It’s a magical time, a few months into your new role as a mother. Your gorgeous new baby may have started solids. She will certainly be gurgling and cooing and smiling at you. She might be blowing bubbles. And, if you are extremely lucky (don’t hold your breath) she may even have slept through the night enough times to stop you feeling like someone from the cast of The Walking Dead.
Isn’t she adorable? If you weren’t already, by about month 6 of your little one’s existence you will be head over heels, uncontrollably, madly and crazily in love with her.
And then reality kicks in. The days left on Maternity Leave are quickly ticking away. You can’t believe you have been off work for so many months already. Where has the time gone? How can it possibly go so quickly when your days are just filled with changing nappies, baths and long walks with the pram?
You start to think about how you have to make the most of these days, because it will change – when you go back to work. You will be more rushed, have less of those precious moments just to stare into her eyes and marvel at the new thing she is doing today that she couldn’t do yesterday.
And then it happens. The GUILT kicks in. Are you doing the right thing going back so soon? Are you doing the right thing going back at all? Can you really afford to go back part-time, even though that’s what you want for your new family unit?
The questions start keeping you awake at night. How will you manage the juggle? Can you really go back to your successful career AND be a great mum at the same time? How do other women do it? What will the mums in your mothers group think about you going back full-time? Will they think you are a bad mother, for wanting to have a career and a family? ARE you a bad mother for wanting both?
Committed to the Cause
The “Can Women Have It All” debate is one that will always be had in our society. A new census commissioned by The Australian newspaper and published on 31 October 2012 shows that almost half of all mothers in two parent families are back at work before their youngest child turns 1. According to the report, the proportion of stay at home mothers with a child less than 1 year old dropped from 57 per cent in 2006 to 52% in 2011.
There appear to be many factors influencing this trend of mothers returning to work earlier, and no doubt financial pressure is one of the biggest. However there is also a trend for women to want to remain engaged in the workforce and in their career more than in the past.
With such a high rate of women now going through higher education, and the fact that many women being older when having their children may mean they have progressed to a more senior position in their career, many Australian women are choosing to remain committed to progressing their career after motherhood.
But what’s the best way to do that? And how do you deal with the inevitable juggle and dreaded mother guilt that seems to come along with this commitment?
Let’s be very clear here – every woman’s situation is different, and as such, you need to work out what is best for you, your family, and your career. An open dialogue with your employer, your partner, and importantly yourself, is the best way to do that.
But here are some pointers in how to deal with some of the main issues women encounter going back to work.
1. Communicate Your Expectations
If you have been on maternity leave for more than 6 months, and you didn’t do this prior to going on maternity leave (see another blog on this point here) now is the time to start a conversation with your employer, boss, team and whoever else is relevant, about what your role will be when you return.
Fore-armed is forewarned. Find out whether there have been any changes in the team structure, in client expectations and needs, and in the business generally that could have affected you and your role while you have been away.
Think about going in to see your colleagues and re-kindling relationships a couple of months before you go back.
All of this will help to make the transition easier when it does happen. Out of sight is often out of mind and it’s important that people remember who you are and the value you bring, so take a little time to do that prior to returning.
2. Expect Your Expectations to Change
You’ve already experienced the hormonal rollercoaster of pregnancy, childbirth and early mother hood. Think your hormones might be on an even keel now? Think again. Leaving your baby with another carer and returning to work can cause a huge hormonal shift again, and you need to be prepared for it. Remember that our natural role as women is to bear children (like it or not, it’s what most of us did way back when) and to care for them. It’s an emotional wrench to leave your child and no matter how ready you think you are to return to work, the reality can be very difficult for many women.
A great book, “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine, M.D. explains all these hormonal shifts and what is actually does to the brain, and your behavior, much more eloquently and scientifically than I can. I highly recommend it as an easy and fascinating read.
As a result of the fluctuating hormones and emotions, be prepared for the fact that your priorities may have shifted, and when you actually get back behind the wheel of your career, you might find you don’t have the same energy to devote to it as you did pre-baby.
That’s ok. Maybe now is the time to work out what that means for your career for the foreseeable future. Do you need to shift gears? Do you want to take a step back for a couple of years then pick things up again? Or do you want to continue going full-steam ahead in which case you might need to think about making sure you have a super-strong network to support you in and out of work.
3. Super-woman is a myth – leave it that way
Repeat after me – IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO BE SUPER-WOMAN, NOR SHOULD YOU WANT TO BE.
Women are extremely hard on themselves, and many of us suffer from the dreaded perfection gene. It’s time to let that go. It will not and cannot serve you in any meaningful way at this stage in your career and life.
It’s ok to ask for help. And it’s ok to admit that you don’t have all the answers right now – and in fact that you might never have all the answers, period. A real super-woman does this, and looks for support from other women who have gone before, to learn from them and model what they have done successfully.
Find some women you trust, who understand what you are going through, and use their knowledge, wisdom and experience to make your own journey easier.
Together, when they collaborate and share, women are an amazing force for good. Find those women in your life, and be one of those women for other new mothers. You will find it a truly enriching and rewarding experience.
And finally – enjoy it all! Your daughter or son is lucky to have a mother who values her independence, her career and her sense of self. Remember that fact every day as you run out the door putting your lippy on as you go J