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Lessons learnt from my first week as a working mum

I went back to work full-time mid last week, which is why I haven’t been able to write much recently. My last days of freedom I decided to relax and do all those things I don’t have time for anymore – pedicure, manicure, eyebrow threading, some shopping, hanging out on the playground with my daughter, walking through the parks with her sleeping in the buggy and lovely activities like that. I was really worried about going back and how it would feel to work all day, as I took a whole year off and had really gotten used to my freedom.

The interesting thing is, I am really liking it. Maybe it’s because I expected the worst, but so far it is actually really nice. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible and I thought I would only last a couple of months, but now that I started, I remembered why I used to love my job. I think there are several factors that contribute to my happiness and they might constitute good advice for formerly high flying ladies returning from maternity leave:

Start childcare well in advance: going back to work and settling in your baby at a nursery at the same time is really hard, because your baby will be upset and crying and you won’t want to go to work. I know many mums who only start their babies in childcare a week or two before returning to work and they are making it extra hard for themselves. Start to ease your child in a month or two in advance and just gradually increase the time

Have a supportive partner: This is so important. Many mums think everything is their job – nursery drop-offs and pickups, their job, dinner, housework. It’s impossible. In our case, I do the night shift (settling our baby to sleep whenever she wakes up during the night) and get up with her early because I leave the house shortly after 6am. Then my husband plays with her and brings her to nursery at 8am. We take turns with the pick-ups, although this week we both missed our daughter so much that we often did the pick-up together. We quickly have a very light dinner together – it saves a lot of time and is good for our shapes :-). We also have a cleaner 3h per week so we hardly do any housework ourselves.

– Enjoy going to work: when you have a baby, there is a strong pull factor from your home – you need something appealing at work to make you enjoy going there. It is now more important than ever to maintain friendships at work. A support network and people you can trust when you feel down is extremely important, as many mums returning to work can experience feelings of depression. I am lucky to have many friends at work and spent the first two days stopping by all of them and catching up. It made my return so much more pleasurable. Frankly, work itself is important but at the beginning, when IT is fixing your PC and such moments, use your time to reconnect with all your friends and acquaintances. Catching up with colleagues is one of the things I enjoyed the most during the first days, especially after spending a year talking mostly to other mums, and I enjoyed having professional conversations again.

– Be efficient: because I aim to get home early, I am extremely efficient now. My aim about anything I do is to improve all processes that waste time to minimise interference with my aim. I am rigorously minimising checking emails, shifting f9 spreadsheets (other bankers will know what I’m talking about!!), reading superficial news headlines and so on. Instead, I am very focused on the few things that really matter. A lot of business at work is really a lack of focus. Stop checking emails and reading news constantly and invest time in improving processes and the few things that really create value.

– Manage expectations: I explained to everyone on the first day that my aim is to leave between 5pm and 5.30pm at the latest every day. Since I come in at 7am I think that is not a crazy thing to do. Sure, I may usually be the first to leave, but it is doable. I may even miss some important conversations that take place after. But you have to make trade-offs once you are a working parent, and most colleagues with children understand that. It is also about managing your own expectations. Before I had a baby, I was very diligent and conscientious, so for me to just leave at 5pm is something very new. I have had to tone down my ambition a little bit, but in return I can at least spend an hour or two with my daughter every evening, and that way I can be happy overall. Which leads me to my last point…

Think long term: If you’re an ambitious woman, it is hard to tone down your ambition and accept that your career might move a bit more slowly now. I have certainly found it hard to accept after a relatively fast progression in the early years of my career. But I have realised now that it just wouldn’t work in the long term if I stressed myself out. By working harder and trying to progress fast now, I would actually make myself so miserable that I wouldn’t be able to take it and might quit, ending my career completely. Instead, I have decided that I will take it a bit easier, so that my career might progress more slowly, but at least I will have one! I’ve realised I have to make it work, and the only thing working full-time is going to work is if I am still happy with the amount of quality time I can still spend with my daughter. An hour or two per day is not great, but it is okay. 10 minutes per day would not be okay, I wouldn’t be able to do it for long. So take it easy and think long term. Depending on your job, even going part time is fine. At least you are in the work force and can slowly increase your time when you’re ready.

So I am happy to report that so far so good, the first week of working 10 hour days, commuting and having a 1 year old baby has gone surprisingly well. The mood in the banking industry is not great of course. People look quite tired, pale and stressed out. After a summer spent on playgrounds, in coffee shops and parks, I must say I feel like a bit of an alien walking in. People have had a rough year and are generally pretty downbeat. Everybody seems to be waiting for the year to end. Hopefully I can stay in good spirits for a while!

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