Sparked by watching the BBC’s ‘The Replacement’ last week (I must catch up on the latest episode!), it reminded me of all the completely sane, totally normal and entirely rational thoughts… ahem… that went through my head this time last year as the start date of my maternity leave was impending.
I will admit that, looking back, maybe they weren’t all entirely justified, but at the time, the struggle and the panic was very real.
1. My replacement would be better than me at my job
Irrational thought: Obviously they were going to come in and totally smash my job, the job that I have created and moulded over the last four years. They would show me up and highlight my flaws. They would get things done that I could only have dreamt of. I would never be able to do my job when I came back because they would have set such a high standard that I just couldn’t meet. I would hate them.
Hindsight: You want your workload to be managed and looked after; coming back to nothing being done would be worse, would it not? A replacement knows they’re filling big shoes, they don’t have the expertise and the knowledge that you do. They’re keeping things going whilst you’re TEMPORARILY not there. They are not ‘the new you’.
2. Everyone would like my replacement more than me
Irrational thought: Obviously they were going to be the coolest, friendliest, funniest, most lovable and intelligent person ever. They would intentionally find my quirks and make everyone hate me for them. They would be the best person ever.
Hindsight: Turns out they still like me! Imagine that?! Despite my quirks, my inevitable (though I can’t think of any right now) annoying habits or hormonal breakdowns, I slotted right back into the department as if I never went away.
3. I would lose control of my own projects – my ‘work babies’
NB: Important fact to note is that I am super protective over my work, my projects and I like things done ‘just so’.
Irrational thought: They would come in, leave me out of the loop (oh how I love the loop!), change my projects, ignore my suggestions and well thought out, detailed plans and just generally turn MY work into THEIR work. How dare they?
Hindsight: They were treading water, keeping things afloat. There was no time for deviating from my marvellous, well- structured plans. My plans saved their arse. This makes me happy.
4. My colleagues would forget about me and not talk to me for months
Irrational thought: My colleagues are more than that; they’re good friends who have been by my side through a lot. But they would, of course, dump me and forget about me, becoming BFFs with The Replacement in no time at all. I would be nothing but a distant memory.
Hindsight: They didn’t forget about me at all. Funny that? They still emailed and text me, they still included me in office bants. They bought me gifts when Felix arrived, they came and visited me. We even went out to lunches just so they could see him and cuddle him. They still like me (I think) and I was not forgotten.
5. I would totally forget how to do my job when I came back
Irrational thought: Oooh now this is a biggy. After working hard for years to establish myself as a respected, intelligent employee who knows what they’re talking about (that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway), a combination of post-baby brain, hormones, uncertainty, lack of confidence, seven months off, accepting other people’s judgements and insecurities would basically mean that I had forgotten how to a) do my job, and b) be good at doing my job.
Hindsight: I’m still very much winging it, but it took a surprisingly short amount of time to settle back in to my role. Whether it’s a good thing or not is up to the individual, but it very much felt like I had never been away. Sure, it takes time to fully get that much-desired control back over things, to get your feet back under the table, but it happens.
I think if I watched The Replacement this time last year, I probably would have had some sort of breakdown watching her fears on screen, but hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.
My career is important to me, that’s well documented, so the fear is very much real. But, hopefully, next time I won’t be quite as on edge and my boss won’t have to give me quite so many “it’s going to be OK, Paula” pep talks!
If you’re interested… I will be posting another blog later this week on how ‘easy’ I found it slotting back into the work relationships I had before I left. I know younger mums experience and talk about shifts in their friendship groups as they became parents, but at 30, I never expected it. Anyway, more on that soon!