If you’ve been off from work for some time like me, one unexpected delight of returning to a job might be the opportunity to dress up again, and the chance to wear some of your favourite heels. You might have missed the artifice of height and the self-important click-clacking as you walk down the marbled hallways of the PATH. But that literal and figurative high only lasts so long. With the high heel always comes the first blister. And then comes the first fall. It’s inevitable after steadied years spent cruising in runners and other pedestrian shoes.
For me it happened this morning. I was rushing to drop my daughter off at school – hand in hand we walked, when my conservative heel caught a divet in the pavement and down I went, and then down she then went. Morning ruined.
It’s bittersweet, wearing your gorgeous but impractical heels, and so too can be returning to work. If you like your job, it can feel so good. There are uninterrupted lunches, silk tops you can get more than one wear out of before dry cleaning, and finally, finally expressed gratitude for all your hard work. But with it comes some necessary pain – feeling pressure, squeezed and a little beat up at times too.
Not being there for every meltdown is grand, but missing that first after school activity really sucks. Guilt will become a popular tune in your emotional repertoire, if it wasn’t already. And when exactly are you supposed to get groceries? The gym takes a back seat again. In fact, so does a lot of what you typically thought of as self-care. But here’s the thing, if you’re lucky enough to like what you do, and if your job is something that fulfills you, consider it self-care.
Even though work is a necessity for most of us, I’ve started to think of it as a bit of a selfish endeavour (which really becomes true when you start to enjoy a little time away from your kids). Work is your time to develop as a human being, to feel valued, to create something amazing, to eat a well-balanced meal instead of a lunch of scraps. So, for every parent out there who struggles with returning to work, remember that work can be slightly selfish – selfish in a good way.
And when you’re at home, be there. Like really, really, there. Phones away, eye contact, “tell me about your day” type conversations. I find that 1 hour of quality time solidifies my bond with my kids more than several hours of distracted play. I still struggle with the transition from being a full-time mom to a part-time one. Trying to explain to my kids why I’m not at home as much and get them to accept this without feeling like I’m abandoning them. Another thing I’ve found so far that’s worked is to get some buy in from your kids if you’re returning to work after some time at home. It’s the little things. For instance, every night I ask my daughter to help me pick out a “work outfit”. I get her thumbs up or down as I try things on and hopefully she consents to something that doesn’t have me looking like some iteration of a rainbow. She feels like she’s sending me off to my job and had something to do with it. It’s little but let’s be honest, it gives her some delicious control.
In a post-baby world, I think it’s clear that nothing can ever be perfect again. There is no perfect balance, only a precarious one. Every day. All you can really do is hold onto that precarious balance with the knowledge that most working moms and dads struggle to find it too. And when it is achieved, it’s usually in fine precious moments. So for the rest of the time, when you’re teetering between extremes, wear your heels, but tread cautiously and keep your flip flops under your desk for days when you just can’t.