Wellbeing: Candice Brathwaite on returning to work after maternity leave
As a popular ‘mumfluencer’ with 237k Instagram followers, Candice Brathwaite doesn’t have to worry what her employers think about her kids being her top priority. She’s her own boss, and looking after children is part of her job description.
But, it wasn’t always like that.
The bubbly mum-of-two – who’s also a presenter and author of books including I Am Not Your Baby Mother – started a job in publishing after having her first child Esme, now eight, and recalls: “I felt insecure after having my daughter, especially going into a new working environment and getting used to new people and my new routine.
“I stayed at home with her for 18 months, and when you’ve been with a little human for that long, you’re completely engrossed with their timetable and lifestyle, and I was really, really scared to go back to work.”
Brathwaite is now supporting Maltesers’ social media campaign, #TheMaternityReturn, which highlights the importance of support when returning to work after maternity leave. Campaign research shows four in 10 mums felt they had to prove themselves to their colleagues and bosses when they returned to work, with 34% worried they were no longer good enough.
“I used to monitor how much I spoke about my kids – I never wanted to come across as that mum that had nothing else to think about,” Brathwaite admits of her own experiences. “I thought I didn’t want to be talking about how much I missed her, or how she’s not sleeping well, as this is someone else’s working environment and many of the others didn’t have kids that young.”
The research also found it takes new mums five months to settle back into the workplace, but for Brathwaite it was much longer. “It took me about a year to think, ‘You know what? She’s alright without me’ – and actually, going back to work made it easier for both of us. It made our relationship better, she started to become a more independent toddler, and I started to remember there was a life outside of just being a mum.”
By the time Brathwaite had her son, RJ, now four, she’d already taken the brave step to work for herself as a writer and influencer. “I went back to work after three weeks,” she admits. “When you’re self-employed, you feel that pressure.”
The 33-year-old – who lives with her kids and husband, Bode, in a village near Milton Keynes – admits of course her priorities changed with parenthood. “They became number one,” she says of her children. “It was the whole reason why I ended up leaving publishing and working for myself – I needed to create a career that fitted with them being number one.
“It just felt the best thing I could do was to create a career where I got to dictate my time – which in itself wasn’t easy, I didn’t get a paid gig for another four years. I’m not telling anyone, especially right now in this climate, that that’s the best idea, but sometimes you feel backed into a corner.”
However, she ended up working very long hours, adding with a laugh that her hours are “12am ’til 12pm” these days. “Because I work for myself, my hours are all over the place and I have no shutdown. It’s a very full day, but it does mean, because of the privilege of doing it myself, if the school rings at midday to say one of them is ill, I can just stop and that’s fine.”
However, the busy mum, who also has a style segment on ITV’s Lorraine, makes sure she finds time to exercise as much as she can, working out three to four times a week with a personal trainer or on a stationary bike at home – “my go-to for a quick way to feel good. I wouldn’t say I’m an exercise junkie – and my body doesn’t say that either – but I do love working out for the endorphins and the sweat.”
She’s always had an “unknowing” interest in exercise, she says, explaining: “When I was a child in Lambeth, I was an under 10’s ballroom dance champion, and I continued to dance until I was 14 or 15 and I went to performing arts school. Even when I stopped dancing in that manner, I joined a running club in London”.
Yet although she’s always loved exercise because of the way it makes her feel, what she finds a little galling is that many people automatically assume she’s doing it to lose weight, which just isn’t the case.
“Interestingly, because I’m not your six-pack, statuesque-looking athlete, people always assume I’m running to lose weight, or I must be exercising to change my body. They’re talking a good game, but society often finds it really hard to concede that a woman might be doing exercise just because she likes it,” says Brathwaite.
“When I look back, I’ve taken part in physical exercise forever, but it’s always been overshadowed by this idea of, ‘You don’t look any smaller’, or ‘Don’t you want to alter your diet because I can’t see much change’. And I just want to say, ‘Actually love, I just get on that bike and listen to Harry Styles because I like it!’”
Another almost accidental healthy habit is Brathwaite’s diet, which contains very little meat, and plenty of veg and seafood – not because she’s particularly trying to be healthy, but, as with exercise, she just likes it.
“I’ve noticed recently, because I’ve been tracking my diet, that it’s very vegan – I’d say four out of seven days, I don’t touch meat or fish,” she says. “That’s not something I’ve tried to do – I just love a good kale and chickpea curry, that’s one of my favourites, and I’m not a heavy meat-eater.
“My weakness is seafood – if that was the barrier of getting into heaven, then I’ll just get ready to burn. I cannot move through the week without there being something like king prawn or lobster!”
She adds with a hearty guffaw: “I love cakes and chocolate too – I just stuffed three macaroons in my gob before we started talking!”
She’s keen to stress that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with stuffing three macaroons in your mouth, as long as you don’t do it too often, perhaps. “I think it’s called ‘intuitive eating’ when you basically just listen to yourself, and when I look at my monthly cycle as a woman, there are some times when my sugar craving can’t get much higher – all I want to do is have my hand in a bag of Maltesers all day.
“I’ve learned to allow that to happen – it’s a free-for-all day,” Brathwaite reasons.
“It’s really cool to see yourself in those phases, so you can understand why your body wants a certain thing. It’s about balance.”
Candice Brathwaite is supporting the Maltesers social media campaign #TheMaternityReturn, to highlight the importance of support when returning to work after maternity leave.