My children are now 6 and 8—and are two years and two days apart in age. I always hoped to have children and feel extremely lucky to have them. Since I enjoyed my work I always planned to carry on working after my maternity leave finished.
Prior to having children, I didn’t really have any interest in the maternity policies at work. I just wasn’t at that stage of my life. Once I was ready to start a family, I realized that both the UK and my employer had great policies to support this. I am fortunate to have had one year’s maternity leave. The UK's generous policy meant that I was able to dedicate the first year of my children’s lives to them and family matters. This period really helped me get used to being a parent without having to think about work at the same time.
I will always value that time. I knew people around me who were facing difficult choices about having to return back to work after a shorter period or whose companies did not welcome them back. I knew I always wanted to go back to work—my mindset was always that I needed to at least go back and try to give it a go. My career was too important not to. Also after a year, I felt I needed to get back into the workplace to focus on things other than “baby” and prove to myself I could be both a parent and successful at work.
My company supported my part-time request. Prior to coming back, I had a few meetings to discuss role opportunities, and the support of my career counselor was great. I was nervous about coming back. I questioned myself: “Can I still do this? What if I am no longer good at what I do?”
But once I was back, I realized things were still the same, I still had the skills; I was still the same person. I just had additional responsibilities now. I was proactive and quickly got back into the swing of things and reintroduced myself to the team.
During the last eight years, depending on the project I have worked on, I have been able to change from part-time to full-time on multiple occasions. I have always set expectations with my projects and leadership team about my family commitments. On a few occasions, I found myself working full-time hours cramped into three days and late evenings and working every hour possible as to not impact my time with the children. That was exhausting, and it was soon clear I couldn’t carry on like that. Together with my family and management, we decided either I needed to get more childcare support or more support at work, so I could spread the workload and work better hours.
My advice is try to find a balance. It’s never going to be perfect. You will always find you don’t have enough time but find a solution that works for you and your family. Also set expectations with your management team so that they know your demands outside of work so they, too, can be supportive.
I also believe it’s important to stop feeling guilty. As a new working mother, I would feel guilty all the time either for not being with my children enough or not working more. Don’t beat yourself up. You can only do what you can—make your time at work productive, set expectations but deliver on your commitments and make sure you have strong childcare arrangements in place that support you and allow you to do your job successfully. Take each week as it comes. There are always surprises and events you can’t control and remember you can only do your best.