Saving all my love for you…Returning to work and separation anxiety

It’s four weeks in, and the question I’ve been bombarded with for four and a half years (“Do you think you’ll go back to work?”) has been well and truly replaced with “How is the new job going”?

It’s certainly a double edged sword. On one hand, the job itself couldn’t be better. I am riding on the crest of a wave of exhilaration at being in a workplace I feel passionate about, surrounded by great people and in the most beautiful part of the Kent countryside. It was, for me, 100% the right decision.

But when you’re a parent it’s never just about you, is it. Because it’s not been plain sailing for all of us.

Our four year old daughter, who has a penchant for calling the shots around here, has (as expected), reacted to the change of circumstances in a pretty spectacular way.

On a positive note she adores the new childminder (even telling her friend that she had a ‘New Mummy’ aargh), and seems really happy in her company, to go there and play with the kids she knew from before for the three days a week I work.

What’s been apparent however is that the tears, tantrums and general distress have all been saved for guess who…Mummy. Or Mama, as I have been renamed lately.

There has been a load of regressive behaviours; baby talk, demands, wanting carries, needing Mummy to stay with her at bedtime. But hardest to watch has to be the mood deterioration as soon as she’s back in my company. She’s been ultra clingy and I’m feeling the love, but in equal doses she is just in such a bad mood with me.

So whilst trying to be firm and fair, I’m trying to be patient and reassuring, because she has a load on her plate and is going through some pretty major changes.

But she’s not the only one, is she?

I can’t pretend the Mum guilt has been pretty full on, seeing what effect the decision I’ve made has had on her. It’s also tough seeing her sister having to suck it all up and get minimal attention because the vacuum that is Danger Mouse has commanded everyone’s attention. After giving the girls our undivided attention and rest time for a couple of weekends, the circumstantial occurrence of a busy weekend set the guilt ratings through the roof as we left them with a babysitter (much loved Aunties and Uncles) not once but twice in the same weekend. But that’s life isn’t it? And we had a word with ourselves that life has to go on.

We’ve re-lived the dream of night wakings, ended and started days with big tears and cross words, and my name has been well and truly worn out. Needy doesn’t even come close and Daddy is hardly getting a look in as Mummy has been in majorly high demand (like touching distance at ALL times). It would be almost sweet if it wasn’t so suffocating.

That said I have also had to swallow “I hate you Mummy”, so I’d probably take the cuddles any day of the week.

Despite only working three days, the full on routine at either end of the 8 hour day (plus 45 minute drive) has been emotionally draining. I’m reassured by smiling photos from the childminder plus positive reports from nursery, and I’m really enjoying my new day job, but the stress of walking on eggshells around an emotionally unstable pre-schooler and a pretty tight window of time to get her up, ready and delivered is just, well, exhausting.

There’s no doubt that my mood in the mornings is feeding hers, but, it’s not easy to start to feel the anxiety knot in my stomach when the clock is ticking and she’s not playing ball. I can influence the bags being ready, the clothes laid out and the packed lunches being made, but I have no control over what mood she’ll be in when she wakes up (or when).

The two ‘rest days’ have somewhat backfired too, because there seems to be some element of confusion over who is actually off (not her) and I have been that Mum on the school run smiling through gritted teeth whilst trying to coerce a screaming child along to the classroom.

‘It’s early days’ they say. ‘This too shall pass’. ‘It’ll get her ready for school in September’.

Dad Muddling Through has told me in no uncertain terms to ditch the guilt and embrace this as a positive change for us as a family. I’ve been a working Mum before, and having me as a stay at home Mum for her first four and a half years of her life, The Mouse was in the minority, and lucky to be so.

And so we’ll keep going. One day at a time. Encouraging, smiling but not being taken for a ride. Setting clear boundaries and reassuring her that it’s all going to be okay.

I think I need a little bit of reassurance too. Is it all going to be okay?

x MMT

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