When I transitioned back to work after Sister-Bear I didn’t have a great experience – in hindsight it started my entrepreneurial journey so the experience wasn’t for not. However, when I transitioned back to work after Brother-Bear, the transition was a lot smoother even though I was already pregnant with Baby-Bear. The difference? My boss.
Now before I start in on this story, I want to stress how AMAZING both of my bosses were/are. I am thankful to have had each of them as mentors along the way and I absolutely ADORE them both. However, their leadership styles made my two transitions back to work very different. I highlight this because people automatically assume that because work isn’t the highlight of someone’s day that the boss is a terrible person; that isn’t always the case. In the case of Boss #1 in this story, they simply underestimated the difficulty moms face in transitioning back to work.
Boss #1 is a strong person who cares about staff like they are family which made school feel a lot like home. I used to spend all of my free time at school before I had kids because of how comfortable an environment we had. When I returned to work after my mat leave, I was plopped right back into the job and got started right away. While work hadn’t changed, I certainly had. Gone were the days of me staying 2 hours after work (I still arrived an hour early to get myself settled and stop crying), and gone were the days of me not utilizing sick days.
As soon as work was over, I would head out to pick up Sister-Bear from school. I was asked why my husband couldn’t pick her up one day and I was immediately irritated at the thought… I’m leaving because work is done and I miss my kid and I would like to see said kid for more than 30 minutes before bed.
Shortly after starting work the germs of school hit and boom, Sister-Bear was sick and continued to get sick periodically after. We’d mostly keep her in class because neither of us could be home with her and our parents are both young and still working. On days when she was super ill, we’d alternate days but even that was proving too difficult. Sister-Bear (and Brother-Bear who wasn’t born yet), go to the same Montessori school. Unluckily for me, their PD days don’t fall on the same days as ours, and while my husband works at the school they go to, just as I’m expected to be present on my PD days, he is expected to be at his too. This meant that whenever there was no school, I had to be home to watch my then 1-year-old. Boss #1 wasn’t too happy with this and one day pulled me into the office to have a pow-wow with me about it. I explained about Sister-Bear and was met with a “don’t you have anyone else that can watch her?” Um nope, seeing as how I’m her mother, I think I’m the primary caregiver. After that conversation, I felt really uncomfortable missing any more work and so when I asked Boss #1 if it was okay to take a sick day for a specialist appointment and didn’t get a yes, I skipped it and stayed extra late that day when my teaching partner took off early, leaving me to make sure the kids all got home safely (but that’s another story for another day).
One time, I expressed how difficult I was finding the transition back and was met with, “Other staff members have gone through the same thing and they have come out the other side so you can take comfort in knowing there are other moms on staff.” Inherently there is nothing wrong with this answer at all, it’s factual and definitely trying to comfort but as a mom struggling with postpartum emotions it just felt like a ‘suck it up, if they can you can too’ sentiment.
Boss #2 had the tough job of coming in to replace Boss #1 whom everyone loved but one of the first things Boss #2 said that really made the difference was that ‘family always comes first’ and that although we loved our jobs, that striking a balance between work and family is necessary in order to preserve our sanity and be great at what we do. Boss #2 was understanding and encouraged us to get involved in the school but also head home to spend time with our families.
One day I remember vividly, was the day after we found out that Brother-Bear had a condition named Gastroschisis. The news was absolutely devastating to me but because of my conversation with Boss #1, I didn’t feel like I could take a second sick day after I had already been off for an OB appointment. I walked into work like a zombie and and Boss #2 asked if everything was alright… cue waterworks. Boss #2 ushered me into their office and before I could even explain what was wrong, Boss #2 said, “Please let me know what I can do to help you out.” Those words meant the world to me and therein lies the distinct difference between Boss #1 and Boss #2… Boss #1 dismissed my feelings whereas Boss #1 validated my feelings. I felt understood and appreciated and it eased my fears about being at work.
I want to make clear that this isn’t the case for all women as some are ready to jump right back in without missing a beat. I also don’t want to further perpetuate the stereotype that women are emotionally fragile because understand this, having a child and then having to leave them all while continuing to work, keep house, and somehow manage to Netflix and chill shows more emotional fortitude than people can imagine.
And that’s all I have to say about that! (name that movie)
Are you returning to work after maternity leave? Read my 5 tips to help ease your back to work transition.