From Parental Leave To Full-Time Work: Calling A Career Into Question

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My office, a few years and a few homes ago. Still a mess. Photo: DI

I haven’t worked for almost a year. Summer vacation, then maternity leave, then parental leave.

In France, maternity leave is sixteen weeks long (three to six weeks before birth, ten to thirteen weeks after). We’re then allowed to take a few months of parental leave (six months for a first child). We’re not paid, except for a little familial allowance, but we keep our job. Since I’m lucky enough to have a companion with a good job, that’s what I did. I simply couldn’t imagine going back to work when my baby was ten or even thirteen weeks old.

As all of you moms probably know, six months fly incredibly quickly with a baby. And a few weeks ago, it was time for me to go back to work.

Let me say firstly that I’m actually very lucky, and my return to work happened in the best possible circumstances.

We easily found a daycare for our son. The “maternal assistant” (official name in France, but everyone says “nanny”) is great, she takes wonderful care of the baby. She has only two children in her charge, and the other one is the son of friends. Our son loves her, and loves his playmate. I began to leave him with the nanny for a few hours months ago, so he got progressively accustomed to her. That perfectly worked. He never cried when I left him, which is almost vexing for me, but far better for him.

I hadn’t completely lost touch with my job (I’m a senior high school teacher), since many colleagues are also friends, and often came to see us. I chose to keep receiving and reading work emails. I even went to a few meetings during my parental leave (once with the baby, who’s a really nice little chap).

I went back to work for little more than a month before the summer vacation.

So why was it so hard for me?

Of course, there’s a timetable problem. You all know it. I’m aware that it won’t get better for years. Making time for work, children, husband, housework and personal activities is a constant struggle. Especially for geeks, who have a lot of personal activities. And for geek moms, who want to share a lot of geeky activities with their kids. I don’t know how I will manage it. I don’t know if I will, if any mother does. I’ll have to make choices. But we all have. And choices are one of the interesting parts of life, after all.

But that wasn’t the worst thing for me.

The worst were the weeks before I went back to work. The weeks when I had to think about my job.

I love my job. Or I suppose so. I’m considered a very enthusiastic and committed teacher. So I have to be, haven’t I?

That’s the tricky thing with long-term leaves. When I’m working, I usually don’t think about it. Of course I think about lessons, and students, and books to study, and activities to run, and exams, and a lot of things, but I don’t think about the very fact of working.

I don’t think about how great it is to have time to write, to read for fun, to design games for your friends and kid, to bake cakes every week, to write for GeekMom.

So great. So much fun.

And I suddenly had to admit: more fun and greater than work.

That lead me to deep wondering. Had I picked the right job, finally? Wouldn’t I be happier as a freelance writer? As a journalist? As an author? Or even as a stay-at-home mom?

Shouldn’t I be ashamed not to feel better about my job? Could I be a good teacher if I was so happy while I wasn’t teaching?

Time is a dangerous thing. It leads you to dangerous paths, dangerous questions, with no real answers.

Then I was back at work. I smiled, and taught, and built projects and lessons for next term, and so on. I like it. Of course I’d rather write for a living. I don’t know if this new awareness will make me a better teacher or a worse one. I don’t know if that matters.

Have any of you experienced the same questions after a leave? Have any of you made a different choice, and changed your career on account of them?

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