Things I learned on maternity leave

Next week I return to work – in many ways I am excited about this, although it is of course tinged with sadness that I will be leaving little man behind every day. But maternity leave has been interesting for me academically, so I thought I would post what I have learned so that I can look back on this and get some perspective when the madness of term hits.

  1. Most of the emails I receive do not require much attention and can be deleted. Many of these come from my own university or are digests. Teaching/student/PhD emails are important. Previously, I used to be a constant checker and instant replier. So my note to self is: I only need to check emails once a day and do not need to check them over the weekend. At all. Ever.
  2. I am a workaholic. It took me 3-4 months to actually switch off and by 9 months I was fidgety again. I re-learned some French in the interim but it was good NOT to be working for my sanity. I actually feel mentally fresh, if not physically. Note to self: I do not need to be defined by my academic life. (I am working on this. It’s a process).
  3. Relatedly, in a polar opposite kind of way, I am extremely good at vegetating. I hadn’t realised quite HOW good. I am not an intellectual, I am a different sort of academic. I did not read many books (apart from finishing the Game of Thrones series and a few odd other things which I largely read in the middle of the night on my kindle). But I have probably watched every single Amazon Prime original series and a lot of films. Note to self: It is ok to not live and breathe work.
  4. I am really grateful for all the people who didn’t give up on me during maternity leave though. I wobbled. I wondered about part time, I wondered about full time. I reviewed some articles, I co-organised some conference sessions so I would have something to go back to (thanks Caleb). I occasionally needed to do something that did not relate to the baby and that made me feel more like my old self. That one defined by work. See point 2. I talked to/messaged a lot of academic peers with babies (thanks everyone) who made me feel better about point 2 because they were working on it too. I decided on full time. Note to self: I will, as the peer group evidence suggested,  feel guilty about working and guilty about not working. I will feel guilty.
  5. I used to faff, masquerading as work. I had always worried that post-baby I would not be able to manage the same level of work I did before, but I realised that with email checking etc that I wasted an inordinate amount of time every day. KIT days were interesting for how much I could actually fit in. I will not be able to do the hours that I used to, but I can probably completely internalize the neoliberal university (which I hate) by working more effectively in a core 9-5 model. In some ways what I have achieved between 8.45/9 and 4.30 has been very focussed work that would previously have taken me much longer. Note to self: Work smarter, not harder.
  6. I have less patience than I used to for whinging/griping/work stressing/gossiping. I just need to get on with things. Lots of people have lots of concerns, and in all likelihood I will probably share them, departmentally, institutionally, sector-wide-ally, TEF-ally, UKRI-ally, politically, but I haven’t got the energy for it, or, in fact, the time. Note to self: Pick the battles that really matter.
  7. I like my job. I know which parts I like more and which parts I like less. I know now how to concentrate my efforts whereas before I tried to do everything well. It isn’t always going to be physically possible to do this. Note to self: if you do everything well 70% of the time then that is ok.

We will see how I fare. Wish me luck! I will be back to posting more regularly now.