To my friend, on the eve of going back to work.
I don’t want to scare you, but this thing you are about to do, going back to work, this is will be your hardest parenting moment so far.
I don’t just mean the logistics of it, even though they are hard, I mean e-veh-ree-thing about going back to work will feel impossible at one point.
It feels like both a lifetime, and an eye blink ago that I left my first born to go back to corporate life. We had taken the decision to be a one wage family. We knew it would involve some belt tightening, some rejigging of priorities, and a near daily confrontation with other people’s expectations, but it was the only choice we had.
When Alfie was 9 weeks old, I went back to work full time, and Keith became his primary carer.
I remember my alarm going off that first morning, and my eyes feeling a hundred times more scratchy than they ever had before. I didn’t have the luxury of hitting snooze after this bad night, and my duvet felt like concrete as I forced it aside. I didn’t want to be doing this, it was too soon, I wasn’t ready.
In hindsight, I would never have been ready.
I dressed carefully and left early, scared that I would be late, that I would walk in with baby puke down my back, or an unseen piece of rusk in my hair. It felt important that I showed everyone how little motherhood had changed me, that I was still the serious professional I had always been.
I don’t think I fooled anyone, although, for a time, I managed to fool myself.
It felt natural for a manager, such as me, to try and organise my way through the emotional turmoil I was feeling. I left lists, I sent texts, I arranged play dates and appointments. It was a tiny thread of connection between me and my baby that I held on to as if I were drowning, even though it frustrated the hell out of Keith.
It was never about control or about trust, I just wasn’t ready to become an also-ran in my child’s life.
And I did. Because the time came, when Alfie ran crying into Keith’s arms instead of mine, and I felt like my heart was going to stop. The moment arrived when I had to look to Keith to translate Alfie’s toddler babbles and I felt like an absentee parent. The hated foods, the favourite toys, the latest songs, came and went while I was always a step behind. And it hurt.
Because I was caught between two worlds, always feeling like I was failing at least one of them.
I loved my job, and I wanted to succeed, but it felt hollow compared to being with my baby. I wanted to be in the meetings, but I would be constantly aware of the growing ache that signalled it was time to express. I wanted to write my reports, but my eye would keep tracking to my mail, waiting for the next update from home.
I was neither here, nor there.
If you feel any of these things, I want you to know that it will get easier.
Be kind to yourself in those first weeks and months, because this thing you do is going to be hard.
You will survive it.
Your will go to work with odd shoes.
You will forget your lunch.
You will miss deadlines.
You will accidentally copy type the lyrics to a nursery rhyme because you are so bone tired you can’t think.
You will spill expressed milk.
You will cry over it.
You will go home and scoop up your child and breathe him in like you haven’t seen him for a year.
And you will ache all over again when you have to do it again the next day.