I went back to work when Monkey was 4months old… and she started crèche at the age of 5months… I thought it would kill me… but I am so grateful to the wonderful HIM (my amazing husband and her world-class father) who was Daddy Day care for the first month and spends weekday afternoons with her now.
I still feel guilty about trying to be both working woman and mommy (not to mention all the other titles – wife, daughter, friend)… and I can’t tell you if working versus full-time mommy is better – I can only share my own advice & opinion on what has helped me when I went back to work! So here it is…
- Find a good crèche – first things first, you wont feel comfortable heading back to the office until you have found a crèche! The difficult thing in Brussels (Belgium) is that you are expected to put your name onto their waiting lists when you are still pregnant! And most of the crèches will respond that they don’t have a place available at that moment and you will need to call them each month to check (otherwise your name falls off the waiting list). We were lucky…we found a place 200m from our house that is open from 7.30am (half an hour earlier than most) and allows for Monkey to attend only half-day (she then spends afternoons with her Papa). Monkey seems happy enough to be handed over in the mornings and was introduced to solids at lunchtime there – so far I can’t complain. Sending her to crèche at the age of 5months was difficult for me to swallow – plus the knock to her immune system has been huge – BUT on the plus side, she has definitely learnt to be more independent when it comes to play time and I am aware that all the “floor licking” she has done will only strengthen her immune system in the long run (or at least, this is what I tell myself). Read my love/hate relationship with Monkey attending crèche here.
- Set a *hard stop time* – mine is 5pm, no matter what, I leave the office at 5pm. If something is urgent and can’t wait until the morning, it has to wait until Monkey is in bed and asleep (after 7/8pm) but because I am at the office around 8am each morning – most things can normally wait until then!
- Negotiate flexibility – my boss has been flexible and understanding enough to allow me to work from home one day a week when HIM needs to leave early to start his job (he works in a restaurant at night) and she understands that I need to leave at 5pm latest. The plus side is that during the day, HIM does the clinic visits with Monkey and has handled most other things, so I haven’t had to rush from the office during working hours to do this. (Yes – he is a saint!) – and I make sure that when I am at work – I am at work (mentally)… as much as is humanly possible of course.
- Dedicated Monkey time – as I pretty much only have early mornings & evenings with Monkey during the week, I try to make this *quality time*. The moment I walk through the door (just after 5pm), we have play time, followed by feeding (as she started solids at 6months), then we look at some books, have a bath, give her a final bottle and into bed – which normally takes me to about 7/7.30pm. Then do I only start thinking about household chores (laundry, cooking, etc) – it makes life tiring sometimes, BUT in the end, I feel like I dedicated full attention time to Monkey.
- I keep a mini make-up bag in my handbag now… I apply my make-up at my desk (shoo- don’t tell my colleagues) before any of them are even there! This works for me as I get to the office around 8am – and while my first reports are running, I manage to apply a bit of eyeliner & mascara to feel a bit more “human” as I really don’t have time in the morning at home as I am getting Monkey ready for crèche, sorting out/cleaning the previous nights bottles, my own packed lunch, etc etc.
- Delegate & prioritize – this is one that I am horribly guilty of not fully implementing in my own home. BUT it is possible for both Mommy or Papa to hang/fold the laundry or do the dishes. Having said that – in our home – HIM normally takes charge of washing dishes, making Monkey’s food (a weeks worth), taking out the garbage and occasionally cooking. While I am quite OCD about the way laundry is washed & hang, I maintain this chore along with most of the cooking, tidying up. ALSO – we have a cleaning lady for 3hr each week – thanks to her, the linen & towels are changed, the house vacuumed and all surfaces washed & scrubbed – something that I would definitely NOT have time for and worth the 27€/week in Titre Service vouchers!
- Don’t feel guilty about the easy outs (aka online grocery shopping or having dinner delivered) – you wont get scurvy because you ate toast & jam for 2 nights in a row because you were too tired to cook a proper dinner after a full day of working at the office and then a good portion of the early evening being mommy (followed by household chores). You can read more about my favourite online grocery & restaurant delivery services here.
- Cook enough for a few days – on the days that you do have the energy, use the “cook once, eat twice” concept. I make a big pot of mince –the first servings are with spaghetti, the next portion gets turned into moussaka or sometimes cottage pie. A chilli con carne lasts for a few meals and of course soup – because it is easy to pop a container in the freezer for another day. (Even though our freezer is the size of the shoe box – there is always something in there that can be defrosted). The same when it comes to making Monkey’s food – I cook enough to last a week – individual portions are frozen and are taken out the freezer to defrost each morning.
- Ask for help – call someone… anyone who could help you out for 30minutes (or more) – it could be your partner, family member, friend or even a babysitter. You can’t be everything to everyone … and not give yourself a few moments! Even if it means having a long bubble bath with a book (and the bathroom door closed) while Papa does some entertaining. I felt horribly guilty when HIM used to get up at 4am to do a feed, especially since he only got home around 1am – but now I realise that I can’t do everything and when he does these 4am feeds, he is giving me a few more moments of shut eye and I am grateful – we both work and we are both in this together. We are yet to actually do this (except when my mom was around) but the plan is to start having a life again… sometime in the future 🙂
- Don’t be so hard on yourself – you are doing great! You really are! Sometimes we need to remind ourselves how well we are doing – maintaining work/life balance, being employee (sometimes boss); mother; wife; friend; daughter; etc… There are still days that I feel that I am not coping and then there are other days where I am just so content with my lot in life that my heart feels like it is ready to burst with love and gratefulness! When the days are bad… remember that “this too shall pass” (cliché, I know – but oh so true!)