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“It was when I turned to my husband and said, “I hate my life and I’m feeling depressed”, that I realised something needed to change.”

TMC’s Editor Lydia House explains how she dealt with sickness after returning to work.

Returning to work…

“After deciphering my work and ‘mum life’ scenario, I felt confident about returning to work.”
“I was excited to start a new job, and after dropping my youngest off at nursery and seeing how happy he was, I felt the most extraordinary mental release.”
“As I had my first coffee alone, preparing to sit down to work and tackle the day, I felt free and in control.”
“It was so lovely to plan and plot in some meetings while slotting in elements of self-care. I could now book fitness classes before work and even have a pedi before pick-ups. I was so excited to get a slice of my old life back.”

“And then my phone rang…”

Juggling sickness and a job

“After only two days I had to collect my son from nursery because he had a high temp.”
“Then in the days and weeks that followed, we multiple bugs that hit our household and my husband was also away on business. The illness list on the nursery door started to feel like a joke. I felt like I was living in a nightmare.”
“My new company was understanding and gave me some time off, but I still had to accomplish a certain degree of work. Which meant looking after sick children, battling my own illnesses and working in the evening or around naps.”
“I felt overwhelmed. It was all-encompassing. And I started to feel like I couldn’t even think. I had to cancel everything, and I began to feel like I could never plan ahead through fear of letting people down.”
“It made me feel disconnected from reality, that I was becoming a bad friend, and never before have I felt such sadness and an inability to cope.”

Hitting rock bottom…

“I find it hard to vocalise my feelings and often they come out either in an argument or in bed when all is calm, just before my husband and I go to sleep. And I remember this moment vividly. With our backs turned I whispered, “I hate my life and I feel like I’m depressed.”
Unsurprisingly shocked and saddened, he responded, “It’s just a moment. It’ll pass, and it’ll get better. It’s just really tough right now.””
“And while he was right, life had become a horrible treadmill for me. The nursery calls and pick-ups were all on me, and the caregiving, house, and life admin – all on me! And on top of this, I had a new job that I wanted to excel at. Ok, it wasn’t as well paid as his, but it was my career, and I wanted to have the chance to be brilliant at it. On top of this, all self-care methods were certainly not being done. I wasn’t eating well or exercising, and I don’t think I’d shaved my legs for at least a month. I wasn’t in a good way, and something needed to change.”

Did I need to quit my job?

“Was the solution that we pulled them out of the nursery, and I quit my job? Maybe I’d gone back to work too soon. Perhaps they were too small? Maybe they needed to be with a nanny instead of in the nursery. But how would I make that work? I always said I wanted them to socialise in childcare rather than being with one person as I would feel like they would be replacing me. But maybe I was wrong? And then I saw this Instagram post about a woman who went through the same thing. It made me realise it wasn’t the childcare that needed to change; it was me.”

What we did to improve our situation

“My husband and I agreed we needed a contingency plan for when shit hit the fan. It couldn’t all be on me anymore.”

  1. We asked for help
    We used grandparents (*and infected them) a lot! They stopped wanting to come over a bit. And we were worried we might kill them a few times. But they saved us!
  2. We shared the load
    Just because someone earns more or works more doesn’t mean the other person should take on everything else in the home, and it took me nearly breaking for us to realise that. Now things are a lot more even, and it helps.
  3. We give each other space on weekends
    If it has been a tough week for me or my husband, one of us takes the kids away for a morning or afternoon at the weekend. We’ve realised we don’t always have to go to every family event or children’s class. And often this time and peace is all we need to reboot.
  4. We booked a buffer day
    I only work part-time, so we added another half day to the time our children are at nursery. This extra cost might seem like an indulgence, and it’s a privilege, I know! But it’s enabled me to push work on if I need to take time out to care for them earlier in the week. And when they’re not sick, I use it to do stuff for the house or even for myself. The impact it’s made on my mental health vs. the cost doesn’t even come close and it’s worth every penny.
  5. We remind ourselves it’s just a phase
    After a few stints of sickness and cancelling plans, we realised that everything could be rescheduled. There’s no denying it might be shit for a while, but as they get older and their immune systems get stronger, it gets easier and less frequent.

Other things that could help

Mix up your childcare options

“To widen their options, some parents use nursery a few days a week, and then they have a nanny on the other days. We decided against it as it seemed like another thing I’d have to manage but I have often thought it would be handy to have another person to call when I’m really stuck. It can be helpful to have lots of childcare options in case things don’t go to plan.
Obviously if your children are sick they need to be looked after at home but having extra options can be helpful, especially if you’re ill yourself, if can’t get to the nursery to pick up, or if you’re back-pedalling and need to ask for extra help.”

Get outside

“If the kids are off school and you can’t work, take the opportunity to slow down. Enjoy the cuddles, forget the housework and your external stresses and focus on what’s important (*which is getting you and your family healthy again). Whenever the kids are off sick, if it is possible (and they’re not vomming) I bundle them up in the double pram and head out for a walk. The fresh air does wonders for my mood and it lifts them too.”

Rework your self-care

“If you’ve had to cancel appointments and the concept of glossy blow-dried hair seems like a dream. Then get in that shower! Treat yourself to a new body wash, a face mask, some new loungewear or anything that you can enjoy at home that will make you feel good while you’re stuck there. Get to bed earlier, drink herbal tea and practice a slower pace of life where you’re looking after yourself. Book an at home massage or a treatment at the weekend when your partner is home to take the kids. Maybe even book one for them too. Whatever works – just do it! You’ll feel so much better.”

Speak to your work

“You’re certainly not the first parent to encounter going back to work when you have a small child. So speak to your company and get their advice. Find out what the protocol is for dealing with situations like this. Hopefully they’ll be understanding and they’ll help you but if they’re not then don’t be afraid to read up on your rights. The days you’re allowed off will depend on your contract but the Citizens Advice Bureau also states: “You can take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave before your child is five. The Gov UK website recommends checking the details of your employment contract, your company handbook or the intranet site to get clued up on their individual policy. And remember BOTH parents are allowed time off to look after their children.”

GOV UK: Time off for family and dependants

Share the organisation of what going back to work looks like

“Instead of waiting to speak to your partner when the shit hits the fan. Do it before you return to work. Have a few plans in place and decide how things might work together. You might have already done this but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it again. If you share the mental load in the beginning it should mean that if things need to be shifted and rejigged you’ll both feel responsible about managing it.”

Be kind to yourself

“It’s common to feel like you’re trying and failing at everything. But it’s important to be kind to yourself in these moments and slow down. Take things as they come, minute by minute. And try not to think too much about what’s going to happen and be kind to yourself. You can only do so much.”

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