Returning to work post Hugh – the challenges of being a part-timer

In early July, I returned to work after 12 months maternity leave. I was lucky that my workplace created a part-time role for me because working full-time, studying and raising two kids under 2.5 would have most certainly sent me towards a Britney-style breakdown.

As this was my second return to work rodeo, I decided not to waste my time wallowing in mummy guilt. With house renovations nearly complete and a massive mortgage, I need to contribute to the family budget. I also love my job. My career ambitions coexist with my desire to cram as many toddler cuddles as possible into 24 hours and I’ve (almost) made peace with that.

I knew I’d cry the whole drive to work on my first day back. I knew I would call my mother-in-law 14 times to hear my children’s voices and make sure they’d eaten breakfast/done a poo/had a nap. What I didn’t realise is how much my identity and approach to work would change.

While part-time work is great in aiding work-life balance, it also poses a lot of challenges for new mums. It can be hard to stay relevant as people often view you as the “mummy part-timer” rather than a hard-working, ambitious, kick-arse professional who also happens to be a mum.

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At home I love being covered in Playdoh and snot handprints, watching the same Paw Patrol episode 45 times and doing energetic performances of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. But at work, I want to be the “career me”, the one who knows her stuff and is a valuable asset to the organisation. I don’t want to spend my part-time years caught in corridor conversations that never extend beyond how I’m going to lose all my baby weight and whether I’m going to try for a girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love that everyone asks about the boys. But I also want my colleagues to ask about the projects I’m working on or ask my opinion on things like they used to.

Yes, I know I have gone from managing a team of five and a large budget to managing no-one and having to put in a request for a pack of post-its but I’m still the same person, with the same knowledge and experience.Yes, I may be sleep-deprived and craving a cuddle, but I know my shit.

I know what you’re thinking, quit bitching and do something about it. You’re right. So I’ve started inviting myself to some senior management meetings and I’ve made sure I start up work conversations armed with a heap of research and knowledge. Yes, I may be sleep-deprived and craving a cuddle, but I know my shit.

Another challenge I’ve faced is going from someone willing to work at all hours of the day and night to someone who places strict boundaries on work-time and mum-time. On the two days that I’m home with my kids, I don’t respond to work emails and I stay away from my laptop. I want to be present when my two-and-a-half-year-old creates another fridge-magnet-worthy artwork or covers his brother in stickers, instead of responding to meeting invites and mentally adding to my to-do list.

Part-time work is great but it also comes at a price. Watching less experienced people on the career trajectory you once envisioned can feel like a punch in the gut. Would I exchange the days at home with my kids for a less stagnant career? Absolutely not. So for the next few years I plan to take it as it comes, work my breastfeeding bosoms off and become the best version of my working mum self. I’m a kick-arse part-timer. I’m also a mum.

Hear me roar.

Letting go of tutus and tiaras

WARNING: This post contains gender stereotyping on a grand scale.

I never had any doubt about wanting children. As a little girl I would cradle my freakishly life-like porcelain doll, rock her to sleep and imagine one day being a Mum.

I’ve always been a massive girly girl. My Barbie collection was epic. Not only did I have the entire Barbie and the Rockers get-up (all band members plus stage, tour bus and instruments), I had Hawaiian Barbie, Ken and Skipper along with a custom Barbie beach buggie and a random Barbie horse on wheels. Despite being mildly pigeon-toed, I donned a pink leotard for ballet classes and stored my enviable hair accessories collection in a tin covered in Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake stickers.

So it’s no surprise that in all of my imaginings, I would one day have a daughter who loved My Little Ponys and shared my ethos of ‘more is more’ when it comes to tulle, bows and sequins.

Barbie and the Rockers

When I met Lachlan my desire for kids grew even stronger. It was only when I saw him rough-housing his nephew that I started to think how great it would be for us to have a son. You see my husband is half-bogan – he loves footy, car-racing, Melbourne Bitter longnecks and is disturbingly attached to his Bintang singlet and knee high custom made ugg boots. Yes I know some girls love camping out on the hill at Bathurst and happily deliver their AGB in toilet blocks that smell like fermented meat-heavy faeces but if a girl had half my DNA, her penchant for UDLs, arm tatts and polyester would be severely compromised.

So my new baby dream was to have the perfect pigeon pair – a boy that could help Lachlan wax his 1964 EH Holden, and a girl that I could hit the Boxing Day sales with.

We were half way there when I delivered our gorgeous little Moo in January 2013. When he arrived in all of his magnificent, howling glory, we were overjoyed. As the months rolled on I discovered that I loved being a ‘boy mama’ – Moo’s increasingly adventurous and fearless spirit entertained me more and more every day and the clothing selection on offer was surprisingly cute and varied. He became my little mischievous prince with the most affectionate and loving nature.

In late 2013 we got the shock of our lives when I found out I was expecting again. Lach was convinced we were having a little girl but I was 75% sure from day dot that another little mister was on the way. At our 20-week ultrasound my intuition was confirmed. Was there a feeling of disappointment when the technician pointed to a doodle? Yes, but it had nothing to do with not wanting another little boy and everything to do with mourning the daughter we will never have.

I gave myself a few hours to let her go and face those feelings that we are never allowed to admit to for fear of being labeled unappreciative. I thought about the ballet lessons I will never take her to, the curls I will never brush and braid and the wedding dress I will never help her pick. Then, after saying goodbye to my little ‘Eva’ (she was going to be named after my maternal grandmother), I focused on the beautiful little soul in my belly and I started to feel excited about all the adventures we would face together.

I also thought about how lucky we are to have conceived two magnificent boys naturally despite being given only a 5-10% chance. I thought about all the people struggling to conceive and all the women who desperately want children but whose life stories have veered in a different direction. And I thought of all the joy my Moo had brought me over the previous year and a bit.

When Hughie arrived on 29 July, I couldn’t imagine wanting anything other than another little man to love. Every week a stranger or a friend says, “You’ll have to have a third, go for the girl!” and I smile and say, “No, we are done. I am incredibly happy with my two boys.” And I mean it.