Back To Work: Top Tips From New Mum & Career Woman Sarah Manning

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a big challenge. We are passionate about passing on lessons and inspiring other women who might be worrying about coming back to work – whether they are employed or run their own business. Read about how to go back to work plus the top tips from women who have come back to work in the last 2 years.

Sarah Manning 

Associate Family Solicitor and Mediator, Consilia Legal

I come to work for a break! 

I qualified as a family solicitor in 2011. At that time I was very career driven and had in a previous firm built up a family department from scratch. I loved it, out networking, socialising and assisting building the business. With no commitments other than my partner, I had all the time in the world to develop the business. I even ended up becoming a partner at the age of 27 as a result of my dedication and hard work. Unfortunately, due to reasons outside of my control, the business went into liquidation. I panicked. I was getting married in 9 months and I needed to find a job.

I moved to a larger firm than I was used to but the role was to help build up the family department and I was raring to go and get my teeth stuck into it.

The first month after getting married I fell pregnant. While pregnant I could not comprehend not working and not checking emails 24/7, however, I felt strongly that I wanted a year off with my baby. My mum was a stay at home mum and although I wanted that for my child I knew I would not be happy doing so. My husband and I had a discussion, he is an HGV mechanic and he was pleased to take a step back and care for our children while I worked full time.

I had my little girl, Annabelle and I was instantly in love and in full Mummy mode. As I was known as a social butterfly while at work and in my private life, this continued while I was on maternity leave. Annabelle was 1 week old and I had already gone to bussom buddies, signed up to lots of playgroups and joined ‘Fit mummies’ exercise class. I met loads of friends and kept busy every day filling my days with lots of activities and play dates. Halfway through my maternity leave, my husband and I had a chat and life with a child was very different to how we anticipated. My husband instantly knew he was not cut out to be a stay at home dad. Playgroups and play dates were not his thing. I was loving being at home and struggled to see how I would fit work into my busy schedule.

We both knew after 6 months of maternity that I would go back part-time and I asked work if I could come back 3 days and I was initially told no. They were shocked because I had already said I was going to come back full time, but it was my right to change my mind and I was entitled to put in a flexible working request once a year. We comprised and I was offered 4 days. In all honesty, I was not happy about this. Shortly after this, I fell pregnant again! Annabelle was 9 months old and it wasn’t exactly planned. I had to tell work that I was pregnant again and I hadn’t even come back to work from my first maternity leave.

I returned to work and didn’t enjoy running after a toddler, being pregnant and working 4 days. I was only at work 5 months and I left again for my second maternity leave. I couldn’t really start any ‘real’ projects in that time or business development because I was due to leave shortly. I then had 15 months off with my son Jake - the longest time I could have off without leaving my job. Life with an 18-month-old and a new baby was very hectic.

As the deadline for my maternity leave was getting closer, I couldn’t possibly think of how I would be able to get to work and get a one and a two-year-old ready and dropped off at the nursery. I asked the company I worked for if I could work 3 days again and this time they said yes! I was so pleased and thought this would be more manageable. I knew I had to go back, as we needed the money and wanted to move to a new house. I said to myself I will just go to work and not do all the networking and business development that I previously had. As soon as I was back I was straight back into networking and dropping the kids off at the nursery was easy. I didn’t have to give them breakfast. I got myself ready while they were asleep and woke them up and give them both their milk and then straight into the car to the nursery. After getting over the upset of leaving them at nursery, week 2 was a doddle. Life at work was easier than looking after a 1 and 2 years old (hats off to all the stay at home mums). I got a dinner hour and I could go read a magazine and have a coffee in peace and catch up with friends. I soon realised that life at work was a lot easier than being at home. I realised I can do both. I can be a good mum, work hard and have a good work-life balance.

My commute to work was over an hour from my home and there were no networking events at the times I could do. They were either at 7.30am or 7pm so I set up my own networking event at 5pm. At the networking events, I always homed in on other women who have kids and are successful. I loved hearing their stories and it empowered me to think ‘ I can do this’. Obviously, I missed the time with the kids but I also felt like me again and not just Annabelle and Jakes mum. I am also lucky to have such good support from my husband. I did the drop-offs and he did the collections. Not having to leave work at a certain time made it easier for me to network and develop my career.
I honestly think I am a better mother and wife for going back to work. I have better conversations with my husband than just about toilet training and which playgroup I went to that day and more patience with the children at what I like to call ‘witching hour’ between 5pm and 7pm.

After 3 months back in my role I left. The role I originally had before my 2.5 years off had gone and I had no caseload and the commute with two young children was too much. I felt that I had been pushed back for any promotion because of time I had off and I was not happy in the current role with the travel. I decided to leave and get a job closer to home where the journey to work is now 30 minutes. I am so much happier with the extra time I get to spend with the children and enjoy bath time on an evening and reading bedtime stories. I also increased my hours to 4 days otherwise, I soon found out that to be a good family solicitor I would need to be in the office 4 days otherwise I just ended up answering emails and calls on my days off. I have Fridays off and I ensure that I do not work on that day and dedicate that day for me to spend time with my babies.

Before I came back to work it was so easy to become engrossed in being a mum and not thinking about yourself as a person. I now feel like me again. It is so hard to get back to work, especially when being out of a work environment, but it has honestly been the best decision for me and my family ……my sanity. I believe I am a better mum and spend more quality time with my children for going back to work. It is hard and on some days when dropping my daughter off at nursery upset because she wants to stay with me, the mum guilt does kick in, but overall going back to work was not as scary as I first thought and I am glad I stuck to it. 

My husband and I are very lucky to earn the income that we do and that I did have a choice to go back to work. We currently have to pay double childcare which is currently £85.10 a day. This is more than most people’s average wage. I believe more help should be given to families with twins or 2 children in private nursery when under the age of 3 before their free hours kick in to help working mums get back into work. This is an entirely different topic which I feel very strongly about but I will leave that for another day.

This article is part of our #BackToWork series, read other stories HERE.

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2 Comments

  • Donna says:

    As a mum to 3 children under 6 ( age 5, 3&3) I can totally relate to this article. When I first came back after having my twins I was struggling, but in the last 12 months I have found the right balance. My husband does the pick ups from nursery and after school club and changed his hours so he could do this, so like you said its nice not to have to rush off and do the pick ups. I currently work 3 days but will soon be changing my hours so that I can have a better balance with the school holidays and my twin girls start school in September. Great article 😉

  • Laura says:

    This article totally resonates with me too. I went back to work full time 5 months ago after having my first child. I loved maternity leave but I knew I couldn't be a stay at home mum - a day at home with a little one is so physically demanding compared to a day in the office, and I need and enjoy the mental stimulation of work. I miss my little girl and it is hard to say goodbye to her, especially when she's upset, but going to work gives me the space to be me again, along with the adult interaction which is so important. It did take me a good 3 months to get back into work again, but I'm lucky to be able to work from home, and to have a husband who takes on his share of the child care responsibilities, both of which are vital to making it work. Life is very busy and often challenging but at the same time I enjoy being able to be just me at work, and then come home and relish my number one job of being a mummy.

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