On returning to the workplace after a decade, Emily explains how she tried to manage her children's expectations and fears through the process
It's been a decade since I've had a 'real office job'. Although I've always worked, since their birth I've juggled pretty much everything around them, so they've never really been aware of my working life.
They've seen me at home with a laptop, sure, but commuting, coming home later than them, not being able to make recitals or sports days, not a bit of it.
But after working as a 'solopreneur' for so many years, I found myself longing to be back in a workplace environment again, yet I also wanted to manage my children's expectations and prevent them from suddenly feeling rejected or abandoned.
They were, in principle, supportive of the concept and are old enough to understand the reasons behind me wanting to go back. They are. of course also capable of dealing with both parents working (as many of our friends do) but I realised early on that project 'mummy going back to work' required a multi-level strategy.
1. Before I started back we had a family chat about the reasons for me wanting to return, which included explaining to them my need for personal fulfilment going beyond raising them (cue shocked and incredulous faces!), my enjoyment of being part of a team and generally explaining the loneliness of working alone.
2. When discussing returning with my employer, I summoned my courage to negotiate a shorter lunch break and to change my hours of work to 5pm instead of 5.30pm, making a huge difference to the time I return home and my family life, with relatively little impact on the workplace or my role.
1. Totally more by luck than judgement, I started back on a random Wednesday, which meant a very short first week - in fact it was so short, I'm not sure the kids even noticed I'd started.
2. In addition, I happened to start in May - a month with two bank holidays - allowing for what felt like a slow and staggered return. It was handy for me and the cranking up of my brain to absorb new facts, but also for the kids. The shorter working weeks gave them time and space to adapt and realise that Mummy hadn't disappeared from Monday to Friday.
3. On starting, I made an extra effort to leave on time, go straight home and be present when at home, leaving household chores and email catchups until after their bedtime.
4. My 'brilliant plan' of batch cooking and freezing meals turned out to be not-so-brilliant, with lasagne-fatigue setting in pretty quickly. We now discuss dinner options together the night before, and, although they don't always get what they request, they do feel empowered with a little culinary control- which is very important in our home!
5. Our schedule allows me to get them up, make breakfast together and take them to school as it's on the way to work. I've had to relinquish some maternal control and let them get off the tube together and cross a fairly main road at a zebra crossing to facilitate this, but it does mean we spend some time together each day.
A month in, their fears that I would disappear completely have been significantly quelled and, although my younger son is still a little clingy and emotionally wobbly towards the end of the week, everyone seems to be just about hanging in.
I know we can't all engineer our start dates for May or indeed take our kids to school, but of all the factors I'd consciously thought about, a staggered start was something I'd never considered. It helped us all adjust to the changing norm and in reality, this and managing to eat a couple of meals together (even though I hate eating at 6.30) are probably the key factors that have helped us all settle into our new family routine. Now we've just got to navigate the summer holidays... eek!!