It’s been over a year since my last blog post – I’ve been away on maternity leave. I enjoyed a wonderful Spring and Summer with my older daughter and new baby boy, and then returned to work at the end of October. I thought I would take some time to reflect on returning to work after maternity leave …
Being a full-time working parent is not new to me; but being a full-time working parent to two children is new, and while wonderful it is also damn hard work! I was only able to take 6 months maternity leave this time, and it has been a wrench leaving my baby, who is still breastfed. I am fortunate that my university has a nursery on-campus, and my baby is just a few minutes walk away, which has given me great peace of mind. The nursery staff are fabulous, and my baby has settled in well, although he has caught every germ in the nursery (as to be expected).
I had a phased return to work – just 3 days per week for the first month, to ease my baby into nursery, and me back into work. While this worked well for my baby, it worked less well for me, as I found myself with a full-time workload and part-time hours. I was fortunate that my return to full-time hours began in December, which is one of the more gentle times of the academic year, and I was able to catch-up.
When you are on maternity leave, you worry about your maternity cover: are they doing your job properly, and (crucially) are they doing your job better than you? I was fortunate to have an excellent maternity cover – one of the assistants in my team stepped up to the role. She did a great job (she made some great legal research videos), but I think that she was pleased to see me return. On my first day back, a student came in with an obscure question about south african law reports, and the relief on her face was obvious to all.
I was only away for 6 months, but there were a lot of changes in that time. There is a new assistant in our team (she started a week or two before I went on premature maternity leave), yet I feel like the new girl. There is a new acquisitions manager, who has implemented lots of new policies, procedures and systems, which seem to change on a almost daily basis. And we have a new library search engine – which appears (at least to me) to be much worse than the old library search engine. Yet at the same time, there is a lot that is familiar: the office door is always locked at 8.45 when my colleague arrives at work, and the team still meet for coffee in the library cafe at 10.30 precisely! I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Lexis Library and Westlaw had not rebranded and changed their database!
The media is full of stories about full-time working parents, and full-time working mothers in particular, and opinion is polarised. My university has all the proper family friendly policies and procedures: we have good maternity, parental leave and care for dependents policies, but I don’t always feel supported. However, I have struggled more with family, health and education services that are not working parent friendly, and entirely inflexible when it comes to making appointments that are not in the middle of the working day.
I hate to admit that I ‘clock watch’ in the afternoon, and I have a recurring daily appointment on my work calendar than simply says ‘go home’! It’s not because I’m a bad employee, or less committed than my colleagues; but because I have to leave work on time, or face the consequences of not collecting my children from their childcare (upset children, late fees and social services). I may leave the office at 4 o’clock, but I don’t sit down at home until 9 o’clock, by which time it’s almost time for bed. I am entirely left out of office conversations about last night’s telly, and going out for drinks after work is unthinkable!
I’ve been really busy since the new year: I’ve been on a couple of training courses, I’ve restarted my teaching course, I’m working on a project to review official publications, and I’ve been accepted to speak at the BIALL conference in the Summer. I’ve also been out of the office a lot: away on training courses, visiting other libraries, on holiday for school half-term, and on holiday to care for my poorly baby. I’ve found it really hard to keep on top of my workload, and need more support and flexible working options.
I have considered making a formal request for flexible working, but I’m undecided on what ‘flexible’ should be (let alone if my employer would agree). I have two children at very different ages and stages, and what would suit us now, would not work in a few years time. For the time being it is ‘watchful waiting’ – a lot can happen in 6 months, let alone 3 years …