leave and the beginning of day care.

To be clear, the emotional roller coaster part has so far mainly applied to me, and much less to my one-year-old son. Like so many parts of my parenting experience, parenting my way through this transition seems to be about managing my own emotions and behaviour as much, or more, than it is about helping my son with his.

For his part, my son seems to have adjusted remarkably well. One week after beginning day care, our drop-off involved no tears whatsoever. He even willingly went to our day care provider when she reached out for him. In my head, ecstatic. In my heart, dagger.

I want my son to be a confident, well-adjusted kid. I want him to know absolutely that I am always there for him and to feel loved unconditionally — while also being able to trust and build relationships with others. I don’t want him to be the stereotypical “mama’s boy”… and yet, I kind of do. Not really, not truly, of course, but there is a very visceral part of my heart that just wants him to stay my sweet little baby forever, cuddled close to my chest.

A friend of mine recently told me that scientists have discovered that, after birth, some of a baby’s cells may stay inside his or her mother for months or even years or decades afterwards. This makes perfect sense to me. I have found myself explaining to my husband that separation from our son is difficult for me in part because our little buddy has been inside or attached to me for the better part of two years. That’s a hard connection to shake, even without accounting for any cells of his which might still be floating around inside my body.

Another friend told me that her transition back to work after the birth of her son was one of the most traumatizing times of her life. I am beginning to understand why.

Until these past few weeks, I don’t think I truly understood the saying that being a mother is like having a piece of your heart living outside of your body. I always thought, “That’s a nice, sentimental idea”. What I didn’t understand is that watching my son grow into his independence would be at once exhilarating and terrifying, fascinating and devastating. My heart fills as I watch him make new friends, and breaks when he falls. That’s one hell of a ride for we mamas to contend with.

All the more so because I want my son to be blissfully unaware of the turmoil of my inner struggle so that he can carry on with the business of growing up. I don’t want to make him anxious. I don’t want to hold him back. Ultimately, what I want is to watch that little piece of my heart skipping joyfully away from me, ready to take on the world. No matter how hard it is to watch.

~ Shannon

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