"Before I had Ana, I think I was a bit naive about how returning to work would be. I thought I'd jump straight back into working five days a week and it wouldn't be a problem," says Marj.
"I always thought you were either 100% focused on your career or a stay-at-home mum, but I felt I was somewhere in the middle. I still loved my job, but I also loved spending time with Ana."
After a year's maternity leave, Marj decided a four-day working week was the right balance.
As a Business Development Manager, Marj's job of buying and selling oil and gas fields is project-based, with peaks and troughs in workload. It wasn't long after her return from maternity leave that a big project came up and Marj was keen to be involved in delivering it.
"I'd done all the groundwork, so when discussions started I wanted to see it through. I knew it would involve some intense work and I would have to sacrifice my Wednesday off for a few weeks, but I asked Mum to look after Ana and we just bashed through it," she says.
"It was a fantastic project and I loved being involved, but it was difficult; I missed my daughter terribly. I knew I couldn't continue working at that pace, so I started questioning whether I should be doing a role with more regular hours. But I'd done those roles before and had become bored quickly. I didn't know what to do."
Marj signed up for a mentor through the AXIS Network, a non-for-profit group focused on increasing gender balance in Aberdeen's energy industry. It helped her effectively navigate the challenges she was facing.
"In hindsight, I didn't need to lead the project on my own. I could have gotten some help, which my manager had offered. But I wanted to do it all; I was in denial, trying to pretend my life hadn't changed. And I think you need to go through that journey to find a comfortable balance between work and parenting."
Supporting working parents through Covid-19
Of course, the group found a new purpose when the country was thrown into lockdown in March 2020 following the coronavirus outbreak, with its members exploding from a group of 15 to 50.
"Suddenly we had to pivot our focus to assist with all these new challenges thrust upon working parents. The group really came into its own, supporting and representing the needs of working parents during this time.
"We organised formal comms for how leaders could support working parents, and we had our CEO join one of our group meetings and share his own personal experiences homeschooling his kids, which was well received."
Marj's biggest advice for juggling work and children during COVID-19 lockdowns is to just be kind to yourself. "You can't judge yourself too harshly – we're in a crisis situation."
For Marj, another benefit of being involved in the working parents' group – and more broadly Spirit Energy's five other employee-led groups: LGBT+; ethnicity; gender balance; young professionals; and carers, disabilities and wellbeing – is a new appreciation for the importance of diversity and inclusion.
"While the company has been establishing its own culture, and on this diversity and inclusion journey, I've been on a journey myself.
"I've learnt a lot by being involved with these groups. I think it's pretty cool that the company's challenged my thinking, and made me reevaluate my views on what being diverse and inclusive truly means."
Marj's tips for returning mothers
Be flexible and find your balance: Everyone is different. You need to find your own place along the scale of family and career that's right for you. And that might change along the way, so leave your options open and have honest conversations with your manager.
Explore maternity coaching: The mentoring/coaching really helped me get through the internal struggle I was having. It helps you review how you're feeling and what you see for the future.
Be present on your days off: If you're going to work part-time, you need to be totally devoted to your home life on the days you're off and vice-versa. Initially, I only had one mobile phone that I used for both work and personal use, but it meant on my Wednesdays off I'd be getting work calls and checking emails, and I wasn't fully focused on Ana.
Take it easy on yourself: Make sure you regularly check in with your mental health and talk to other parents – knowing others are going through similar experiences really helps.