Whether it’s by choice, or out of the need for financial stability, returning back to work after maternity leave can be difficult. The mum’s guilt is very real and no matter how good of a job you are doing with the juggle of both work and motherhood, the self-doubt always seems to be sitting there judging us with every decision that we make.
It’s inevitable that we change when we become a mum, and for me, it forced me to really look at what I valued and what I was passionate about because if I was to be away from my family it had to be for a bloody good reason.
For me, that meant I had to explore alternative options, as I knew I couldn’t go back to an eight am to six pm job in the corporate world. Having a baby allowed me some freedom to think about what I was truly passionate about and what it was that I really wanted to do because I knew I didn’t just want to be a ‘mum’.
In identifying and working through my strengths and weaknesses you can start with this workbook if you need some direction I was able to reflect on the times when I was my happiest; when I was using my natural-born talents and skills to perform tasks that I was really excited about.
And it came to me, I love helping, I’m a born helper! And so I decided to pursue a career as a counselor. And I now absolutely love my job, and what’s even better is that it doesn’t even feel like work, I’ve never been happier and that’s how I know I’m on the right path.
Because I was living in France when I started our family, going back to work after maternity leave was not even an option, I had to be a stay at home mum. It was something that I had dreamt about while working my office job, but in reality, that’s not what I wanted at all! Yes while they were young, but not forever. In saying that, I know I have been very fortunate having all three of my children born overseas because if I was back in Australia I wouldn’t have had the privilege to stay at home as long as I did.
We all find ourselves in unique situations though. So, does start a family and being on maternity leave affect your career and job prospects? I spoke to four mum’s to find out how their experience was…
After having twins, Cate couldn’t wait to get back to work. “After having a traumatic and stressful pregnancy, I had to leave my job in a hurry, so to go back excited me! To see my friends again was amazing. To be earning another wage was amazing. To have my partner do drop off and pick up from childcare was amazing…”
“What wasn’t amazing was how sick the girls got from childcare! I mean, I’d had a rough pregnancy and having twins is no walk in the park, but having sick kids and trying to work part-time too? Forget it! Trying to decide out of myself or my partner ‘calling in sick’ again nearly broke us.”
“I would go into work (when I was there) bawl my eyes out, feeling like I was letting everyone down. I wanted to quit work as I was never there. Thankfully my employer was unbelievably understanding. My bosses ‘had been there’ and empathized with me”
“Your kid is going to be sick all the time, but it’s not forever, even though it feels like it is!”
“Remember to be kind to yourself, and if you can get your partner to help with the drop-off and pick-up, it’s the best help. Start off gradually too. Maybe two to three days then gradually work your way up if you can. I was originally three days and week and now I’m four with one of those days working from home.”
“It’s important to ask if you can work flexible hours and even from home too if that’s possible. Working from home is the best, there is no commute into the office and I can do the drop-off and pick up for my partner, as the girls are in daycare because I cannot work from home when they’re home!”
Some workplaces welcome you back with open arms, even offering more flexible working arrangements Renee, was fortunate to experience this with her first baby Olivia. “I was lucky to be employed with a company who really values working mums and was a top employer for gender equality.”
“I was able to choose how many days I wanted to return to work, with five days a fortnight being the minimum. I chose to take twelve months off but was able to extend it or come back earlier if I wanted. I was also very fortunate to have my mum retire to look after Olivia so I didn’t have to utilise childcare. My working hours were also very family-friendly in that I would leave home at 9:30 am and return home at 3:30 pm”.
“My work was very flexible and I could drop anything at a drop of a hat to be somewhere which was very reassuring at the time. Once Olivia was nine months old, I felt like I was getting ready to return to work, so I started to wean daytime breastfeeding and by ten months I was breastfeeding just morning and night”.
“I decided I would work four days a week and I was able to return to work gradually. This eased both myself and my mum into our new roles. The hardest thing I found was missing Olivia. I used to FaceTime mum most days around lunchtime to check-in, but overall my transition was very smooth”.
“My advice is to explore the option of whether or not you can utilise the grandparents for care, even just for one or two days per week. If you are going to utilise childcare be prepared for lots of illnesses in the first 6 months, it’s normal and it will get better!”
“If you need to find work after a long time out of your profession or you’re entering the workforce after maternity leave make use of recruiters, Facebook groups and find a coach or counsellor to help you get prepared and give you the best shot at getting an interview, and to also help you find a career with kid-friendly hours.”
Alana, who now has two children made the choice not to go back to work between kids. “I’ve been very lucky. It’s what I wanted really – to be able to be home with my kids. But I can see how the longer you’re out of the workforce (especially in the corporate world) the harder it is to go back. And it’s definitely not what you know, it’s who you know!”
“I was offered a redundancy package when my youngest was eleven months and was happy to take it because it meant I didn’t have to commute for two hours on workdays. For the past six months, I’ve been looking for work, and only had one interview during that whole time.”
“I’ve varied my application style from being very open about having children to making it seem as though my children don’t exist. I’m now even considering reinstating my teacher’s registration as it means I won’t have to commute. Emergency teaching pays well and the hours fit in with my family commitments. I’m lucky to have that to fall back on.”
“My one bit of advice for Mum’s making the decision on going back to work is to know what they want and what they believe will work best for their family and what they’re willing to compromise on. And be prepared for the answer to that to change over the duration of time that you’re looking for a role.”
Beth was planning on being a stay at home mum from the time she and her husband started IVF. “I didn’t even think about what it meant for my career or future. By the time it came to going back (I decided to study) I was desperately ready to have an identity outside of being a wife and mother as I’d been on maternity leave for six years. I did worry how I would juggle all of the housework, the mum guilt, and my course load though.”
“I’m now in a completely new industry and after being out of work for so long, it’s been tough. It doesn’t help that everyone expects me to know everything because I’m so much older; I’m the junior nurse working alongside twenty-five-year-old nurses, who are so much more experienced than me, so it’s been way harder then I thought it would be. I doubt myself. I’m so much slower and my confidence is in short supply for sure.”
“Only you can make the choice for your family. No one else’s opinion matters. Do whatever it takes to ensure there is balance. And you’ll be surprised by how flexible a workplace can be, so make sure you ask if there is a role that allows you to find a good fit for yourself, family and workplace.”
Feelings of guilt, exhaustion, and poor self-esteem coupled with resentment, pressure, and anger can be a dark cloud that hovers over a mother’s maternity leave. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Before going back to work after maternity leave, remember to think of yourself and what is best for you and your family.
Is your return to work full of anxiety and doubt? Are you spending your maternity leave dreading going back to work and fearing the worst?
Perhaps, you’d like to pursue other options? Maybe change jobs? Brush up on your interview skills, re-do your resume, work on your self-confidence, or even start your own business? Get in touch and let me know how I can help, you can send me your questions here.
If you’ve lost yourself in motherhood and want to reconnect with yourself again, or you’d like more direction in your life, my Six Steps to Discovering You workbook is exactly what you need. You’ll be encouraged to understand yourself better so that you can create a life that has more meaning and heart for you.
Through the workbook, you will be guided through a success alignment, which covers six essential personal development components including values, beliefs, goals, skills, support, and success.