The day I heard the news my role (and whole site for that matter) was being made redundant, my whole world shattered around me. Having been in the same organisation for fourteen years, and in the fuzzy haze of maternity leave, with a ten week old baby, I hadn’t expected my first child free outing to be heading into work to find out my future as I had planned it was not going to exist.
As I sobbed on the shoulder of a colleague, hormones all over the place and thinking that I’d never see any of my long standing friends again, a kind lady assured me that this would be the best thing that ever happened to me. That on my deathbed, I’d never regret not spending more time at the office.
As days and weeks went by and I tried to get my head around the options available, together my husband and I decided that I would not seek to find another role – that I would take some time to raise the girls and see this as an opportunity, with the caveat that if things needed to change, then they could at any time.
Despite being asked constantly ‘what my plans were’ with regards to returning to the career I had worked so hard to build in my twenties and early thirties, I always knew that I would know when the time felt right.
In actual fact, I was a bit worried inside. Would I ever want to return to work? Would I be employable? What would I do? And how on earth would we juggle two children around two working parents.
Five years whizzed by, and the answers to those questions were pushed to one side whilst I appreciated the hectic moments of life at home with two small children (warts and all – it was far from a perfect existence!). Always conscious that things wouldn’t always be this way, and one day these would be the golden summers of the past I would pine back to from behind an office desk.
But the day did come, late in 2018. The day I stopped and looked around, and knew I was ready for a new challenge.
Almost a year on from that realisation, I’m four months back in work and feeling positive that I made the leap. The kids have settled into the new routine, I have a part time position which allows balance and the ability to wear both Mum and work hats (I do love a good hat). But what I have noticed is that not only has the workplace changed, but so have I, more than I ever appreciated.
The old me was a bit of a party animal, always the first to be signing up for a social event and sloping in to the office with my tail between my legs on a Monday morning after a social event. These days I’m more partial to the office running club than Friday drinks and the pub lunches have been replaced with a lunchtime circuit of site to get my steps up or even a cheeky swim.
Sobriety has given me a clear and sharp focus, and a year or so getting on top of my own mental health challenges has allowed me to feel engaged and empowered. I now know that being at work is a positive thing for me to feel fulfilled and challenged, and that makes going there all the easier. After all, work life balance has two seats on the see saw.
In my previous work life, there is no doubt that despite feeling part of the furniture, that there was a sense of entrapment. After all, when you have been somewhere for so long, and it’s so convenient, it’s hard to imagine ever walking away from it. The fear of change and the unknown causing a unsaid knowledge that I would never broaden my horizons. Becoming institutionalised and frustrated but never questioning an alternative path. Now that my hand had been forced, I had the time and space to consider other options; totally new career options, retraining, industries and even setting up from home.
The surprising conclusion in all of that was that I did want to return to the industry and career I had left behind. To channel my passion for science and to find an organisation who fitted my values, which was exactly what I did.
What’s best of all? I am choosing to be there, and that is something I truly appreciate.
The surprising thing is just HOW much technology in the workplace has moved on in five years, now that was a revelation.
I don’t know how my family would have been shaped had I never been made redundant. The girls would have been in childcare three days a week, and undoubtedly would have been less needy of me. They may have been bolder, more independent and less clingy. But time away from work has given me time with my daughters without any pressure to be somewhere else, and that is pure gold dust.
Poorly days snuggled up on the sofa, park dates with friends, baking, painting, and let’s be honest, quite a lot of CBeebies. The bond is undeniably strong and as Dad Muddling Through used to say, it was hard to tell where they finished and I started.
I never missed a thing, not a word or a step, a grazed knee or a playdate. I could sleep off any rough night or be at any show, meeting, hospital appointment or assembly for five whole years.
How lucky was I.
Being a stay at home Mum was a strange old shift in our relationship. Having always worked, the extension of my maternity leave, on and on, sometimes felt a little like I’d reverted to a 1950’s housewife. It was a no brainer however, that if I was at home, that the lions share of certain stuff was done by me and despite having a ‘worst day competition‘ all too often, we made it work. I’d like to believe we both valued and appreciated each others roles, but it wasn’t always easy.
The financial pressure on Dad Muddling Through can’t have been easy, and listening to me complain about another awful day at home when he fell in the door after the commute must have tested his patience. But equally, being alone and isolated with just some school run chat was hard in very different ways.
Despite the challenges, we made it work together and by listening, talking and sharing each others highs and lows. There was never any pressure to get back to work before I was ready, and I always felt supported in making the decision when the time was right.
Having made that step, there is no doubt we have achieved more of a balance; we have to work as a team to make it work and share roles once more. He feels less pressured to bring home the bacon, and I feel less pressured to feel entirely responsible for the children and domestic chores.
Returning to the work place after five years away feels a little like rebranding myself.
I have been so fortunate to have an opportunity to focus on my family, my passions and ultimately myself; stepping off grid for a while and taking stock.
I wonder, had I not had that chance to regroup internally, would I be an entirely different person?
This space has given me a chance to work out exactly who I am, to make mistakes and learn from them. To value what is important in life, away from the pressures and external distractions of work pressures.
I have met the most amazing and inspirational people who have taught me so much and helped me to grow – to be brave, to be positive, and to be at peace with myself.
Because if I had been rushing to and fro from work, I wouldn’t have had the mental space to take better care of myself, I wouldn’t have poured my creativity into my blog, I wouldn’t have realised my passions, I would never have connected with the people who inspire me daily, who encourage me to learn to love who I am. I definitely would never have worked in a Santa’s grotto. I may never have quit drinking. I may never have written a book. I may never have believed I was doing okay. I’d probably have just, well, kept going.
There is no doubt that we have had to go without sometimes, and financially we could have been better off had I not taken that time out of work, but the bigger picture and impact on our family? That has been priceless.