Today I met with my beautiful friend from mother’s group, Belinda Bullas. It is one of Belinda’s non work days and she has her two children at home with her. It’s a wet Melbourne spring day and Charlie is desperate to go outside. Gorgeous little Evie, is exhausted and is due for a sleep but you would never know. She happily sits and plays with her toys on the play mat before Belinda puts her down for a nap. Belinda and I sit at her kitchen table and exchange our latest motherhood stories. Toilet training (or lack thereof from my end), her son’s recent operation to have grommets put in and his speech progression. Multi-tasking, Belinda sets herself up on the floor and builds Lego towers with Charlie whilst she shares with me her return to work journey. But…. about three quarters of the way through my questions, I started experiencing some very familiar waves of intense back pain! Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I didn’t alarm Belinda and we kept on chatting. The pain became more frequent and painful. I was contracting! Knowing how quickly I came with my first, I didn’t want to take any chances. I left Belinda’s extremely quickly and very excited that it looked promising that things were starting to progress! But… for now, it looks like everything has slowed down again. I therefore have been able to work away this afternoon on Belinda’s story….
(Our new little man arrived exactly one week later on the 28th September 2016.)
Tell me about your family
My husband, Adam and I have been married for almost four years. Adam is an Aircraft Engineer. We have a two and half year old son, Charlie and a ten month old baby girl, Evie.
Charlie is a happy, affectionate, crazy little monkey that doesn’t stop. He absolutely adores his little sister. Evie on the other hand is calm, placid, content and quite happy to sit on the sidelines and just take it all in.
We are a happy, healthy, busy, hyperactive, crazy little family! Life is pretty perfect.
Your lifestyle and career before becoming a Mum looked like….
It’s hard to remember. I’d like to say that it’s the same but it’s not. I have worked in health promotion for the Stroke Foundation for over eight years. Previously, I worked full time and after maternity leave I returned to the same position but on a part-time basis.
My lifestyle was carefree and more social. I’m still social now but in a completely different perspective. I’m definitely not spontaneous anymore. When I do go out for dinner now, I LOVE it!
Children is something that Adam and I always wanted and we feel very lucky that our dreams are now reality. Life is pretty much perfect! We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tell me about your job and what you do
I am a Marketing Coordinator for health campaigns, covering all marketing mediums. I help develop and implement campaigns targeted towards stroke prevention. Predominantly, in the field of high blood pressure.
Have you returned to the same workplace? If yes, have you returned to the same position or a new role?
Yes, I have returned to the same workplace, the same position but I’m in a different team. However, I came back in a part-time capacity. After I had Charlie, I came back to work two days per week. I then increased to two days in the office and one day from home. When I returned from having Evie, I only wanted to work two days in the office.
I am incredibly fortunate that my employer has enabled me to essentially keep the same position. They willingly modified the role from a full time to a part-time position to accommodate for my new situation.
Was your employer accommodating and understanding to your new situation?
Absolutely! Not only did they accommodate for my position to become a part-time role but they also allow me to change my working days if either child is sick and I need to care for them. My hours are typically 9am to 5pm however there is flexibility if required.
Your biggest concerns and worries about going back to work were…..
Not being the primary carer for my children.
I went back to work when Evie was six months old. It was daunting to think that she wasn’t going to see me every day. I’m incredibly fortunate that my Mum looks after Evie for the two days when I’m at work. The concerns that I did have faded away very quickly.
Mum looked after Charlie in the beginning too. Which was fantastic! Again I didn’t have to worry about him settling into childcare. He did start going to childcare last year, just before Evie joined us. His transition from grandparent babysitting to childcare, was an issue in the beginning.
How do you juggle work and motherhood?
I just do! I’m naturally a very organised person, which certainly helps. I have an incredibly supportive family which includes, my parents, sister, in laws and my husband. My husband is a shift worker. At this point in our lives it is incredibly beneficial. He works an eight day fortnight. Four days on and four days off. His days do change but we know his schedule weeks in advance. Which is really helpful when it comes to planning childcare arrangements.
Organisation is really the key for our children, who thrive on routine. If Charlie knows what is coming, he is great!
My work days are Monday’s and Thursday’s. This works really well for our family. I have a two day and a three day gap in between each work day.
I also tend to never stop. Whenever the kids are sleeping, relaxing (ha!), eating meals I’m always doing something. Whether that be, cleaning, tidying, washing, cooking, meal preparation, or taking phone calls. I try and make the most of every minute.
What support structures do you have in place to help you throughout your week?
My husband, parents and sister. My sister has a little boy who is the same age as Evie so we call upon each other when we need to. Charlie began attending childcare two days per week in October last year. Prior to this he was being looked after by Mum.
I wanted Charlie to be in childcare at the time for social interaction, independence and to have time away from the family environment. We were also about to welcome our second child and I wanted a little space and time together with my newborn. I knew that I was going to go back to work when Evie was only six months so I wanted to enjoy every moment of our time together in the first few months.
Pending on Adam’s shifts, Mum and Adam share the childcare on my work days. Adam absolutely loves his one on one time with the kids!
What do you do if your children are sick on one of your work days?
It depends on how sick they are… If it is a work day for Adam and Mum is looking after Evie, she will take Charlie too. If they are incredibly sick, I will take a carers day. If I know it’s going to be short lived, I can switch my work days so I don’t have to take a day off.
