Mia Freedman: the biggest lie back-to-work mums tell

The first time I fell pregnant, I planned to be back at work in four weeks. My boss - who was herself a mother and realised how clueless I was - put the kybosh on that idea and made me take four months maternity leave. Thankfully.

This really was an excellent thing because my four-week plan hadn’t factored in the fact I’d I’d fall so madly in love with my baby or how the career part of my brain would pretty much shut down. For a year.

That whole time, I begged my boss to let me quit Cosmo (which I’d just started editing) and launch a parenting magazine instead. Thank God she ignored me until I came back to work and the need to immerse myself in babyworld gradually subsided.

The same thing happened when I had my daughter. “I just want to stay home forever and fold her teeny tiny socks” I declared dreamily. My own mother sounded a cautious, sensible warning. “Darling remember that being on maternity leave is different to this being your whole life.”

Logically I knew she was right. But my heart (and my boobs) disagreed.

And this career ambivalence was totally unexpected. I’ve always been someone who’s lucky enough to love her job. I was raised by two working parents and it never occurred to me that I’d be anything other than a working Mum. I really enjoy working. It’s not my whole life but it’s a big part of it.

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So each time I’ve given birth, it’s come as a shock how it utterly saps my ambition.

Clearly, it’s nature’s way of ensuring the survival of my offspring.

“Focus on nothing but the baby!” scream my hormones and evolution. “Forget about how nice it is to leave the house or wear something without an elastic waistband! Don’t think about how much you miss adult conversations and closing the door while you wee! Just bask in the smell of newborn necks and the deliciousness of chubby little baby thighs!”

And all of that happens and I’m genuinely content.

Until around the time I wean. That’s when my brain starts to get a bit itchy and the idea of going back to work seems appealing rather than appalling.

But re-entry into work isn’t always easy.

According to a new study, six in 10 mothers find readjusting to the workplace challenging, with an average of 3.8 months required to get back into the swing of things.

Well duh. The only thing surprising to me about that is the 4 in 10 mothers who apparently found going back to work a piece of cake. Are they lying or just so sleep deprived they misread the question?

Some other insights from the study:

  • The #1 concern of new mothers returning to work is the fear that they might bore childless colleagues with baby talk.
  • Other fears included accidentally arriving at work with fingerprints and food stains on their clothes.
  • 17 per cent said they were worried about missing their child.
  • 10 per cent thought they might run into trouble with their boss by making regular calls to their childminder.
  • 40 per cent of the new mums who return to work say they do so because of financial pressure.

Here’s one more thing new mothers should know about going back to work: don’t make any big decisions in that first year. I learned this the hard way after I made the worst career decision of my life during my maternity leave with my second child - taking up a job that was absolutely doomed. Each time you have a baby, it rocks your world - as it should. And it takes time for the dust to settle and life to reshape itself. You may have changed in the way you view your job or the amount of time and energy you’re prepared to devote to it. And also? Sleep deprivation is not the friend of rational decisions. Trust me on that one.

How did you handle returning to work after maternity leave? 

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