Today I taught myself how to play the Star Wars theme on a brightly coloured xylophone for babies.
I used to solve complex problems for businesses, now I crawl around public spaces entertaining my son. I don’t apologise, I’m not embarrassed, I love it and I can’t imagine my life without my son.
But sometimes I miss who I used to be and the sense of achievement that came along with my working life.
I miss my mind the most.
The longer my year of parental leave goes on, the more I wonder whether I am capable of working again, whether my brain will return and with it the ability to string together a coherent sentence not associated with babies.
I’m a consultant. My job is to understand clients and solve problems. But when my son came along I found myself with a ‘client’ whose language I couldn’t understand and whose problems I couldn’t always solve. Or if I solved them today, they would be right back again the day after.
Tired and sleep-deprived, I felt like a failure so many times. Why can’t I do this when usually I am so very capable?
This parental leave year has challenged me in ways I didn’t think possible. I’d heard parenthood is the hardest thing you can do. There was no way I could really understand what that really meant until I was in it, knee deep in baby wipes, hours into another crying episode, days into dreadful feelings of regret that I’d made a horrible mistake.
So much is different…
- Life is at a slower pace: I used to be the person walking at breakneck speed through the city, in and out of other pedestrians, getting things done, many things, efficiently, purposefully, working and walking quickly, always quickly. Now I wait for the lift with a pram, I meander around the streets to point out small details to my son, I even get places an early because it fits better with nap time.
- My independence: I am fiercely independent, I pride myself on my self sufficiency and identity as a whole person. Then I was rejected from a credit card application. Understandable, I have no income now until I return to work. My husband applied at the same time and was approved with a sizeable limit. I am lucky that we have an income, but it hurt to realise I am officially dependent upon someone else.
- Change all around: There are physical changes that continue well beyond the 6 week check up. Nobody tells you about the myriad of ailments you may suffer for the following year, maybe forever. That your clothes don’t hang the same on you, and you don’t want to wear them anyway because your tastes have changed.
I am preparing to return to work in a few weeks having had a life changing event, but work will be the same and I expect it will feel a bit surreal.
After all this time spent with nappies and baby xylophones, I have been questioning whether I am fit for work at all, will anyone still want me?
However on reflection, I realise I can use the new perspective my parental leave has given me. Is faster always better? Don’t we all need a team, someone to rely on? If I have changed, maybe so have others?
Mixed with trepidation is excitement to carve out a space for myself in the world again, to take on the challenges of work and being a parent. Work will be fine because, after all, isn’t parenting meant to be the hardest job you can do?!
Peoplecorp is very aware of the challenges facing working mums. If you have experiences to share or can suggest helpful ways work could be more supportive then please email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org as they may be useful to share in a future article.