Going back to work after three years off was always going to prove challenging, frightening, even overwhelming. There’s a point at which the life you previously lived becomes more of a distant nostalgia than a familiar stepping stone, and it happens so quietly you don’t see it coming. Gradually, what was once commonplace becomes intimidating.
When I left the workplace it was on my own terms to some degree, though circumstances certainly forced my hand. I always knew that I would land on my feet, that I was capable of finding work because I am smart and well qualified. Of course, three years later that confidence had vanished and I found myself questioning both my capabilities and the relevance of my qualifications. And to be honest, I certainly questioned my motivation to return to either of my previous fields – the corporate sector and the health and fitness industry.
We’d made the decision that I would go back to work after three years. Financially that was all we were willing to sacrifice. Personally, the kids had gone to pre-school a few days a week and I didn’t have much to do on those days. And psychologically I knew that the longer I left it the harder it would be. I wanted to stay in touch.
Looking back my apprehension stemmed from three sources. Or more accurately, it took the form of three minor, (relatively minor…), freak outs.
The first hit me while I was preparing the first lunch box of the year. The Octonauts were saving some rare and charming fish with an unusual talent for something in the background. Peso was stressing the importance of…some bandaging technique I think.
I thought to myself, “That Peso loves his work. Don’t think I’d be quite so passionate about that kind of work. Work. Oh, yes, better get to that. Find a job. Get back on the horse…WHAT AM I GOING TO DO? Who’s going to hire me? What job do I even want? What if I hate it? Why am I so hard on poor Peso, who just loves what he does and doesn’t apologise for it??!?”
By the time I had finished hyperventilating in my mind the creature report was over, the theme song was playing and four beady little eyes stared expectantly at me from behind the kitchen bench.
“Mummy? It’s time to go!”
Gradually I calmed myself down and put some actual thought into what I wanted to do. Day by day my vision became less fuzzy. I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do. That was something. So I trawled through the local papers and job sites and applied for everything that wasn’t that. And I got some interviews and some rejections. Those hurt, but I’m not arrogant enough to think that I am the best possible candidate for every single job I apply for. I was moving. Getting somewhere, and for a while that was enough.
Of course, before my first interview I had another slightly less minor freak out. This time we were in the car singing along to – you guessed it – the Frozen sound track. As if I ever get to listen to anything else. And I realised something profound. I would be able to listen to Pearl Jam in the car when I finally got a job. I could listen to whatever I wanted to in the car on the way to work! I wondered how I would go driving in high heels. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t have any heels. Or any decent shoes other than ballet flats. Was that too casual? WHAT THE HELL DO I WEAR TO AN INTERVIEW???!!? How much has fashion changed in the last five years since I stopped buying clothes for myself? Do I absolutely have to wear heels? Is workplace casual a real style or does that just mean I don’t need to wear a suit anymore? What if the kids get vegemite on my clothes? Why do Disney princesses always look so together? Not a breakfast stain in sight, always with the glass slippers and neatly coiffed hair…
“Mummy again!!” As I listened to Let it Go for the fifth time in a row the words finally sunk in and my panic subsided. They are not hiring a Disney Princess. They probably don’t care too much what you wear in the interview. Work it out on a case by case basis. It will be okay. Let it go. And eventually, I did.
And eventually I got a job. I was thrilled when I got the news. I called the pre-school straight away to confirm new child care arrangements. I mentally walked through everything in my head as I prepared. Plan by plan, the finality and permanency of the situation sunk in. And then I had a real freak out.
Luckily I was alone in the laundry at the time, but the fear gripped me like a vice. I had to sit down to concentrate entirely on this enormous psychological change that was about to befall my family.
I was leaving my babies.
I was going back to work.
I was abandoning them.
Okay, some context. I wasn’t really abandoning them at all. In fact their lives would change very little as I was able to fit my hours almost perfectly into their pre-school hours. Just an hour or so extra each day. So why was I panicking? It made no sense. I had actually worked for the first year and a half of my son’s life. I’d worked long hours. I’d owned my own business – I actually held a quick teleconference when I was in labour with him. Not only would their world hardly change at all, but I had done this before. So why was I panicking? Why did I feel as though they would feel abandoned?
In the end it’s not that complicated. Being a working Mum is not that different to being a fulltime mum – or stay at home mum, (I like this term less because I am rarely at home when I look after my kids. We would all go insane.) Whatever you are doing, you do what needs to be done. You get comfortable in one context, then life changes and throws another one at you. And you cope. Just like the first time I was hit with a poo-nami; projectile poo all over the walls. It’s not a familiar situation, nor is it necessarily something I knew how to do. But I coped because I was confident I could adjust. And eventually I did.
The freak outs were probably normal but completely unnecessary, and in truth I learned something about myself. I am capable. If I can take care of two pre -schoolers and not lose my mind – or even only temporarily misplace it once in a while – I can do this. It is a change, but that’s one of the great things about life. Things change and new traditions, routines and day to day habits are built. Mums are made to adapt to their surroundings, but we are also made to question our instincts and evaluate the potential outcomes for our children.
I am a gifted multitasker purely by virtue of the fact that I have taken care of myself and at least one other human for the last four and a half years. Compared to that, bank recs, high heels and peak hour traffic may not be a piece of cake but they are definitely doable. Whatever we do as mother’s we almost always do it with the welfare of our children in mind. It’s not easy to learn to live with second guessing ourselves but we do. Nothing is scarier than actually becoming a parent for the first time, and so I say with confidence that I can do this. Until life next throws me a curve ball. Then I will choose whether I duck or hit the ball out of the park.