I could never understand why the return to school was such a drag for some of my friends; I loved school, I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved it so much that 12 years ago I became a teacher. Even then I would be excited about the return to work: the fresh backing paper waiting for the children’s work to be displayed; the new uniform worn proudly by the children; the expectation of what we were about to achieve as a new thrown together family of 31 for the year. However, this year is different. This year I’m returning not after a 6 week break but after a 45 week maternity leave, and the prospect of leaving my son, Teddy, whilst I go to work is proving difficult to get my head around.
I looked forward to my leave for all nine months of pregnancy. Having a baby had proved tricky for my husband and I, and we waited a long time and experienced much heartbreak to get to the point of me actually being on leave and having a baby in my arms. So much so that I never really considered the leave finishing – 45 weeks was a lifetime…wasn’t it? Somehow, it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. Between breastfeeding for hours, broken nights of sleep, baby groups (I’m an expert!), coffee with friends, visits with family and a few lunch breaks with my husband it has just vanished and September is upon us.
When facing the return to work I’m sure every mother and father go through a whole host of emotions – joy, anxiety, anger, elation, excitement and most of all guilt, guilt and more guilt. I’m extremely lucky that I’m only going back to work part time and I’m also fortunate that I have my Mum and Dad providing childcare one day a week. The other two days Teddy will go to nursery and therein lies even more guilt. I’ve been the one present for all but a few hours of his life so how can I now rationalise leaving him with strangers? How will he cope? Where will he think I’ve gone? Will he feel abandoned? How can he possibly comprehend that I will come back for him? The nursery I have chosen is wonderful; that’s why I chose it. It comes highly recommended by a valuable childcare insider that I have on my side – I trust them with my son completely. But they don’t know him. They cannot, despite their best efforts, provide for his needs as I can. They don’t know that he likes to hold your hand and guide you to his toys or that he likes to look in your eyes as soon as he wakes up so he can smile at you or that he likes nothing better than reading a book with you and spending ages just opening and closing it. These are simple things, but they are his things and the things that he needs for a day to feel normal. Without them he will be sad and my heart will break a little bit more.
The ‘return to work’ modern day problem is both a curse and a blessing. We leave our children with others but we get to have a whole other side to us outside of being a mother or father. We miss some achievements in our child’s lives but we get to achieve things apart from being a parent. We miss some joyous moments our children experience but we find joy in things other than motherhood or fatherhood.
For everyone facing their own ‘end of maternity leave’ decision the choice is anything but simply should I stay or should I go?
As a teacher my return to work dilemma is this: how can I leave my child for two days to be looked after by strangers whilst I go and look after other people’s children? It was only as I considered this dilemma that I saw the return to school through a mother’s eyes. The mothers (and fathers) of the children in my class. To them I am the stranger charged with looking after their most precious possession. I am the one they have to implicitly trust with the care and education of their child even though they have no idea who I am. I am the one the school have chosen to be their child’s teacher – it wasn’t even their choice. On the first school day in September their children will line up in front of me and they will hand them over and place their confidence in me that I have their child’s best interests in the front of my mind – I do, always.
It was only as I had this thought that I remembered something important – I have never met a teacher, or anyone in the childcare profession, who has entered into their chosen career for any other reason than they love teaching. They enjoy spending time with children: looking after them; educating them; having fun with them – yes the amount of holidays are great but they are nothing without the wonderful time spent with the children in between. And this is where my answer lies…the nursery will look after and enjoy the time spent with my son, as he will enjoy being with them, just as I will look after and enjoy the time I get with the children in my class.
So September is upon us and my maternity leave is over. Although I would happily spend every day of my life with my son I know that I must return to work – albeit with a heavy heart. One of the things we hear most about the dreaded return to work after maternity leave is, “You’ll finally get to have conversations with adults!” Actually, I won’t. I will spend my time with children. I will get to have conversations with children. I will get to see the world through their eyes and share their thoughts, feelings and opinions. In this I am definitely the lucky one. Being a mummy is a great privilege but so is being a teacher.
A Guest Blog from Victoria
Victoria is married and a mummy of one, Teddy. A Cheltenham girl born and bred she enjoys nothing more than spending time enjoying the delights of the town alongside her family and friends. With a lifelong love for travelling to far flung places and experiencing different cultures she can’t wait to show her son the world. An avid fan of baby groups she can often be found enjoying the day singing, dancing, doing yoga or messy play with Teddy!
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