Balancing babies, COVID-19 and a career - returning to work after a pandemic maternity leave
April 2021 marked my return to work, as Head of Content at The International Bunch, following nine months of maternity leave. Coming back to work after having a baby is a huge shift for anyone, and managing all of this during a global pandemic adds extra challenges. Parents around the world are coming to grips with balancing children, careers and the demands associated with COVID-19, so I wanted to share my experiences and tips in the hope that they might provide some guidance and/or solidarity along the way.
Communication is key
I am lucky enough to have an amazing boss who values the commitments that her team have outside of work - thanks Lou!! In all seriousness though, not everyone has a boss who is approachable and flexible, so making sure you can balance all your commitments can be a real challenge when you have a rigid work timetable to stick to. I had regular calls with Lou during my maternity leave to discuss potential working hours and it was great to be able to find a flexible schedule that worked for both of us.
Top tip: imagine your ideal work schedule and how it would fit with your other commitments – can you design a potential timetable and present it to your boss? Show them that you can make it work and they should be accommodating.
Explore all your options
With an increase in home working and flexible work schedules over the past 18 months, balancing work and family can look very different to the traditional expectations. Six years ago when I had my first daughter, I felt like the only option was to return to the office and place Olivia in a nursery for full days. This is still an option for many and it can work really well, but I find there are now more options to choose from if you want to try something different. We wanted to have Lucy at home to enable me to carry on breastfeeding, and to reduce the amount of contact she would have with large numbers of people, as Olivia has a pre-existing chest condition and we want to do all we can to avoid exposing her to COVID-19.
We now have a parental assistant who comes to the house when I am working. She has an amazing bond with Lucy, my youngest, and they play and do the housework whilst I focus on my work in the upstairs office. This means I can still breastfeed Lucy during the day which is great, and it works out more cost-effective than a full-time nursery. I love getting pictures during the day of all the fun Lucy is having downstairs!
Top tip: check out sites like Childcare.co.uk, Bubble and Tinies to find out the cost of a nanny or parental assistant in your area. It might be a cost effective way to have childcare at your own home.
Recognize the challenges
Returning to work is a big change for the whole family, and for some people, change can be a challenge. For me, I knew I would feel more in control of our new daily routine if I could see it laid out visually – so we now have a family planner with a schedule line for each person in the family. That way I can see at a glance what is happening for everyone in the week.
If you do decide to have childcare at home and work at home, it is important to recognize that you need space to focus and that you might sometimes feel distracted by the activity in the house. I know for me that hearing Lucy crying is very triggering when I am focusing on work, so I schedule breaks to feed her and our parental assistant knows she can pop up to say a quick hello when she needs to. Luckily, now she is settling into it all, she’s generally very happy to be playing downstairs in between feeds.
Top tip: don’t feel bad if you have a tricky day – balancing family commitments and work is different every day. Recognize what isn’t working and make small changes to make things easier.
Celebrate your silver linings
Although returning to work will come with challenges, it’s important to celebrate the good stuff too! I feel very fortunate that I have a job I love, using the skills I have developed over the last 13 years in publishing and marketing. It is an added bonus that I can do this from home, with flexible hours to allow me to collect my eldest from school and have lots of family time.
I work two evenings a week and really relish the peace and quiet to just focus when the house is quiet, and this means I still have one week day that is just me and Lucy, for some key bonding time.
Top tip: congratulate yourself on the small things – getting a project handed in on time, having time to sit down for a family dinner, making time to get out for a walk when you can – little things that make a big difference.