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.

From Prada to Poo: The joys of being a fat and unfashionable new mum

If you’d asked me 12 months ago to describe myself in ‘elevator talk’ I would’ve said, “I’m a successful communications manager working in the health sector. I love travelling the world, splurging on $260 face cream and pouring myself into a taxi after too many mojitos.” I would happily debate the merits of BB creams vs. foundations, squatted till my glutes screamed to fit into skinny jeans and knew all about my hairdresser’s unfaithful ex. Between my job, social life, studying for my Masters degree and performing in the odd amateur musical, I never sat down and got off on thrill of meeting deadlines and celebrating successes.

Fast forward 12 months, one baby and 17 kilos and my life would take a broken elevator with a tardy repairman to describe.

As a previously fashion conscious compulsive shopper, I’m currently sitting at my computer in a mismatched tracksuit covered in breast milk, saliva and a blob of something that after a quick ‘scratch and sniff’ test is identified as regurgitated pumpkin. I used to fit into a size 28 jeans, now that’s my BMI. The last piece of jewellery I bought was a Baltic amber teething necklace and this Summer I’ll be chaffing in shorts fastened with a hair band thanks to my new tummy that hangs over my c-section scar like a zebra print moonbag. My mascara has coagulated past its use by date and my eyebrow plucker has cashed in its super and commenced an early retirement.

After eight months on maternity leave I don’t know if or when I’ll return to my previously satisfying job. Could I leave my gorgeous baby boy in the care of strangers while I fiddle with marketing plans and Photoshop double chins? I’m not sure. My role has been snapped up by a 20-something year old who is willing and able to spend 60 hours a week tied to her desk at the mercy of the constantly shrinking deadline. Would the executive group want to trade her in for a part-timer who’ll be doing the childcare dash at 4.30pm every afternoon? I doubt it. Search part-time marketing and communications roles on Seek and you don’t even need to scroll, a reduction in work hours brings up a short list of assistant roles paying less than a nugget fryer at Maccas. After years of fighting for promotions and working through weekends, I’ve stepped off the career escalator for a while and my bank balance is currently in debit of 86c.

Late nights socialising with friends and performing in sometimes dodgy theatre productions have become cosy nights in, dreaming up different accents for Mr Rubber Ducky, and singing Wallace the Wondrous Warthog to an audience of one. I go to bed at 8.30pm knowing I’ll be up at 12, 3 and 5 to nurse or cuddle and sometimes swear. My Masters, which I planned to finish at the end of this year, may take another five and I haven’t seen or heard from most of my gay mates as suburban mums with muffin top aren’t the trendiest club companions.

While I’d love to say that I still read three novels a month and am able to come up with witty one-liners and unique cultural observations, my bedside table is now piled with books on sleep training and last week I forgot how to spell “yoghurt”. I haven’t said anything remotely amusing since last November and when I hear myself talk about nappy contents and baby-led weaning, I start to wonder why no one has offered me a job as an aural anaesthetist.

I’m grateful that my husband and I travelled extensively as newlyweds because ever since flying to South Africa with a five-month-old, I’ve been Googling “self lobotomy” to rid my brain of the memory. I know Christmas in New York is lovely, but we’ll be spending the next 18 December’s in either Ballarat, Creswick or Geelong.

Now before the smoke starts rising from the keyboards of mummy trolls, let me say that I wouldn’t change a thing. Sticking my post-coital legs in the air for eights months was the best decision I ever made. My gorgeous little chicken-legged cherub has crept into deepest crevices of my heart and made my life fuller than I ever imagined it could be. Sure I’m fat and unfashionable and I haven’t waxed my legs in eight weeks, my career is in the toilet and a new grey hair just sprung up to say “Hi, you’re old”, but I’m the best goddamn frog impersonator in Melbourne and my little man thinks I’m Miranda Kerr. So if you ask me to describe myself between the Ground Floor and Level 2, I may just say, “I’m a new mum” and leave it at that. Because for now, that’s more than enough.

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