Throughout the course of our careers we see a lot of friends and colleagues leave work to begin their maternity leave.
We see them bloom and glow as they progress in their pregnancy. We share in their thoughts, hopes and aspirations for their baby. We chip into the collection when they leave, and share in their joy as we shower them with baby gifts. Then they go away for a while… And come back transformed. Their outlook has changed, they get far less stressed about work than they used to and they feel generally happier and more fulfilled. They may take a little while for their workplace training to kick back in but when they’ve buffed off the rust, they’re better than ever with renewed vigour and joie de vivre. They make it look easy. But when the time comes for us to have our own kids, we realise the extent of the emotional journey they’ve gone through.
Childbirth is the source of tremendous change, both physical and psychological, for women. Looking into the eyes of your child for the first time triggers a sudden and irrevocable change in the minds of new mothers. Protecting this tiny person, whoever they turn out to be, becomes their first and only priority and every other worry that used to consume them simply melts away.
Maternity leave is a wonderful time for mothers and their babies to bond, but when it starts to come to an end all those anxieties when it comes to the workplace come rushing back. We worry about how we’re going to adapt to juggling the pressures of work and family, we worry that the time away from the workplace has caused us to forget how to do our jobs and we worry about how our baby will be able to get along without us all day.
These anxieties can conspire to instill in us a mounting sense of dread as we get closer and closer to our first day back at work. While these anxieties are neither unusual nor unreasonable there are some helpful ways in which you can beat these back to work blues.
It’s not just for boy scouts, it’s good advice for everyone. As tempting as it may be to bury your head in the sand in your absence, the best way to nip anxiety in the bud is to grab the bull by the horns and start planning your return as early as possible. Try to stagger your return as a return to full time hours can be jarring and draining for you and your baby. It’s important to keep an open line of communication with your employer so that together you can arrange a return schedule that benefits you both.
Planning will help you to assert a sense of control over this significant change in your life, and acclimatise your mind to the change. Arrange yourself a timetable for your new schedule in which you’ll nail down the times you’ll leave the house, get baby to the nursery or childcare provider and back to work, Make sure that these times are realistic and account for traffic. It’s easy for forget how nightmarish the rush hour can be.
Know your rights
If there’s one area in which new parents specialise it’s catastrophizing. We can all too easily find ourselves wrapped up in worst case scenarios without any evidence whatsoever that they’ll come to pass. We worry that our employers will treat us differently, that at best we’ll be handled with kid gloves and at worst we’ll be ostracized by our employers and colleagues. Here’s where knowing your employment rights under ACAS can be reassuring and helpful. When you know what you’re entitled to and how to get it, you’ll be surprised at how easily those return to work nightmares can fade away.
Don’t punish yourself for your emotions
Throughout pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and motherhood a new mother’s hormones strap her into an emotional rollercoaster. Motherhood is a wonderful experience, but it can really put us through the wringer emotionally. As such, when the paradigm shift of returning to work occurs it can be virtually impossible to preempt your emotional state in the run up to returning to work. You may feel fear that you’ll fail both at work or parenting, you may feel guilt at leaving your child unattended for 8-10 hours a day. You may even start to feel a little spark of excitement that you’ll be able to redefine yourself beyond the role of motherhood, which may result in feelings of guilt. More than likely, you’ll find yourself in an emotional spin cycle resulting in rotations of the above. Whatever you find yourself feeling, it’s important not to punish yourself. It’s not sinful to look forward to taking a step back from motherhood or to relish the prospect of a change of environment. If anything you should commend yourself for managing the fine line that all working mothers must walk with such aplomb.
Be realistic with yourself
Nobody expects your return to work to be as though you never left. Not your partner, not your boss, not your colleagues… But you probably do. You may feel the need to put pressure on yourself to be able to master your workplace obligations as easily as you did before you left. Your mind and body have been through a lot of significant changes, and employers worth their salt will know this. Having high expectations of yourself is one thing, but having unrealistic expectations of yourself is quite another and can be hugely counterproductive.
Try to set yourself two or three meaningful but realistic goals a day in your new job and incorporate this into your planning.
Be honest with your employer and colleagues
While some people may encourage you to “fake it till you make it”, the reality is that this will accomplish little short of you smiling while you burn out. Your employer will already be cognisant of the trials you may be undergoing as you juggle your work and parenting commitments (chances are they’ve had to do it themselves), and it’s important to be honest about what you’re going through logistically and emotionally. Resist the urge to smile through your struggles and take on more work than you can handle. You’ll benefit nobody from driving yourself towards a breakdown.
Taking the above steps will help the back to work blues fade away and make your return to work as manageable and (dare we say it?) enjoyable as possible.