How do you cope with sleepless nights when you have work the following day?
I’m lucky that both my bubs sleep really well. Sleepless nights generally took place when I was on maternity leave. With the exception being, when they are sick. We do go through phases with our toddler when he has bad nights but really, you just do what you need to do to get through! I don’t drink coffee but I do have lots of tea. I try and stay focussed and before you know it the day is over and it’s time for my glass of wine!
The biggest challenge of being a working Mum is…..
Trying to juggle everything as if you weren’t working. Tyring to be there for your kids when sometimes you can’t. Just keeping all the balls in the air!
In general, what aspects of being a Mum do you find challenging?
The never ending demands!
What time management secrets do you have up your sleeve?
Routine is key! I like knowing what’s coming. I therefore plan months in advance. I schedule childcare arrangements as soon as we know Adam’s roster. Our meals and food are well planned. I do one big shop for the week based on my meal plans.
I run lots of errands at lunchtime, when I’m in the office.
I’m very fortunate that if Mum or Adam is looking after Evie, they will also collect Charlie from Childcare. If Mum has both kids, she will feed and bath the children and prepare my dinner before I get home! I am one lucky Mum!
What skills or behaviours has motherhood taught you that you have been able to utilise back in the workforce?
Time management! I have always been organised but once you become a mother your ability to manage your time enters a whole new level.
At work, my role has moved from a full-time capacity to a part-time capacity and you are still expected to perform at a similar level. I don’t have the luxury of being able to work from home or on weekends so I have to manage my time efficiently and prioritise tasks accordingly.
If you look back at your working self before you became a Mum and compare yourself to the person you are today, do you think you have changed? If so, how and why?
Yes, I think I have changed. I am a lot more focussed when I am in the office compared to when I was working full time. I see it as – I have left my children for the day so I need to make it count.
Work is no longer my number one. That sounds negative but I don’t see it like that. I am very dedicated to getting the job done when I am in the office. I know, that in a couple of years, I may have the ability to increase my days or work longer hours. At this point in my life though, it’s about family, our kids and happiness in that regards.
What do you enjoy most about being a working Mum?
Having independence! Financially and individually. It allows me to have a couple of days a week away from the house and the kids. It’s wonderful! It gives me the chance to have conversations that don’t revolve around nappies, feeding and Lego. It allows me to quietly reflect, read a book (on my way to and from work) and work on something meaningful other than raising our family.
I don’t have emails coming to my phone. I did before I had the kids but I don’t now for obvious reasons. I don’t want to bring work home. I want to keep my work and family life separate.
How long did it take you to get into the “groove” of your new routine?
The first time, a good couple of months. The second time, only a couple of weeks.
How do you feel emotionally when you are work?
Tired yet refreshed! It has been a huge reassurance knowing that Charlie and Evie are with Mum. Even with day care, I have learnt that I need to trust the professionals. If there is ever an issue they will contact my husband or I.
Night time in your household looks like…….
Organised chaos! Because the kids have been brought up with a structured routine, Charlie certainly knows what to expect. Dinner, bath, pyjamas, stories and bed all happen within an hour for both of them.
When I have work the following day, I make sure that I have all of the kid’s clothes laid out the night before and our bags packed.
Mornings in your household look like…….
I get up first. Charlie might get up at a similar time. I will feed him breakfast. Put Fireman Sam on and rush around to try and get everything done within the space of a ten minute episode. I wake Evie up, get both children dressed, drop Charlie at childcare (hoping that there won’t be any tears), very quickly drop Evie at Mums, drive to the station and once I’m on the train I can breathe.
The best advice you have been given about motherhood is……..
Live in the moment., it really does go by so quickly. Enjoy your babies and trust your instincts!
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
Everything! She taught me how to be open-minded about new or different ways of doing things, rather than clinging to whatever parenting approach I’d idealised before reality set in. She taught me to be patient with a toddler – that tantrums eventually fade and you might as well laugh rather than cry! Most importantly though, she taught me that every cliché about motherhood is true! You will never do anything so hard and yet it be so gratifying.
How do you treat yourself?
A massage, a couple of hours alone time with hubby or a glass of wine. It is a treat in itself if I’m sitting on the couch, having cuddles with the babies and at that moment in time everyone is content.
What approach do you take to your own health and wellbeing…?
I try and eat well. I don’t exercise as much as I should. If I’ve got problems or concerns I talk it out with either my husband, Mum or my sister. I don’t know what I would do without them!
Charlie and Evie have taught you…….
To be happy and content about all the little things in life. They are beautiful little souls that most importantly teach me to stop and smell the roses and to love like nothing else. And of course, how to make (and destroy in Evie’s case!) a huge Lego tower!
Life as a working mother is…….
Busy but manageable. It’s part of life! And when I’m not working and with the kids, I make it count.
What do you think being a working Mum teaches your children?
That I have other things to do outside of the home. I hope that over time they learn to appreciate the value of hard work. And it’s not just Dad that needs to work – Mum and Dad are both equals.
What advice would you give to Mums who are about to start the return to work journey?
Accept that it’s coming and try not to dwell on it too much. Look at the positives of returning to work….some alone time, space to recharge the batteries and gaining some independence.
If you’re thinking about returning to work, do get in touch. I would love to help you return to work with confidence, to start achieving your career goals!