My maternity leave was coming to a close, the survival-mode newborn section complete, and my vision of returning to work was all podcast-filled commutes, hot coffee and a thing I had a distant memory of called lunch. Shared Parental Leave switched to player 2 as I tagged in my husband. Then I was on my way back to work, ready to reactivate my brain, Heigh-Ho-ing all the way down the road. In reality, my return to work was somewhat overshadowed by a global pandemic – not a reality I had ever considered. I graduated from mum, to working mum, to working-from-home mum in a matter of days – and I’m still getting used to the promotion.
My morning commute is now more porridge than podcast, swiftly packing spoonfuls of the stuff into the ever-open mouth of my six-month-old-son. The only coffee on the menu is half-drunk and triple-microwaved and my lunch hour has a recurring calendar invite for quality family time.
Working from home as a new mum has been interesting so far. Sure, the first thing I Googled was ‘best noise-cancelling headphones’ and yes, I’ve had to use the phrase ‘just pretend I’m not here’ more than once (a day). But I guess there are always teething problems, especially when you’re dealing with a dribbly baby.
Living in London, floor space comes with a price tag. And with all the Snoozyhead and Sleepypod additions – no judgement, you’ll try anything when you’re chasing that elusive sleeping-through-the-night dream - I found it hard to mark out my workspace territory. Babies seem to have a knack for infiltrating each and every piece of personal space you have, or had – but now he was all up in my professional space too.
I’ve found the best solution is to be flexible. I move around from table to floor to balcony to hallway as needed throughout the day – a sort of slow interpretive dance around a tiny but relentless human. This way I minimise the frustration around interruptions and maximise my chances for a change of scenery and a quick leg stretch.
I also quickly realised that I was being pulled in two very different directions. Mum-guilt is standard, but now I had a new niggling worry: worker-guilt. I was apologising to my son for not spending time with him, not cuddling him when I walked into the room to get something, not picking him up as he reached for me when I was on a call.
But now I also found myself apologising to colleagues and clients at the start of video meetings, quickly explaining myself before my microphone picked up the low-level background shrieking. I’m a mum, a working mum, a working mum who’s working from home. But don’t worry, my husband is looking after him!
I soon discovered I wasn’t alone, that many people are in the same position. Every video call I join has another apologetic parent, bleary-eyed and over-stretched, quickly explaining. But now I know that everyone always has the same response – a sympathetic smile, a knowing nod, a shrug, a wave of the hand – all signalling for us to lower our collective parental apology flags and not to worry, it’s just life.
I have also discovered that the benefits to this intense situation are huge. Instead of squeezing my way apologetically onto a train every morning and night, I now get to have breakfast and dinner with my son. I can feed him lunch then put him down for a nap. I feel present every second that I’m not ‘at’ work and that’s pretty amazing.
I also feel like I am working at peak productivity. Like this experience has unlocked a part of my brain that I didn’t know existed before. As a parent I’m already in a state of perpetual motion – I’ve learned never to stop. So as soon as napping commences, it’s go time. Silence really is golden, and it’s during those moments that my brain is firing on all cylinders.
There’s definitely a survival of the loudest situation going on, and sometimes my day unravels into a dystopian thriller by mid-morning. But other days we move around each other in our awkward dance, surrounded by well-marketed baby gimmicks and cheese plants, and we all somehow manage to make it work. At the end of the day I feel balanced, like I managed to achieve working and parenting. I didn’t have to choose between them.
It’s a strange place to be in, and it’s taken me a few weeks to navigate myself to a space where working from home works for me. I guess what I’ve realised is that, for now at least, there isn’t my work-life and my family-life. It’s just life, and that’s ok.
You can see Bo star in our Staying Creative During the Lockdown video here.