To put this answer into context, I have to explain a little about my experience of having children. Getting pregnant wasn’t as straightforward as I’d imagined. In summary, it took 5 years and involved several rounds of IVF.
I’m very open about it all because I’m profoundly grateful for the science and care which eventually made me a parent to my most treasured children. So when I’ve been asked about what it’s like to return to work after having children, for me it’s a mixed bag of powerful emotions.
Life before having kids
I invested heavily in my career before starting a family. I really enjoy working, figuring out problems, meeting people, and designing solutions. The pattern of having a job suits me too. I also invested heavily in my social life and had the privilege to travel and socialise widely.
But my head was turned by the prospect of becoming a mum and then became fully immersed in the struggle to conceive. So I felt a huge commitment to being a present parent. It’s hard to say whether I would have been a different kind of parent if the journey was easier. I can say for certain that IVF certainly felt, in retrospect, like some kind of endurance training for the resolve and patience required for sleepless nights and tricky parenting situations.
What being a parent has taught me
Through my children, I’ve had many adventures and learned many hacks. I got to see other parts of life while on maternity leave and I got to speak to a range of people who I’d rarely crossed paths with before when I’d been in an office.
I felt like I was getting new enlightening experiences about life and community on top of learning to be a parent. It was fascinating. I’ve also learnt a lot about Lego, Peppa Pig, Star Wars, breastfeeding, nutrition, the human body, and how to cope with the lack of sleep.
All in all, it’s been amazing and rewarding. Yet a bit of my brain yearned for something else to think about. I also worried that my professional value was diminishing over time with how quickly technology develops. I still wanted to be a present parent so I concluded that part time working would suit while my youngest child wasn’t at school.
Looking for flexibility
Having made this decision, I knew that it would limit the kind of roles I could apply for. I expected that some of my old employers would be open to taking me on in a flexible, part time way. I didn’t expect that an entirely new organisation would though. It’s been exciting and humbling to learn that dxw were such an organisation.
It would be remiss not to be straight and say it’s not always a walk in the park. I often end my days with messy clothes and hair and feel quite bedraggled. So another observation of working is the pleasure of wearing clean clothes and looking less like a troop of monkeys has just used me as a climbing frame. I’m also enjoying drinking tea while it’s hot, having uninterrupted adult conversations, and solo toilet visits.
Finding somewhere that suits my needs
At dxw, I love the values, the sharing, the openness, and kindness. I feel proud of the intent to work for the “public good”. Adding 2 extra humans to society has made me all the more intent to make society a better place.
I’m impressed by the diversity of work that we do and the skills that we have. It makes me want to learn more new things. And I think I’ve just about got my head around the tools that we use here like Slack, Miro, Trello, and 1Password.
It took a while to think quickly again and be comfortable with all the applications. It’s getting better now that I’ve been here for 4 months but that’s only really 32 days for me. The instinct to problem solve and look for business development opportunities came back eventually and is now flowing much more easily.
I’m currently working on my first billable project and also championing some exploratory work in the charity sector, the Scottish public sector, and the digital health sector. I’m finding it all really interesting. Confidence levels can have pendulum swinging moments at times. But I find the value of openness at dxw means I can raise a hand and say, “I don’t get this …” or “Can anyone help with…” I’ve been reflecting often on how that just wouldn’t have been acceptable at some previous jobs. I feel like investing in people is at dxw’s core and loyalty is a two way street.
Getting out the door in the morning
Since my professional career went on pause when my son (who’s nearly 5) was born, I’ve gone from a situation where it was a reasonable effort to get two professional people ready and out of the house on time, to a situation where there are now 4 of us. 2 of them have no interest in the urgency and can be downright uncooperative. It’s a struggle, make no mistake!
We’re getting savvy to incentives, short cuts, paying for tickets on the train, and wearing fast shoes to walk in. All this kind of stuff has been a learning curve too. Some of it’s exciting and rewarding but sometimes it’s super stressful and upsetting.
Squeezing it all in over 2 days
2 days a week really suits my family commitments at the moment but I worry that it may not be enough for dxw. It’s actually hard to do much in just 2 days. After meetings and admin, there really isn’t a lot of time left. Added to that it feels like a really long time in between those 2 days. Continuity can get strained and tasks can take literally weeks to complete.
After some discussions with the team, we agreed that I could spread my contracted 14 working hours a week, so that I don’t confine them all to just 2 days. Instead it’s now working out that I average 1.5 hours on a Tuesday and Thursday and then 5.5 hours on Wednesday and Friday. I find this gives me the opportunity to check Slack and emails and to do small tasks on shorter days. I can then respond to important things on my longer days. It’s really working for me and also means that I have some additional flexibility over commuting times and nursery and school drop offs.
Even though this new arrangement feels better and I feel more connected to work and colleagues, I’m still aware that 2 days isn’t that “sellable” to clients. So I proposed that I look at job share scenarios, where my 2 days could contribute to a single role, while 1 or 2 colleagues make up the other required days. We’re currently trialling this with one of our clients.
To the people who’ve helped me so far
There’s some people that I want to thank. Coca, our Director of Strategy and Service Design, has been so encouraging and open. She’s invested time with me to figure out how to make it work despite being super busy. Sharon, our Transformation Manager in Leeds, has been my solid buddy. She’s provided professional direction and personal support to get me off the ground and off to a good start.
I’m also thankful to Clare, our Director of Delivery, and Dave, our MD, who’ve given my involvement in the Returners’ Programme their support and sponsorship from the start. It’s a brave step to offer this much flexibility and see value in unconventional approaches to staffing.
I want to say to other parents: I get it
I often find myself thinking that I want to go back to all my old colleagues who were also parents. I’d like to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were doing all of this stuff in the background, on hardly any sleep, and possibly quietly worrying about your children while at work. I get it now and I salute you.”
Until my daughter’s a little older, I hope I can continue to add value for 2 days a week. In the meantime, I hope that we can figure out the job share thing to everyone’s advantage so that I can add as much value as possible.
And I’m always happy to chat about fertility, IVF, parenting, and returning to work so please get in touch and share your thoughts with me.