The Back to Work Transition

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder what the heck I had done when I first went back to work at the beginning of October.

After waking each day at 5:15 am and running out the door at 7:15 am, following a whirlwind of prepping breakfasts, lunches and dinners, I started to lose patience. Then, after spending my days in meetings, only to rush home to a tired, grumpy little girl, I started to feel- well- disappointed.

“Is this what life’s going to be like? Did I choose my career over my family?” I would ask myself when Ramona, my daughter, would cry through supper, overtired.

In my disappointment, I started to lament my old life in Edmonton. My familiar co-workers, commute, projects and manageable one-child family were no more. This was my new life. And I wasn’t too sure how to feel about it.

So, in the midst of my immense I-am-a-horrible-mother guilt, I went to the library and got out the audiobook of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead for my commute to work.

This book was exactly what I needed.

There are so many things to love about this book but what resonated with me was the discussion about how women often take themselves out of the game before they put themselves in it. That we doubt our ability to combine work and family and assume that we will not find balance, so we don’t even try. Sandberg refers to women who stop reaching for opportunities in the years leading up to having children, believing more opportunities will mean less room for children. “Don’t leave before you leave”, Sandberg says. This is so true. I can’t tell you how many times friends and I have spoken about wishing we had chosen our career paths more carefully, ones that would have offered vastly different growth opportunities but more flexibility with part-time or modified work options.

And I realized I was leaving before I left.

Sandberg’s plea to women to “lean in” to their careers is inspiring and got me through my initial weeks back to work. I’m happy to report the family is all adjusting well now. We can make it through dinner without tears. I’m lucky I have a spouse who takes on 50% of the family responsibilities- maybe more. Maybe I can’t “have it all”. Maybe balance will always be elusive. But I know for myself, and for my family, I have to always try.

Have you read Lean In? What did you think? I really loved this book and would highly recommend it.  

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4 thoughts on “The Back to Work Transition

  1. Great blog topic Claire! This is a pressing issue for many people I know. I am glad to hear back to work is getting easier and that Ramona is coming around! Going back to work and finding the sweet spot between being part of the workforce and being a care-giver has also been a major struggle for me.

    I recently listened to an episode of the current which featured an interview with Anne Marie Slaughter. I find her perspective on the issue of work life balance more compelling than those presented by Cheryl Sandburg in Lean In.

    Slaughter argues that we need to reframe the discussion about women opting out and leaving the workforce by challenging traditional and outdated work cultures. Rather than asking women to ‘lean in’ and work within the current cultural construct, we need to focus on removing the barriers that are causing these conflicts in the first place.

    I see the appeal of Sandberg’s argument. It is something tangible that an individual can choose to do immediately. In contrast, Slaughter’s solution involves institutional change in both work culture and patriarchal structures. Changing these structures is not straightforward. It is not something that can happen immediately. Working towards a paradigm shift and reshaping the way we think about work and caregiving requires a large critical mass.

    As a woman who is more focused on life at home than on her career (for the time being), I like Slaughter’s argument that we must “support care just as we support competition”. To “support care just as we do competition”, Slaughter argues that “…we will need some combination of the following: high-quality and affordable child care and elder care; paid family and medical leave for women and men; a right to request part-time or flexible work… comprehensive job protection for pregnant workers; higher wages and training for paid caregivers… and reform of elementary and secondary school schedules to meet the needs of a digital rather than an agricultural economy.”

    If you are interested, here is a link to the interview I was talking about. Very interesting listen!

    Thanks again for posting this Claire, such a great discussion that more people need to be having!


    1. I will definitely take a listen! You’re right- it is never straight forward and the current constructs make it difficult to find balance. I can’t remember if it was within Sandberg’s book or Ariana Huffington’s book, but one of them also spoke about how women were much more likely to leave the workforce if they did not find their work engaging in the first place. I forget the statistic, but it was very high. Engagment is also related to more than just the work itself. Such a complex topic that is so personal as you can only do what is best for you and your family- there is no one way. As Amy Poehler says throughout her book about the choices mothers have to make “Good for her, not for me!”. I also have to say that Paul doesn’t get full credit for being a “working Dad”. He honestly does more than me to manage this household now that we are both back to work.


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