1. Don’t feel guilty
I think it’s so anti-feminist when women say they “feel guilty about working”. It basically implies a woman’s place is still in the home! I never hear men say they feel guilty about being a dad and working, so women shouldn’t either. There’s a saying that “you can’t pour from an empty cup”; it’s a saying often shared in the context that women need to rest in order to be a good mother, but I feel it applies to going back to work too.
If working (or rather having something for you that is about making you happy and satisfied beyond being a mother) makes you feel happier and more like yourself before you became a mum, that’s good for you, your baby and your partner.
Don’t apologize for having your own needs and wants.
2. Don’t obsess about work
No one ever says “I wish I’d worked more” on their death bed. Yet working, or rather business, has become a lot ‘cooler’ in recent times. I’m sure it used to be more of a means to an end for people (making money) but now we read about a 30-year old billionaire every other day. Work and lifestyle are more entwined through ‘always on’ social media.
This can make maternity leave a real challenge. Because we’re kind of addicted to working and less able to switch off, ‘taking a break’ to have a baby can feel like an uncomfortable, inconvenient slow down for a lot of mums of today—especially inner-city mums!
How many of you have got pregnant and thought “yey!”, quickly followed by a feeling of bad timing? Quite a few I imagine.
People say there is never a good time to have a baby and they are right. But the fact is, you’ve had one, and a little reality check can go a long way to mental stability.
I can’t remember who wrote the article, but I remember reading that women who accept that they won’t fully be able to go back to work until their kids are in school are a lot happier. That actually makes a lot of sense to me. I think when we accept that fact, we can take unnecessary pressure off ourselves. 4-5 years is NOTHING in the scheme of our entire lives and you can still do things to keep your career going that will make you money during that time, but if you’re honest, it probably won’t look like like a full blown singing and dancing career until you’ve got your full days back.
It’s going to be a lot harder for you to enjoy your baby/child, if you’re constantly thinking about work and what you could/should/would be doing if you didn’t have a baby.
Live in the present. It quickly becomes the past.
3. The question of 5/4/3/2/1 day/s a week at work is a hard one
FIVE: I’m yet to meet a woman who has gone back to work full-time (five days a week) and found it worked for her (which doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist, I just haven’t met her). From what I’ve seen, the juggle is VERY real in this situation:
– 6am wake ups
– 7am drop offs at nursery
– Getting home for 6
– Bath and bed for 7
… and then if you’re lucky one TV episode and some dinner.
My friends who work full-time say it’s a MAJOR passion killer and they find all they ever text each other about is whose turn it is to do what.
And then the kids get sick. ALL THE TIME. So they have to decide who’s staying home; cue “my job is more important than yours.”
FOUR: I’m also yet to meet a woman where four days a week works for them either. Women who sign up to working four days at work almost always seem to end up working 5 days. Mainly as their companies still email them on their day off and they feel that it won’t look good if they don’t respond, or worry they’ll be overwhelmed with work when they go back in on the Monday.
This can feel like you’re stuck between a rock and hard place. You’re home for a day with your kid, but in reality, they’re watching telly and you’re on email (but not being paid to work).
THREE: It seems 3 days is a happy medium, but often if you don’t have free childcare from your parents or other family members 3 days a week of nursery fees can make part-time work seem financially pointless. However, if we refer back to my point about women realistically not being able to fully go back into work until the kids are in school, there is value to keeping your ‘fingers in the pie’ with your career; in that it means you’ll still have one when you go back. And also, like I said before, work can make you feel more you (and therefore make you a happier person/mummy/daughter/partner etc)
It’s really tricky though…because we all need money.
WHERE’S GRANNY? For me the balance was right when granny had Grace one day and she was at nursery two days, at least till she was 2 (she’s 3.5 now). If you can move near family or have them move near you it will make life so, so, so much easier.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m very, very, very lucky to have this option and not everyone has it. But I did have to make some big choices to make that my reality, i.e.leaving London.
If you’d asked me if I would have moved to Kent from London and had my mum 20 minutes away before I had Grace I’d have laughed in your face! But once we had our first child I knew I couldn’t have a career unless I had help. Thanks Mum!
FLEX IS A COUPLE THING: Now I work 4/3/2/1 day/s a week. What that means is that some weeks I’m full-time, some weeks I’m down the beach eating chips on a Wednesday. I work when my mind is in the right place to work. Sometimes that’s 9pm.
Part of being able to do this is selling my time to clients as a project fee, rather than a day rate. This was a big learning for me and has transformed my career. It means I have a timeframe to deliver that project in but I work to my own schedule.
Now, Grace is at nursery 3 full-days a week and granny’s one day. My husband now also works part-time and we find the balance that works for both us together. What that balance looks like changes and moves each week. It’s so much less stressful but it often takes two to tangle.
If you don’t have granny, could your husband change his career to enable yours? I once saw a talk from Pip Jamieson from The Dots who said her husband gave up his job full-time to support her career. I think that’s amazing, because who works or doesn’t work shouldn’t be a male or female thing. You are both equally able to work or be at home (unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding).
I also read an article by a husband and father who was driven to depression because his wife and mother to his children refused to go back to work and so he felt all the financial pressure of the relationship and hardly saw his family. The juggle is real for men too, we mustn’t forget that.
4. You don’t need to be a mumtrepreneur
One of my pet love to hates is the rise of Instagram mums. In some ways it’s great to see mum entrepreneurs leveraging social media to grow their businesses (a part of which is their personal brand), but for those who are stuck on the couch with a nipple out ready to be sucked most days, or for women whose husband’s work full-time so they are at home (but wish they had flexible work/a career) it can be quite intimidating; making a mum feel she needs to think up a big businesses idea if she’s going to have any sort of sustainable career.
You don’t need to create the next Innocent Smoothies to make money, but you probably do need to fully understand your strengths in order to get to a place of confidence where you can get work that works for you. Do the Strength Test to unearth your key skill set and identify jobs that work for you.
5. Get mum networking
These days there are some many amazing networks and platforms for mums that can help you to find work. Check out Mothers Meeting, Digital Mums of Flock as an example. These forums are there for you to learn from others and offer a place to ask for help and advice.
Of course if you want to be a mum entrepreneur that’s great, but not everyone will be, so take the pressure off.
Karla Morales-Lee is CEO of Hunter & Farmer and co-founder of The Art of New Business and the UK Agency Award. She lives in Whitstable with her husband, three and a half year old daughter, cat and 33 week bump!
Karla’s invaluable insights are part of the Let’s Be Brief ‘Babies & Business’ workshop.