RETURNING TO WORK: THE FIRST NINE MONTHS

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Well, it wasn’t an easy start that’s for sure. The second week followed suit with the first, but this time my daughter was sick on the way to and from my parent’s house, I am not good with sick. I knew when I got pregnant that I would have to deal with sick as a parent but my goodness I did not realise how frequently I would be drenched in it! My little girl has a very sensitive tum and everything affects it, upset = sick, ill = sick, teething = sick, doesn’t like a taste = sick… you get the point! And as we figured out at about 3 weeks into my working, travel = sick!!

Around the time I started work my toddler required a new car seat, we spent an age researching and concluded that until she was two it was safer for her to be rear facing, so we spent a ridiculous amount of money on a seat which could be both rear and forward facing. This new seat was higher than her baby seat and so she could now see out of the window, and facing backward; looking out of the window along the winding roads that lead to my parent’s house she was getting very travel sick. We turned the seat around and this seemed to partially resolve the problem, it was no longer guaranteed that she would be sick in the car at least. But still now if she has an empty tummy or has had too much milk to drink she will shout “TUMMY ACHE” or “SICKIE” about two bends in the road before she is sick! It does not make for a relaxing commute!

Back to the first few weeks, my in-laws were still away so my parents were having to balance an additional day of childcare into their busy schedules and I had decided that the only way the long commute was even remotely achievable was to stay at my parents once a week, which meant that I missed my husband (he got one night a week of amazing sleep though so he, at least, was benefiting!).

The first three months back at work felt very much like catching up and settling in, I guess it took longer as I only do half weeks, but I found this pretty irritating, I was impatient with myself, why was my brain being so slow to remember things? Why was it so hard to feel involved? Why was I not being given more responsibility? I decided, after a while, that I was being too hard on myself and that once I was back to being fully involved in projects it would not be so easy to have this slower work pace, so I used the time to get up to date on policies and to re-accustom myself to working in the office with their way of doing things.

And maybe I should have enjoyed the ‘settling in’ period a little more! The past few weeks I’ve been too busy to have a lunch break and I really love a lunch break! I have a few friends that work in the same town and so lunchtimes have become great socialising opportunities! It is amazing how lovely it is to sit and talk to someone without a toddler pulling on your arm, or climbing something dangerous, or just wanting to be acknowledged as the little human that they are.

And if not with friends, then lunchtimes offer the luxury of walking down a quiet country lane or shopping without having to navigate an over-engineered pram. Lunchtimes are my respite moments and my old Friday nights out!

But I did ask to be busier, to be more involved and, in all honesty, I crave that. I think I’m addicted to buildings and design! I think most Architects are, and there’s no getting away from buildings, so there is a constant reminder of the job you do everywhere you go, nagging you to get back to it. And the trouble with being an Architect is that it comes with a weight of responsibility, the responsibility of designing someone’s dream! Of incorporating their budget and all the planning and building restraints and still creating their vision.

And in my sector of architecture, the responsibility of knowing that this project could answer their prayers or bankrupt them if you let costs escalate. Of knowing that ultimately this will be their castle, their solace, their piece of England, their home.

And so as I got more into the projects, the more I remembered why I had become an Architect in the first place, something that I lost sight of when I worked in London for the large-scale developers. And at the moment every day that I leave work, I leave feeling happy to have been there. The main feeling I get, as I walk down the narrow winding Georgian grade II listed stairs, from my top floor office, is satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment (as well as being completely exhausted!) and even so, I still question every week, when I am not at work, why am I putting myself through this? Is it worth it? Wouldn’t it be easier to stay at home with my daughter?

I am extremely lucky to be working, without having a major financial need to work and so I guess I have the luxury of being able to question if it is worth it. But it does make me think, if even I (who enjoys her job) questions if the hassle of working as a mother is worth it, then is it any wonder that so many women leave architecture (or any job) once they have had children.

Throw onto that pile, that most companies do not accommodate flexible working, or accept the excuse “my daughter has just puked all over the car, I’m going to be late”, or allow working from home and you begin to realise why so many women are now campaigning for work flexibility, for the right to be both a mother and a worker and for companies to acknowledge that women need more support in the work place.

For me, the desire to quit work and focus on motherhood is always higher on no sleep days, because how do you function without rest? Now when I say without rest, I do not mean a slightly disturbed night, I mean that even on a ‘good night’ I have not slept, without interruption, for more than three hours in a row, for over 22 months.

My daughter has only managed to ‘sleep through the night’ twice in her 22 months of life, and on both of those occasions I woke up anyway (being so used to it now) in a panic that she was not behaving ‘normally’!! So when you take that as a base and then throw in the nights when she is poorly, teething, whatever, and she’s up every 30 minutes you get one pretty shattered shell of a human being! So how am I expected to function at the top of my game?!! How am I supposed to make it through a working day?!

Well, I don’t think I’ll ever find an answer to that question and will have to go with the fact that I’m trying my best and if my company doesn’t sack me on those occasions, well then, it’s a just a matter of getting through!!

One of the things that became clear pretty quickly with this exhaustion, was that my commute was not achievable and that if I was seriously considering staying at this office we would need to move. We had pretty much outgrown our then house anyway and staying in the city we lived in and having a larger house proved financially impossible so we knew we needed to move regardless of my working, but with the work factor thrown in the search became narrowed to commutable distances for me and my husband. I have to say that moving in the first 6 months of returning to work after your first child and having to entertain a toddler is not an easy task. But there it was, the decision was made and we began the search.

Luckily post move, at my six months review (which happened at near to nine months!) I was informed that I had passed the probation period! Phew! And then came the dreaded: “Can you up your hours?” Erm. S***. No. it’s hard enough with the hours I’m doing, I already feel stretched at home, how can I possibly lose even more time? When will I do the washing? The admin? Play with my child?! My response did not match my thoughts and came out as “I need to talk to my childcare, but I could potentially up the time at home by half a day” their reply “that would be a start.”

So that is where I find myself now, having just gotten used to the routine, just settled in to my new home, just getting into the projects and knowing that I want to keep the job. But when I agreed to review the hours, in my interview, I was thinking when my daughter was at school.

Will the office accept a no, or will I ultimately have to freelance to do the hours that I want to do?

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