This is going to be a different sort of post than one I’d normally write. It’s about being a mother and a professional woman and the difficulties that we face. This post isn’t about the inequality that exists within our workplaces but more about my experience and what I’ve learnt along the way.
My daughter is now a little over 2 years old so I don’t have the experience of other women, this is just my humble experience and what I’ve found since becoming a mother and trying to combine this with a successful career.
Life before Mum
Before I became a parent, I was a Project Manager and serial marathoner. I’d be found during the week at my desk and at the weekends running multiple marathons with friends all over Europe. This in itself was a great achievement and I loved my weekends exploring and running through many different areas.
After reaching 100 marathons and looking for another challenge, I switched up my training and spent more time at home than travelling. I then became pregnant and had the prospect of being a mum added to my list of responsibilities and names.
Being a mother is the most valuable role that I’ll ever play and it’s so much more important to me than any job. Raising a child is definitely one of the most rewarding and stressful jobs you’ll ever do!
What does it mean for work?
Working in the Netherlands entitled me to 16 weeks maternity leave (4 weeks before, 12 after). I managed to negotiate a little more but I found myself back to work after a very difficult birth when my daughter was 6 months old and it broke me in two months. After a few months of trying to persevere, I discussed with my husband about taking a break and spending time raising our child and then returning to work after. This was an extremely daunting prospect for me as I’ve heard the stories of women trying to return after a career break and what it entails (reduced salary, difficult conditions, difficult to return to similar positions, lack of professional development). I was also in the position of “career fatigue” and was started to get frustrated with my projects and my role.
It one of the best decisions that I made for myself as it gave me the ability to fully recover from the birth as well as learn how to be a mother. I know that I was in a privileged position but I’m fortunate that we had the right circumstances to be able to support this choice.
So, I took my career break but decided to continue volunteering and get back to the type of projects and activities I like to do. This was a life saver for me to make sure that I remained relevant to the industry but also to keep myself informed about the latest information or trends.
When I returned to work, I was exceptionally choosy about what role I took, what the conditions were and how flexible they were to working mothers.
Returning to work has not been easy. It’s been described to me as “mum guilt”. You feel guilty that your child cried when you leave because you work, you feel guilty that you can’t be there for meals because there’s traffic or a late meeting. You feel guilty that you can’t be superwoman and get everything you want done. In short, something has to give.
This article isn’t to pass judgement. It’s to acknowledge that sometimes we really have difficult choices to make about our career, our family life and our own personal happiness. We need to work and find a balance for all 3 to be able to be happy.
What could this mean for you?
- What about working from home so you’re not stuck in traffic for a day a week?
- Could you hire someone to give you and your partner a hand around the house?
- Are you making the time that you do have with your kids as valuable and uninterrupted as possible? (Get off the phone/TV/internet!)
- Start a discussion with yourself about what makes you happy? And what can you do to get it?
- Look at everything you need, what you want and then see how it tallies up.
- So, if you’re thinking about a career break, why not look at what you can do to stay relevant (e.g. volunteering).
- If you’re returning to work, look at what you really want to do and what you need to do to get there.
- If you’re in your career and just want to excel and succeed further, look at what you need and what you’ll do to get it.
- When you’re looking at trying to achieve the impossible, be kind to yourself. Sometimes, something has to give and don’t let that be your sanity. My ‘me time’ is going for a run with the dogs. It may be at 6am in the morning or it may be later but having that time where I can feel like ‘me’ again makes the world of difference.
There’s an impossible choice that we make and there’s no golden answer. It’s about making the decision work for your family, your career and most importantly: you.