kids

"Leaving you every morning was the hardest part of my day." An open letter to my daughter after going back to work.

Aptamil Toddler
Thanks to our brand partner, Aptamil Toddler

First you were a pomegranate seed, then you were a blueberry. Before I knew it, you were a watermelon, stretching and pushing, running out of room. I rubbed my stomach and talked to you. I told you about all the wonderful things you would see and the incredible places we would take you. 

I dreamed of you each night, as you pushed against my body with your tiny feet. When you arrived, it was like my whole world stopped and I poured all of myself into you. Everything I was now belonged to you, my little custom-made best friend. 

We did everything together. 

Image: Supplied.

I returned to work just before you turned two — as a flight attendant, I had an expiry date on my maternity leave. 

I anguished over leaving you, but I missed my job and ‘old’ life more than I anticipated. 

Seven years ago, as a first-time mum, I didn’t recognise the version of myself I saw in the mirror. I felt like I was losing myself, desperately trying to grab at handfuls of who I used to be, trying to save her. 

I was sick to my stomach about whether I was enough for you. Was I able to be the mother you deserved? Was I making a mistake going back to work?

My heart was twisted with indecision and anxiety. Then, the first time I put on my uniform, I felt like myself again. 

It wasn’t until I was walking down the aero bridge to the aircraft that I felt overwhelmed by the most awful guilt. Guilt that felt like it would bear down and crush me completely. My whole body ached for you, as I remembered how you’d cried and stretched your arms out for me that morning as I’d left. 

Leaving you was, and always will be, the hardest part of my day.

My returning to work was a learning curve for our little family. 

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One morning, daddy couldn’t tame your curls and discovered that if he rubbed your head on the trampoline, the static electricity made it more manageable. 

Another time, you apparently showed up to pre-school wearing a t-shirt two sizes too small with a pair of merino stockings. (Note to husband: stockings and leggings are different things, and they are not interchangeable.) 

One night, I got home from work when you were asleep. I went into your bedroom and watched you for what felt like the longest time. I reached into your cot and stroked your sweet face and your soft curls, traced your button nose. Your little eyes opened and lit up, and you gave me the biggest smile. ‘Mummy!’ 

My heart felt like it would explode into the night sky, and light up the stars with pride and happiness.

Coming home to you was the best feeling in the world. Each moment I spent with you was treasured and appreciated. I didn’t take a moment for granted. Gone was the melancholy that I had experienced at the end of my maternity leave. Your little face lighting up when I got home was the best part of my day. 

As the days ebbed and flowed, I came to the realisation that I would never again be the same person I was before I was your mummy. The person you changed me into was better, kinder, stronger. I liked her so much more.

By the time your little sisters arrived, you were a wise and tender little girl who had the most beautiful relationship not only with me and daddy, but your grandparents and extended family. The village we created that had supported us upon my return to work now supported you throughout your transition to big sister.

Image: Supplied.

What I’ve learnt is that the journey of motherhood is one with hills and valleys aplenty. Some of us work because we choose to, while some of us have no choice but to return to work. Regardless, we all love our children desperately and want what’s best for them.

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Because here’s the thing about motherhood, my love: it’s hard. It’s sacrifice. It’s messy and exhausting. There are elements of mum guilt and anxiety that may never leave you. Motherhood is making a lifelong commitment to have part of your heart out there in the world, living, breathing and walking around without you.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully reconcile with myself going back to work. I always felt guilty leaving you, and like a limb was missing while I was away. I think most mothers will feel that awful pull from all directions, just enough to remind us that we can’t be in more than one place at any given time. We can’t make everyone happy all the time. 

Motherhood is the most beautiful, bittersweet privilege I’ve encountered. The reward greatly outweighs the sacrifice. I’ve accepted that I won’t always get motherhood right. Sometimes I’ll make mistakes. Sometimes I’ll get everything completely wrong. But I promise you that I will love you with all my heart, forever.

Image: Supplied.

I’m glad you saw me return to work and do something I love outside of being ‘mum’. I want to show you strength, and lead by example. I want to teach you kindness and compassion. I want you to remember how my perfume smells, how I stroke your hair when you cry.  

I worry all the time that I'll fail you. That I have failed you already. But then I remember that I'm not a miracle worker. I remind myself that life is a journey, and the universe will do a lot of the heavy lifting.  

And then I don't worry so much.

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

Aptamil Toddler
Preparing to return to work? Aptamil Toddler contains key nutrients to help support your child's immune system, so you can return to work feeling confident. *Contains vitamins B6 & B12 to support normal immune system function. When prepared as directed and consumed as part of a healthy varied diet. General advice only. Aptamil Toddler has the right nutrition and advice to support you in Returning to work with confidence. Go to returnready.com.au to Return to work Ready.