Advice From a (Formerly Sleep-Deprived) Team Leader in Consultancy

Policy Letters of Advice - Debate 2023

Dear New Parent,
Remember when you used to get up early, nothing else to think about except yourself, maybe a packed lunch and off to work you went? Remember days and hours focussed on your career and not also thinking washing and caring and sleeping? Remember sleeping?
One of the hardest things that no one prepared me for was returning to work after having children. In the Heritage sector, we are a passionate bunch and for lots of us, we love what we do and have worked hard to get there. We put ourselves out there, really put the hours in, enjoy sites and buildings and places and hopefully reap the benefits to our professional and personal development as a result. But it feels like a massive shift when having to think about raising a small human alongside this, faced with the crossroads of how to carry on as before, when your world has shifted.
Fear not. The sleeping does improve, the scatterbrained thinking starts to ease (although I’m not sure it has totally gone, replaced instead with multi-tasking like a boss), there is even a wonderful part of getting to go to work and be a bit of the old ‘you’ without someone attached at the hip.
Whilst its hard at the beginning, I’m proud to have continued with my career in a sector that I love and have fought hard to be in. Now my children are old enough they have become interested in what I do, and I enjoy telling them about projects and places I have learnt about. I hope they feel my sense of pride in what I do and places I love.
Pursuing careers in heritage whilst also parenting is not without its challenges. Catching trains or driving somewhere at 5:30am, having been up in the night is not for the faint of heart. Spending the day outside in the rain or attached all day long to a computer when you just want to zone out with a cup of tea or have a day of cuddles feels more appealing. But its worth carrying on and digging deep, if you can find a way. And if you can’t, park it and hopefully come back when you are ready and able.
I’m grateful to the managers, co-workers and other parenthood champions (or commiserators?) along the way who have encouraged and supported me, allowed me to moan or take leaps of faith in my career. I now feel like I’m reaping the benefits of how I kept going when I felt a bit torn in two and emotionally vulnerable. I hope I’m now championing those people who are returning to work after a child related career break, remembering very well how hard it felt at the time. Find a champion and support network.
Well done to those new parent heritage professionals who knock it out the park every day, even if that means they got to work with two matching shoes for a short while.

Julia Bennett Smith
Principal Heritage Consultant – Head of Consultancy, CBA Studios