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I recently read 5 valuable work lessons from maternity leave from the Jasiri blog (a wonderfully thought-provoking new blog, if you were looking for one to get your teeth into!).
I was nodding along with every single one of Naomi’s points. Yep, that had absolutely been my experience too.
But I was also inspired to respond. I guess you could say I’ve had a rather long ‘maternity leave’ (nearly nine years and counting).
If you asked me, of course, I’d say it’s just been a career of a different sort (see 2 Myths about Stay-At-Home Parenting), but if you frame it in the context of ‘leave’ from paid work, then there are definite lessons I’ve learnt which are helping me now I’m starting to return to work.
The five which I’m about to share don’t discount those that Naomi wrote about – I agree with all of them! – but simply add the perspective of one who’s been out of paid work for quite some time…
1. Use every minute
There are no two ways about it: I am simply more productive now than before I had kids. Nine years of cramming in cooking, laundry, tidying and cleaning to the tiny corners of life left free after four kids have been entertained, fed, bathed, read to, taxi-ed around and fed again have taught me to make the most of every scrap of time I get.
I won’t say I never faff about. I’ve been as guilty of spending 20 minutes scrolling through Harry and Megan pictures as the next person.
But mainly I can’t rely on having time ‘later on’ – whether that’s this evening, tomorrow or next week – because my kids might get ill, or there may be another crisis. So I have to do things now – there’s no putting them off, and the faffing is greatly reduced.
In work terms, it is this heightened productivity that has made me utilise my writing times more effectively. I drop off the kids, open my laptop and crack on, knowing that those five precious hours ahead of me will soon be gone for another week.
2. Plan, plan, plan
In order to use every minute productively, especially when you’re fitting in ‘lifemin’ around caring for your kids, you need to have a really good idea of what needs doing and when. When are you going to collect that prescription, buy that present, send off that form?
I’ve learnt to work everything like this into my diary. As ridiculous as it sounds to write ‘pay for school dinners’ or ‘count hot dog rolls for BBQ’ alongside ‘Swimming lesson’ or ‘Toddler group’, if I don’t plan my days and my week like this, I simply forget the things that keep our household running smoothly.
Getting better at planning has been SO useful on my writing days. Each Monday is scheduled with assignments well before I get to it, meaning that I can start work straight away, rather than having to spend half an hour wondering what I should do today.
3. Be audacious
If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Yet in my pre-kids working life, I often lacked the confidence to realise my dreams. The fact that what you’re asking for often benefits the other party is something I’ve learned through my voluntary work since having kids.
I remember the first time I negotiated with a photographer to run a reasonably-priced photo-shoot for families at our toddler group – I felt wonderful! Yet all I’d done was given him a rather lucrative opportunity to make a fair bit of money over a two-hour period – so it worked well for both of us!
This attitude has developed through the other voluntary work I’ve done, not least in my current role as PTA Chair. We’re always asking shops and businesses for things – and we’re not scared to put ourselves out there!
As I’ve recently turned my focus to writing, I’m not scared to approach professionals – writers, bloggers, editors and publishers, to ask for what I need, or offer my work to them. Sure, it’s always going to be nerve-wracking to show your work to another who might be critical, but audaciousness makes you do 100 things in the hope that one of them will pay off.
4. Build good foundations
I am the Queen of Impatience – I like to fit a lot of different things into my life, and I hate it when one of them seems to take forever, robbing me of something else I could be doing.
But parenting has taught me patience, the importance of a long-term view, and how it’s worth taking time over things to get them right.
For want of making my children sound like my ‘projects’ (they aren’t, but they are also kind of my job, so it’s a bit of a blurred boundary), I’ve seen that the hours you spend reading to them, even when they’re crawling away from you, pay off when they’re older and learning to read, and suddenly you realise – WAHEY! They have a vocabulary! They can put letters together because they know what word is expected in that context!
I’ve learnt that biting my tongue and intentionally practising patience when my kids and I cook together (THIS TAKES A LOT OF PRAYER) results in some pretty amazing chef skills eventually. (My 3yo twins can crack eggs like pros!)
This has helped me as I’ve started a new career, particularly when considering my aims. Instead of having a monetary target, I’ve realised I need to spend time building a good foundation: writing to the best of my ability, using social media well, building my audience, connecting with like-minded others. I don’t know where my writing will go in the future, but I do know that it will only go somewhere if the foundations are good and strong.
I’m an ideas person, and always have been. Looking back at my teaching career pre-kids, I was trying to do everything.
On reflection, I should have chosen one thing and done it well. Three years as Head of Music could have made a real difference to one aspect of the school’s musical life. Instead, my legacy was confused and haphazard.
Nowadays, I’m not making the same mistake. My kids have taught me how to focus on them while juggling a lot of other balls – and I’m determined to put this into practice for my work-life too.
As I write, there are many projects I could be getting on with – writing for businesses, charities, magazines, blogs…not to mention The Book. Yes, I’m frustrated that a couple of these opportunities have had to be shelved for the moment, while I concentrate on finishing the book and other urgent projects, but it’s more important to focus on these jobs, rather than to become distracted by all the opportunities, and end up missing them all.
I’ve written a few times about being a SAHM – how it doesn’t need to mean intellectual suicide, how it is a valid feminist option, and how we women work just as hard in the home as out of it!
I don’t believe that being a SAHM is always the best option for families, but my words come from a place of frustration towards what I see communicated in the media: that educated women are wasted if they don’t earn money, that SAHMs spend their days watching trashy TV, or that raising kids is not a worthwhile endeavour for someone with brains.
I hope my words offer encouragement to anyone who’s walking this path, or thinking about walking it in the future. It can be a totally awesome thing for you and your family – and, as I’ve shown, develop some amazing skills for the workplace too!