The four things you need to know about returning to work.
I was invited to a Mumsnet & No7 Return to Work with Confidence evening. I am not being paid for this article. Although for enough Jaffa Cakes, I can be bribed to write anything….
I went to the Mumsnet and No7 evening expecting a breezy pep-talk on the power of red lipstick, and how the right foundation can make your day go better. Whilst I wouldn’t disagree with either of these statements, it’s all a bit tired somehow. The lipstick index gets trotted out every time there is a financial fillip, and it’s a bit patronising to be told that make up will make us feel and work better. That said, coming at the same week when that newspaper made headlines for its competitors with a trite, sexist and patronising front page eulogising the legs of two powerful politicians, perhaps it was the week for it.
A panel of women – properly inspiring women, who before babies had held down typical professional roles, with long hours, taxing demands, and meaty targets – told their stories about their return to work after their babies. And it was like listening to my mates talking (with marginally less swearing, but only marginally.) They’d all struggled to make it work, they faced the same battles as us. From a (ridiculously glamourous) supermodel, to a city trader, the long hours and the lack of flexibility took them away from their families, and any financial reward was being funnelled into cleaners, nurseries and nannies helping keep the balls in the air. And even supermodels drop the balls sometimes. They had no miracle quick fix advice (not even involving a lipstick), but pushed the messages I feel are so important.
It takes a village. It takes your mum mates to buy you a vat of wine on your NCT night out, and to listen to you moan about sore nipples / primary school applications / teenage tantrums depending on what stage of parenting you are at. It takes your work colleagues to remember you are talented and hardworking and that didn’t change when you got knocked up. And it takes your local laundrette to turn around a service wash after D&V hits… that was a particular low. It really does take a village, and if you don’t have a traditional support network, then you need to build an alternative one.
Ask for help. Need your neighbour to lend you some milk? Ask. Need your mum to pick up your kids from nursery? Ask. Need 30 minutes to have a coffee, a poo and a shower, three things mums of small kids don’t get to linger over anymore? Ask your partner, your mate, your babysitter. If you can pay for help, you are fortunate, and you should use that good fortune to ensure you aren’t broken with tiredness, and worn down by chores. A knackered parent is often a snappy partner, an impatient mum or a no-show friend. The more help you can get, the better you can perform – and that counts in your marriage, your friendships and your social life too.
Escape. If you can’t get away for a deluxe 3-night mini break (ha, as if) then take Grazia to the coffee shop and drink a drink whilst it’s still hot. Ensure your partner gives you nights out, and rope in your mum mates. Don’t forget the friends you had before nappies and nursery entered your life. Talk about politics, and the books you’ll never find time to read, and where you want to go on holiday. By all means, talk about your kids, but you need a life outside of them too. (NB, to all mums of newborns, you get a 12-month period of talking of nothing but nipples and nappies, but then we want our interesting friend back, complete with chat.)
Find your tribe. If the mums you met at NCT or baby massage classes don’t get that you are completely frazzled and need gin every night, or believe in attachment parenting when you are more of a Gina Ford, or the mums of little Toby’s primary school mates think you are a witch for returning to work / not brushing your hair / thinking the odd KitKat is ok after school… it doesn’t matter. Somewhere out there is another mum who pulls a Furbie from her handbag instead of a notebook in a meeting (true story). There are other parents with yogurt on their shoulder and raisins encrusted in the car seat. There are probably other parents with perfect blow-drys, manicured nails and a fine line in Reiss tailoring – but they aren’t my tribe. Find yours. And if you can’t find them, come to the pub and join mine. That’s when a red lipstick really does come in handy.