As a general rule, I am not good at asking for help.
Pair this with my penchant for loading up my proverbial plate and my inability to let go of my own (often unrealistic) expectations and you could best describe the situation as an absolute freakin’ gong show.
Call it pride or stubbornness or just plain stupidity, I’ve been known to drive myself into the ground and end up completely exhausted – absolutely drained – with little to no consideration for the fact that I’m headed straight towards burnout. I’ve done it more than once and recently, I realized, I was threatening to do it again.
The truth is that the return to work has been harder than I had bargained for.
First, there was the nanny situation.
Then, we finally found a day home and we adjusted to going to full-day daycare three days a week…
And then, less than a month later, we learned our day home was closing in December – forcing us back to the beginning of what feels a bit like a nightmare.
But then there was also the cognitive load of learning a new role and bringing myself up to speed at a new company.
And, of course, there’s the lack of sleep – the reality that my baby is only nine months old and isn’t reliably sleeping through the night.
I’m still breastfeeding, so my days are filled with scheduled pumping sessions and I only get to nurse Baby S once or twice a day now.
And, I’d be remiss not to mention that I’m still Mom to a 12-year-old child who needs to be engaged with; I’m in a relationship with a partner who deserves my energy. I want to go to the gym for my mental and physical health a few times a week. Showers are recommended.
Plus there’s the other stuff: groceries, cleaning, laundry, putting gas in the car… the things you know need to get done but you don’t always think about them.
And dinners. Lunches to pack. Little bags for S to take with him every day with extra onesies and socks.
It felt and still feels… insurmountable sometimes.
Bit by bit, things added up. I’d finish work, race to get S from the day home, and then dive straight into making dinner. It felt like a rush to tidy up, bundle up, and walk the dog early enough that S wouldn’t be a sleep risk and then get home to do bath and bedtime by 7pm. Although the first few weeks felt pretty manageable and I could almost fool myself into believing I was adjusting to a routine, I hit a wall.
I actually made myself sick.
Something (or some things) had to give.
The first for me was giving up bedtime every night with S. Even though I love it, his dad deserves that time too and it benefits S to learn to go to bed for someone that isn’t mum. And that 30 minutes or so that I can redirect to resting, showering, or getting on top of other things I need to do? So helpful.
Then it was school lunches for F. He can figure it out himself a few days a week and/or M can help him help himself. Further, I am privileged enough to be able to just outsource his lunch once or twice a week which frees us up even more.
Food boxes. Grocery click + collect ordering. Grabbing something on the go more often than we used to.
My floors get cleaned half as often. I don’t get to the gym five days a week. Sometimes the laundry sits in baskets, clean, and we pick what we need as we go.
I’m contemplating hiring a cleaner. I’ve relied on F to be the primary dog walker a few days a week. I let M take the lead.
Accepting the somethings that had to give wasn’t easy for me. Truthfully, it’s felt like a failure more than a breakthrough. I wish I could say that it felt like a weight was lifted but most of the time, it still just weighs heavily. I lie in bed, regularly, and feel defeated by the knowledge I haven’t actually completed a single task on my to do list.
Now. Real talk (or, I guess, more real talk). I wrote the rest of this article over a week ago. In the week since, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. I normally applaud reflection but I’m burning the candle at both ends because a lot of my introspection time happens between midnight and 5am, AKA the very few hours I can *actually* dedicate to resting but don’t because I wake up noodlin’ all the things.
But, I digress.
In reflecting, I’ve come to realize that perhaps the reason my return to work has felt so hard has been that I set too high a standard for myself.
It was unrealistic to expect that I would hit the ground running. If I had returned to my previous job, I could have done this. No problem. But to join a brand new company in a brand new role (both to me AND to the company)? No…
I wore myself down and made myself miserable for weeks because I believed that everyone else had the same expectation of me. In conversation with a colleague, I confessed that I had hoped we’d be further along in a few projects I’d kicked off and he looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head before telling me that he, for one, thought I was accomplishing a lot. M pointed out the same.
As the saying goes, “we are each our own worst critic,” and this is definitely true of me.
I’d love to say that I’m going to magically get better about my expectations of myself. Or that finding a balance (or improving my juggling skills!) is going to suddenly happen and everything will instantly feel easier but I know better. If there was a quick fix, we’d all have figured it out by now. Instead, I’ll remember that I’m a work in progress and it doesn’t all have to be perfect right now.
Or, like, ever.