What no one tells you about going back to work part-time

If you’re planning to go back to work after your baby arrives, you’ll want to read this – by a writer who has chosen to remain anonymous, but has some important advice to share.

In my life before my baby I was pretty ambitious. I had a clear direction of where I wanted to go and I was well on my way there. Then I fell pregnant, and suddenly I was into the whole nesting thing, and I was so happy to finish up work and begin my new life as a mum. Secretly I was thinking that maybe I wouldn’t go back to work at all; maybe I’d be a SAHM…
Flash-forward a year and I knew the SAHM life was not for me—not at this point, anyway. I knew I needed something of my own, and I still wanted to work. Plus, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go back and give it a go. Add to that the bills stacking up (renovating your house while on maternity leave and relying on one income is not a great idea). Weighing up our options and the exorbitant cost of day care, I decided that part-time was the way to go, and off I headed back to my old job.

Naively, I really thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. I thought to myself, I’m still me. My workplace is open-minded and is happy to accommodate me going part-time. This will be great. It didn’t exactly go according to plan. But not for the reasons I expected.

I was lucky in that, for me, the easiest part was bubs. He settled into day care (almost) seamlessly, so that was one major weight off my shoulders.

Unsurprisingly, however, after a year of singing The Wiggles and having one-sided conversations with a human blob, I was pretty rusty at my job and it took my brain a while to switch back into gear. It took a lot of smiling and nodding for me to feel competent again.

I realised I had changed after all. So much. I felt like suddenly I’d been thrown back into my old life but I was a completely different person—and those two worlds were now colliding.

Some people return to work and breathe a sigh of relief, feeling like they’re back where they belong. But that wasn’t the case for me. This sudden identity crisis struck me hard, and trying to find where I fit in now really threw me.

You find yourself navigating things like all the new staff that have come along and got comfortable while you were gone. To you, they’re the newbies, but to them, you are. Then there’s the drama that all too quickly sets back in; the office politics – it’s exhausting. And as any mum who has returned part-time will tell you, you start to try and overcompensate and go above and beyond because you don’t want to be seen as the weakest link. But despite everything you do, you often will be seen that way.
Before I got pregnant I had laid down some serious groundwork; I had been earmarked for a promotion that was apparently coming “any day now”, but then as my bump grew, I quickly came to realise that the baby was coming before any promotion was. So, with nothing on paper, I left with a, “We’ll call you when the job gets approved.” That call never came, so when I returned part-time, I was in the same role.

But what I naively didn’t realise was the effect that being part-time would have on my standing within my team and the company—and my ability to get ahead.

I didn’t get the promotion when the restructure finally happened months after my return. Instead, I got a new title. When I asked why I missed out on the role I had wanted, they told me the person who got it had really stepped up that past year (when I was of, you know, having a baby) and that the role really needed to be full-time.

And while I don’t begrudge the person who did get the role for getting ahead, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow when you know that job would have been yours had you not taken a year off and if you didn’t now have a kid.

My pride took a huge dive after that, but the good thing is, when you’re a mum you learn to put things into perspective. Once upon a time I would have been overwhelmed by my devastation, whereas now I can brush it off much easier. I made my choice to work part-time, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt.

But it’s not just the big moments like team restructures that you need to prepare yourself for, it’s also the everyday things: the meetings you’re left out of, the emails you’re left off “because you’re only part-time”, or when your desk gets moved to the end of the row beyond the most junior member “because you’re hardly ever here”.

If there’s one piece of advice I can give, it’s to ask your boss about what you returning part-time means to them. For some people, part-time is the perfect option to stay in the game while being able to take a step back from the pressure and responsibility. But if you’re there to still work hard and get ahead, then you need to make sure you’re in a company that will let you do it. It’s all well and good letting you go part-time, but if that then means you’re pigeonholed and overlooked for promotions and unable to thrive when that’s what you still want, then maybe it’s not the right workplace for you any more.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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