This post was originally published in 2012. The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.
I’ll admit, I imagined returning to work after taking time off to have a baby a little differently, and I’m not just talking about having to adjust to my new part-time position. All too often, something would come up and distract me from work, such as my little daughter needing to be picked up from day care early. In a nutshell: it’s not always easy to keep the balance between work and family life. But often, it’s not all that difficult either.
The phone rang. It was Annabell, one of the attendants from the day care center at which my daughter, Greta, had been for the past half hour: „Greta has a fever and needs to be picked up.“ I could either leave everything sitting on my desk unfinished and go get her, or find someone to go and get her for me. A father or mother usually picks up their sick child, as she/he will of course, need comforting.
So I head off to the day care center with my laptop in hand.
Anke has her baby buggy and the laptop always under control.
I wrapped up my unfinished projects as quickly as possible, informed my colleagues and packed up my computer. A child has to be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to day care, meaning I wouldn’t be able to return to work the next day either. At least I can partly work from home as a writer. Of course, my work doesn’t do itself when I am not there! I’m just happy to have a laptop with which I can finish the text, due tomorrow, while sitting on the couch tonight. I just wonder what it’s like when someone from the production line suddenly has to drop everything and pick up a sick child. Can they just drop everything and go? Does another colleague take over their shift?
It’s not all that uncommon to get such a call from the day care center. At first, I thought a lot about how frequently I had to leave work early, but soon learned that fevers, stomach viruses, pink eye and other such illnesses are just part of daily life inside a day care. Perhaps it was naive, but I thought my return to work would be much less complicated. At the end of the day, having a family typically means returning to a part-time job and not a full-time one. Many things change when you have a family: you can’t just stay in the office until the project or document or press release is finished. You can hardly even stop long enough to have a coffee with colleagues, as there is always an element of time pressure to get things done, which can sometimes get on your nerves. On the other hand, I don’t want to make Greta spend the night at the day care center, too! She recently said: „Mama work. Greta work.“ Oh no! But I think her ‘work’ is fun for her. I know she is in good hands when she tells me she sat on the swing for the first time by herself or rode her first kids bike, that she dug trenches with her friends or went to see a construction site on a field trip – all with a twinkle in her eye. It makes my work day go by much faster knowing we have the whole afternoon to spend together. It doesn’t always have to be something special; often times we just stay at the day care center with the other parents and children, or now that the days are getting longer, we will be able to have a barbecue.
From Off to Off
After about six months back at work, I can say that I feel very comfortable and well-supported in my new part-time position. I appreciate all the special services and support SMA provides their employees with children, even if I can’t often take advantage of them as a commuter. SMA does a lot to help its employees who are parents do their jobs. The luxury of being able to react spontaneously and just leave everything to go pick up a sick child ultimately benefits everyone
My personal adviser at work was always there for me, even during my maternity leave. It is so important to be able to keep in touch with colleagues while at home, and the people around the office are usually excited to hear how the child is doing at home as well. It is best to arrange that any important information be forwarded to you via email – information in your in-box is relatively safe. It is also helpful to have the employee magazine forwarded directly to your house while on leave, so that you can stay current with any company developments. After all, we are all trained to be particularly flexible at SMA: something I felt quite intensively during the restructuring when all of my colleague were sent to various divisions. This made me a little uneasy as I was „off“ sitting at home and uncertain how things would continue for me at SMA. Thanks to the clear channels of communication with work, however, it quickly became clear where I would be heading once I returned to work. From „Off“ to the „Off“ department; as I have very happily been in the Off-Grid Solutions department since September. There are many exciting aspects, nice colleagues and interesting topics in this department, which have helped me more easily readjust to working life.
The phone rang. Oh not, not again… But this time, only my colleagues will know how Greta is doing.