I’ve just returned to work following my second maternity leave, having spent the past 10 months at home with a baby and toddler. Being able to sit on a chair (as opposed to the floor) and enjoy a hot cup of tea (as opposed to a luke warm offering) in relative peace is still a novelty. To some it might seem that maternity leave is a break in your career; valuable time out of the workplace that is lost forever. I’d argue that being a parent, and spending time at home with small children, has actually helped me to develop skills that I’m going to find invaluable in my library career.
I thought I was pretty good at multitasking, but managing with two small children on my own at home has taken this TO ANOTHER LEVEL. I spend my mornings picking dried Weetabix out of the carpet, while trying to stop the crawling baby dunking himself head first into the dog’s water dish, keeping one eye on the 3 year old who is shouting “Watch this, Mummy!” as he hurtles off the sofa onto a pile of cushions. If I can do this, I can get through all those outstanding emails, a dozen literature searches and a page-long ‘to-do’ list no problem.
Not taking myself too seriously
Yesterday my toddler announced, “Mummy, I’ll be Thomas and you be the Fat Controller” (thanks for that), and we embarked on a very detailed and serious role play scenario, me using my most authentic and well-practised Fat Controller’s voice (it’s taken months to perfect). Other times we’ll have a moment of frenetic dancing around the living room, the toddler shouting out instructions: “Clap your hands! Kick your legs! Higher, Mummy!” Singing ridiculous songs at playgroup and having a ‘funny faces’ competition is a good reminder that a bit of silliness and fun is sometimes necessary to help you through the day.
Thinking on my feet
I have never had to field so many awkward questions, and be so creative in my responses to irrational demands as I have since living with a 3 year old. “Mummy, what does donkey poo look like?”. “Mummy, I want Rice Krispies, I want Rice Krispies!” [Mummy brings Rice Krispies] “No, I don’t want that!”. “Mummy, I want to go to Father Christmas’ house NOWWWWWWWW!”. Responding to such unreasonable requests makes those difficult questions at the end of a work presentation seem a breeze.
Being a fulltime working parent means I have to be super organised. Each month a family rota details childcare arrangements; meals are batch cooked and frozen until needed; clothes are laid out the night before. A never-ending ‘to-do’ list constantly floats around in my head. Attention to detail is essential (toddler likes the striped bowl and the orange spoon), and the chaos of life means that minor details and useless facts have to be plucked from my memory instantly (that one needs more work). All of which is great practice for organising my workload, writing accurate reports and remembering names in meetings (that one definitely needs more work).
You thought librarians were good at social media? Mums (and dads) are at it too. Facebook allows me to join all sorts of parenting groups to converse with like-minded parents, and I can ask random parenting questions on Twitter (“Can you freeze cheese sandwiches?”) and know that another parent, somewhere in cyberspace, will know the answer (Yes, you can, by the way. And tuna sandwiches too). I’ve even joined an online slow cooker group for people who love slow cookers, in an effort to be a more accomplished and organised parent. Good grief. And there are any number of mummy bloggers out there recounting their parenting failures and accomplishments to reassure you that you’re not alone. So even while on maternity leave I was on Twitter every day to help me solve life’s little problems, and was connecting with an online community that’s just as active as the library and information world.
My parenting experience so far has been a continuous cycle of What? So what? Now what? (Driscoll, 2007); it’s a constant learning experience. Dealing with the illogical and hectic behaviour of small people requires a very steep learning curve. Every day I’m required to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what I’ll do differently next time, in order to navigate my way through the chaos of modern family life and answer some of those big questions: How do I remove baby’s clothing most effectively following a nappy explosion? How many towels are required to dry the bathroom floor following bathtime? What is the best way to diffuse a toddler tantrum in the middle of Tesco car park? With reflection as a daily custom at home, I can ensure that I apply those skills in the workplace too, and endeavour to learn continuously from both positive and negative experiences.
Time out of work has given me the opportunity to grow and develop personally, which will hopefully have positive implications for my professional life too. So while I may have been away from the library, I’ve been continuing to gain experience in a wide range of useful skills that will equip me for the next chapter of my career.
Driscoll, J. (2007) Practising Clinical Supervision: A Reflective Approach for Healthcare Professionals. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Bailliere Tindall Elsevier.