*This is a guest post
Mummy guilt smacks us in the face at random moments in the first year, but mum guilt over returning to work really packs a punch.
When I informed my employer I was pregnant with my first baby I was handed over a huge information pack filled with policies and forms to fill out.
There was a large amount of information covering everything from how much maternity leave I was entitled to and how much I would be paid while on leave, plus the process for returning to work.
Although it was a lot to take in, it simplified the process for me because it was all there in black and white.
But one thing you can’t appreciate at this time when all you’re thinking about is getting through the last months of your pregnant, is how you will feel when your maternity leave ends.
The official documents don’t touch on how difficult the transition will be, let alone how you will feel as the date for your return to work looms and you cannot bear the thought of being separated from your child.
Mum guilt over returning to work
Let me tell you a little about my own experience of working mum guilt:
I have two girls – my eldest is two years and 10 months and my baby will turn one in December. I always had it in the back of my mind that I would return to work after one year of maternity leave from my job as a journalist.
It seemed so natural to me to return to work. Very few people can afford to survive on just the one income these days and I have always been pretty ambitious, constantly wanting to move forward and climb up to the next rung of the career ladder.
But within a few weeks of having my first baby I was struck by a feeling of total panic. She’s lovely, I love her so much it hurts, she changes constantly, she loves being with me, how on earth can I ever consider leaving her with someone else?
I also worried this would ruin our close bond. Would my daughter forget who I was? Would she prefer her key worker over me?
I looked at nurseries through a bit of a fog. I was happy with my choice, but still terrified and kind of in denial at the same time that it would happen. People kept saying to me: “Your return to work date is ages away, don’t worry about it now.”
Worrying doesn’t help
They were right in a way, worrying doesn’t help, but anyone who has had a baby will know that first year is the quickest you will ever live. Blink and you miss it.
When her settling-in visits came around I tried my best to embrace it and see this as a positive step. Thankfully she took to it very well. But I felt terrible.
It didn’t help when I Googled “putting four days a week” and the responses were a mixture of contempt for any mum who would return to work full-time and warnings that too much nursery is emotionally damaging for children.
I felt worried sick. Was I abandoning her? Was I getting this parent thing all wrong? Should I jack in the job and stop being so bloody selfish? But how would we live without my income?
I remember picking my daughter up early from one settling-in visit in tears. I had missed her so very much I couldn’t wait to see her any longer. How was I going to handle being separated from her?
My panic was eased when I learned I was pregnant with our second just two days before my return to work. Now at least I knew I wouldn’t be back at work for very long.
But then something happened that I didn’t expect.
Getting into the groove
We fell into a rhythm. A good one.
I dropped my daughter off at 8am every day. Sometimes she cried, sometimes she didn’t.
When I returned to get her at 5pm every day, she was always happy and playing with the many, many toys in her room at nursery.
I came to really appreciate the time I had to myself at work. The time when I didn’t have to worry about catering for someone else at lunch. The time when I could sit silently for 20 minutes without someone tugging at my clothes asking to be picked up.
And when we were together, our bond was as close as it had always been. And today it still is.
When I finished work for my second bout of maternity leave I cut my eldest’s time at nursery down to two days a week.
So even though I have spent another year at home, I still have my toddler in nursery.
Do I feel guilty? Absolutely not.
Because I’ve learned that nursery offers young children such amazing opportunities to learn, play and socialise with other kids their age. Because mums cannot work, raise children and get housework done without a little help somewhere. Because when she’s ill, my daughter still prefers to be with her mum and I am always there for her. Because I know she is still my daughter, no matter where she has spent her day.
So if you are reading this in the grip of panic about sending your child to nursery, please take a deep breath.
Maybe you’re returning to work because you need the money or maybe it’s because you love your job.
Whatever the reason, do not beat yourself up mama. Nursery, a childminder, or whatever other form of childcare you choose is not a bad thing, they are not bad for your kids.
Know that what you’re feeling is normal. But also know that once you’ve all had a chance to get used to this change in routine, you will feel so much better about your decision.
So look mum guilt over returning to work in the eye mama, and give it a good whack back.
Author bio: Vicky is a mum of two girls and blogs at The Mummy Bubble. Her blog is packed with parenting tips and tales from the frontline of motherhood.