9 years ago, before I founded The Mum Almighty, I was working full-time in a corporate role with two children under the age of three and just about to walk into a room to meet with my manager to raise the question of changing my hours to part-time.
Sh1tting it doesn’t come close.
I was a bag of nerves.
Meeting with my manager on my own, who I felt wasn’t very approachable anyway, was my first mental hurdle, but I was worried that he just wouldn’t get it.
He was a dad himself, but we never had those open discussions about our private life. He didn’t know anything about me or how I had changed since returning from maternity leave.
All he knew was what he saw from the outside BEFORE I went on maternity leave.
And to the outside world, I was this happy, enthusiastic go-getter and was managing everything pretty damn well and always had a smile on her face.
That wasn’t me anymore though. I wanted it to be – desperately.
But who was I kidding? I returned to my workplace like nothing really had changed. Like I’d just popped out to the toilet for a while and then returned as if nothing had changed.
But there HAD been changes and not just to me.
My first full day back resulted in being told my desk had gone and we had to book a hot-desk in advance. Of course, I hadn’t done it because I didn’t know. Being made to feel like I should have known wasn’t the best return to work welcome back to be honest.
So, I was already feeling not part of the team, unprepared to go into a meeting I didn’t know how it would run, what he would ask and what he would allow me to talk about.
I was desperately trying to get my mindset in check before I got in that room whilst battling with the whirlwind commute I’d just made from nursery to the office, swearing at the traffic lights and the bus and the bin lorry I got stuck behind for 20 minutes.
My hair was probably messy, make-up half done and my cheeks still rosy from power-walking from through the corridors before having to go back to my car to collect my forgotten laptop. Again.
I was playing the scenario over and over in my head and was hoping he would understand my reasoning for asking for this change in hours. I was hoping he would ask me the questions I wanted him to ask me about ME. How I was feeling, what I was thinking, what support I felt I needed, was there any kind of refresher training that I would like, any meetings with people he could set-up to help me with my transition, was there someone I could talk to confidentially within HR about how I was feeling?
I hope he would offer me support with how to focus better, how he could help me to stop me feeling excluded, undervalued and why I felt like I was failing when I had only just returned.
I hope he would find out that I was actually really pleased to be back in work and contrary to what I’d seen and heard from other mums in the office, I couldn’t wait to return to work…just so I could get away from my kids. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone this though…I thought I was alone with these devilish thoughts.
The reality of what actually in that little meeting room with that small table with the horizontal blinds that were closed as I entered presumably to hide any potential tantrums or meltdowns…the reality…was far from what I had hoped.
It was form-filling exercise from the start.
No questions about me, my feelings or my worries. No offer of support from anywhere. No strategies to implement to help me in my job.
He asked the questions that lay before him on the form and I masked everything and just answered the questions.
One thing was really made clear though. No request for a change in hours would automatically be accepted. They only had to ‘consider’ my application based on the answers I gave to the questions they asked.
I came out of that room feeling none the wiser with what would happen next, but it didn’t feel me with positive thoughts, so it was just another thing to add to my already muddled brain.
A couple of weeks later, I received the response I was dreading. The answer was no. No discussion, no appeal and no other support given.
Looking across the open plan office after receiving the devastating news, I knew there was no way I could continue with working full-time with no support. I felt I had no choice and felt forced to leave the safety and the security of my corporate role, that level on the ladder I had worked so hard to get to and just leave.
To me, I felt like I had failed.
A few weeks later, I left that job and although it was a relief that I didn’t have to think about getting to and from the job, the impact on me was life-changing.
I felt like I wasn’t worthy of working there at that level. I wasn’t able to be both a parent and have a professional career. I felt like that that work life balance was never ever possible.
That one decision to not accept my cry for help and support had a long-term impact on my life from that point and I continued to go downwards into a tailspin, eventually after two years of mental anguish, I discovered I was suffering from postnatal depression.
The reality of returning to work is unique to everyone and what sets apart navigating a successful transition from a tough transition is the support you’re offered, and I don’t mean on the day you return after maternity.
That support should start from the day you leave your job and start your maternity leave.
Feeling safe in the knowledge that your manager and team have made reasonable adjustments to ensure you return back in a way that supports you 100% because they’ve asked and they’ve listened, they’ve done their homework, offered you support to ensure you