In December 2018, I returned to work after having my daughter, Amber. In my mind, before I started my job, this seemed straightforward. I’d go to the office as normal, but I just needed to drop my baby off at nursery beforehand and pick her up at the end of the day. Everything would work like clockwork, I was sure.
In reality, I was startled by the amount of logistics and moving pieces involved. Huge feats of organisation and time management enable Amber and I to get through the working day. More than that, though, was the importance of looking after my emotional and mental well-being in supporting us through my return to work.
I’m glad to say that, a year on from my first day at Nabs, I’m in a relatively good place, emotionally and mentally. This is a major achievement, because things haven’t been easy over the past couple of years.
A tough pregnancy, some family challenges and a hard few months after Amber’s birth had a stark effect on my mental health. I was fragile and exhausted as my mind and body tried to cope with new challenges and demands. I struggled to come to terms with my new life and it took me a long time to get back to feeling like myself – maybe a year. Even then, I felt like a different person.
One thing had remained the same, though: I needed to work. Aside from the financial necessity, I’ve always been a career person. I’ve worked in writing, communications and broadcasting for years; I love the creativity, the mental stimulation and having "work friends". Having spent 15 months at home with my baby, I also craved independence; some space for myself.
Becoming a mum had already changed my career. I had to give up my previous permanent job, which was great in many ways, because the hours were too long and it involved regular travel out of London. Now, I was determined to find a job on my terms. I wanted to find something part-time that would allow me to get out into the world in a manageable way, while still having time to care for my daughter.
Happily, after a couple of months searching, I landed a role at Nabs, the support organisation for advertising and media. I’ve always had a passion for well-being and mental health, so I was delighted to join Nabs as we provide a host of support services for people in the industry.
I found my new colleagues to be empathetic, people-focused and friendly. Which was lucky, since I discovered that I needed to talk openly about being a working mum. I wanted to be open, to bring my whole self to work. This was hugely important for my well-being. Being honest, real and "me" felt right. My teammates were happy to chat. One of the other mums told me: "Of course you’ll miss Amber and you’ll worry about her." As much as I’d been desperate to return to work, this was true and it was great to have this feeling validated by a fellow parent.
Nabs supports working parents throughout advertising and media with training and coaching services. I’ve attended several of our working parents’ masterclasses during my time here and they have given me the chance to talk to other parents in similar situations.
While there are some great examples of working parents being supported in our industry, there is also much room for improvement. I’ve been told stories of flexible working requests being turned down, of people being visibly passed over for promotion or handed less challenging projects after returning to work as a parent. One pregnant woman I chatted to was expected to attend late-night events and show up on time in the office the next day. That, quite frankly, is ridiculous.
The classic issue of mums working and being paid for four days but still being expected to do five days’ work (at least) persists, and this is a key frustration. Sadly, across our industry, too many parents are expected to put up and shut up, rather than being empowered to have open and transparent conversations that would help them work better, contribute more and feel better at work.
One conversation in particular stands out for me: a chat I had with a dad about setting boundaries from the get-go with employers. In my relatively new life as a working mum, I’ve discovered that setting boundaries is key for my well-being. I’m glad that I’ve been brave and done this, rather than ending up in situations I can’t handle and suffering as a result. I lost out on a job just before I got my Nabs role because I said I couldn’t commit to regular work calls on my day looking after my child. I’d rather be honest and protect my sanity (and family) than get myself into a mess in fear of not getting a job elsewhere.
I acknowledge my privilege here. I am thankful that I could spend a little more time finding a truly flexible job. Many parents are not in this situation and consequently find themselves juggling work calls, school pick-ups, home duties and more during their "day off" and often in their evenings too. Being a working parent is exhausting enough when you do have the requisite support; without it, life can become unmanageable.
In many respects, I couldn’t have wished for a better organisation in which to restart my career. I still have to juggle, but I can leave on time to do nursery pick-ups and I can benefit from a handful of "dependents days" for when Amber is ill and I need to stay home with her. Flexible and home working are open to all team members, not just parents – and that's as it should be. Not having to fight for flexible working has been a great relief – something else that has put me in a good place mentally.
Working, for me, has improved my well-being. Even though I’m more tired than I’ve ever been, my brain is engaged and I feel more "switched on". I also appreciate my time with Amber more and I’m sure she benefits from having a fulfilled mum.
Whether you return to work after having a child, and how you choose to work, are very personal choices. I knew that I needed to get back into work, but that had to be in a way that worked with my family life. Working in such a supportive atmosphere has been the cherry on top and I’m grateful to have had this opportunity.
I wish that every working parent in our industry could say the same.
Louise Scodie is senior PR and communications manager at Nabs
Picture: Getty Images