It doesn’t matter when you do it, making the leap back into the workforce after having a child is stressful. You plan, you fret, you lose sleep and make lists while lying awake. After you arrange for daycare or school pick-ups, pack lunches and zip up backpacks, there is one giant roadblock left staring you in the face: the unexpected.
In my case, it was the big annual planning meeting. As soon as the invite landed in my inbox, I knew I was in trouble. The day-long session in our other office landed right on top of my husband’s work trip.
“I’m sorry, but my husband will be away that week. We can’t both be hours away from the kids, so I’m not going to be able to come. But I promise I will make the follow-up meeting next month.”
My boss was super understanding, arranging for me to phone into the session so I could at least hear the discussions. I did my best to participate remotely while feeling guilty for seemingly having dropped the ball on my calendar organisation. I hadn’t allowed space for the unexpected invite.
Fast forward one month and the follow-up offsite session arrived. Wouldn’t you know it, the night before my 6-year-old comes home with an ear infection. Another unexpected hiccup that wasn’t part of any of my plans. I did what any stressed working mom does when faced with a challenge of this magnitude. I phoned the doctor’s office, begged for help, managed to get an 8am doctor appointment and a quick diagnosis. I pumped her full of painkillers, dropped her at school and picked up her prescription on my way to the offsite. By the time I arrived, I was an hour late. I poured myself a cup of tea, sat down and my phone rang.
“Your daughter is really suffering with her ear, you’re going to have to come and get her.”
I had been in the room for 3 whole minutes.
In between doses of paracetamol and antibiotics, I wallowed in my guilt. I was missing out AGAIN. I was letting my boss and colleagues down AGAIN. I had left my team behind to shoulder the burden. I wasn’t pulling my fair share of the work.
Last week I walked into another meeting. After a few minutes of waiting, we realized someone was missing. It dawned on me that most of our big meetings are marking by someone’s absence. In a team of 14, nearly all with school age children, someone always has an earache or cold, an inset day or a babysitter who fails to turn up. The dishwasher leaks, a tire goes flat, a pet escapes from the yard. The unexpected happens to everyone.
In that moment when I am the one missing from the room, it feels incredibly lonely and guilt-inducing. It is easy to forget that I am not the exception, I’m the rule. It isn’t my failure, it’s my turn. We’re all human. We all have a family life outside of the office. Inevitably, these separate but connected worlds periodically collide.
When I talk to women who want to go back to work, this is one of their greatest fears. “What if I have to leave early or miss a day because of my child? Will my boss lose faith in me? Will I lose my job?”
To those of us who are leaders in the workforce, I issue you this challenge. We must create environments that recognize the existence of family. We need to find ways to flex when needed, to show our employees that we value their contribution and support them both in and out of the office. We need to remember that our employees are humans and not robots. If we cannot do these things, the problem isn’t our employees. It is us.
To my fellow mothers, I promise you won’t be the first or the last to face this challenge. You might not even be the only person out that day. It’s okay! Dealing with a sick child is stressful enough. Don’t add to your burden by expecting superhuman solutions to a common problem. Let go of the extra stress, lean on colleagues, friends and family. Take a deep breath, you will make it through to the other side. Trust me, I know. I’m right there with you in the trenches.
Lynn Morrison is a sassy American raising two princesses with her Italian husband in Oxford, England. After a long day of struggling to remember to say “chap” instead of “y’all” or “dude,” Lynn likes nothing better than to curl up with her Macbook and a glass of wine and write thought-provoking essays. If you’ve ever hidden pizza boxes at the bottom of the trash or worn maternity pants when not pregnant, chances are you’ll like the Nomad Mom Diary. You can also find Lynn over on BLUNTmoms, Facebook and Twitter.