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14th Mar 2019

Returning to work: A letter to a mother on maternity leave

Fionnuala Zinnecker

Returning to work doens’t sound too tricky, does it?

You’ve been there before. You know it. It is nothing new.


Returning to work after parental leave is a bit of a big deal. Going back is not just going back. In a way, you go back as a different person. Everything in life is put into a new context. And it is not just like that after the first baby either. With each return to work, there are new constraints, new pressures, new responsibilies that shape your life.

I’ll be returning to work shortly. For months the thought filled me with dread and flutters of anxiety. The nearer it draws, the more I try not to think about it. One of the girls from the office contacted me recently and reminded me of the e-mail I had written to her before she returned from parental leave a few years back. I looked it up, read my wise words and re-wrote it to myself.

Dear Fionnuala,

I know exacly how you feel. On both my previous bouts of parental leave I didn’t want to return to the office. But it all worked out.

You get into the swing of things sooner than you can now believe and your workmates are nicer than you recall. 

Remember that it is a job. The really important things are your children and that they have a balanced mother. One who gets to talk to adults during the day and earn money to give them a good life.

When you go back to the office, make it clear to everyone which days you work and which days you don’t. Make sure they understand that your evenings are your own, or rather your family’s. 

On your first day back, be prepared for the questions. They will come. Even from people whose names you can’t remember. Stay calm and rattle off the children’s names and ages as often as required.

Nod and agree when people say “Enjoy them while they are still small” even though it breaks your heart that you are miles away from them with no idea whether the little guy is crying for you at crèche.

Remind yourself that the older boys are at school and would still be at school even if you were still at home. That has nothing to do with you being at work. You are not neglecting them.

And when you go home that first day, and every day after, leave work behind at the office door. Go home and be Mama. Switch off your phone and leave your laptop closed. Open your eyes and ears to your children. See to their health and happiness, and to your own. 

Good luck (and keep up the writing!)


Fionnuala is a project manager and mama to three bilingual boys living in Germany. Coffee in hand, she is usually found minding the children, planning projects, writing or cooking, all while keeping an eye out for vintage treasures and taking photos for her brilliant Three Sons Later blog.