When you return to work after having kids you may decide to reduce the hours of your previous role, find a new part-time role or work for yourself; these can all be very successful routes but can also pose challenges if you don’t have a clear plan and set strict boundaries for yourself and/or your employer and clients.
Here are some tips and useful technologies that have helped me as well as friends and colleagues in my position to take control, reduce stress levels and achieve the success you deserve…
Set clear expectations with your employer, colleagues and clients
Whether you are working for yourself, employed or have your own clients, make sure from the very start that you are clear on your working hours so that everyone has realistic expectations of your availability. Failure to do this causes frustration on their part and guilt on yours if you have to start saying no to things out of hours.
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Corporate culture plays a major role in job satisfaction and security. Fortunately, you can have a powerful impact on your workplace whether you’re a senior manager or a summer intern. Try these suggestions to create an environment where everyone can feel valued and appreciated.
Steps to Take by Yourself
- Continue learning. Invest in education and training. Developing your knowledge and skills will broaden your opportunities at your current company and in all your future positions. You’ll be a stronger member of any team.
- Think long term. Keep your goals in mind. Evaluate how your actions will affect your company’s future. Going the extra mile to satisfy a client could lead to repeat business, glowing reviews, and valuable referrals.
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Being a working woman is very demanding, and even more so if you are a working mum!
Apart from the everyday expectancies of holding down a job and keeping up a home we obviously have the added stress of ensuring that our babies are taken care of too. I can think of no better or rewarding job than being a mum. Our children command our thoughts 24/7 and their wellbeing is always a priority.
I am a busy single mum. I have three wonderful daughters who rely on me to be there and to provide for them. I run 2 network marketing businesses that, luckily, I can work as and when I have the time. I also work in a college on the mainland, which means that as I live on the Isle of Wight I have a two and a half hour commute each way, 5 days a week! My time is very limited and very precious. Having the commute time though is actually beneficial to me in some respects. It gives me the time to plan and do jobs while I’m travelling. I do, however, have to be organised on a day to day basis.
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When we have children we are all faced with the choice of whether to go back to work afterwards or not and many of us make that decision based on many different things. I’ve got 2 children and 1 on the way and after going through different decisions each time I’ve been faced with this situation, I’m really passionate about telling my story as I hope other mums (and dads) might get something from it.
My daughter Mackenzie was born in 2007 and at the time I was working for a large stationery company and loved my job. I went on maternity leave in October and she was born in November. I knew I would return to work but hadn’t really discussed when as it was quite a way off in my mind, until 1 day over Christmas I got a call from my area manager telling me there was a promotion available and it was mine if I wanted it, however the right candidate would be available at the start of January! So after discussing it with my husband and thinking about what a good opportunity it was, I decided to return to work when Mackenzie was only 10 weeks old. Looking back now it was too soon and although I loved my job the new position meant a 40 hour week plus a 3 hour a day commute. I was leaving the house when she was in bed and I when I came home she was back in bed – I was missing all those special moments. My husband and mum shared the care of her and I got upset when I’d call home and mum would tell me what she’d done that day, but as the main income provider I thought it was my job to continue this way, I didn’t see another option.
Then in 2009 I found out I was pregnant again and knew this time I wanted to do things differently, for a start I didn’t think it was fair on my mum to look after 2 children on the days mine and my husband’s shifts overlapped. If I’m honest it was also a massive strain on our family, I was never there and Jamie (my husband) and I never spent any quality time together either. So we talked it through and I asked him for a role reversal, I wanted him to return to work full time and for me to take my full maternity leave this time and become a mum at home. In my eyes we’d tried it the other way and I was feeling like I wasn’t being the kind of mum I wanted to be. Jamie agreed and at the start of July I started my maternity leave and Billy was born a couple of weeks later. There was pressure from work, they kept asking me what my intentions were, how long I was having off and I just kept saying not sure probably a few months when I knew that wouldn’t be the case.
I happily spent the next few months at home bringing up the children, being there for them every day whilst Jamie went out to work, the trouble was after a while I got into a routine of staying in most days and not really doing much apart from the everyday mundane things like housework. I began clock watching waiting for 6pm to arrive and then I’d ring Jamie and expect him home in 10 minutes flat as ‘dinner was on the table’ and I wanted him to see the children before bedtime. It got to a point where I didn’t want to leave the house and the once very social Stacey got lost in a world of Cbeebies, I could have named any of the Teletubbies but my brain was turning to mush, I’d lost my confidence and I was feeling down. I was worried I was becoming depressed as I was also piling on weight, even though I was trying to lose weight, it seemed the more I tried the more I put on. When I went to the doctors I was worried he was going to tell me I had Postnatal depression so told him how I felt but made it clear I was down, but not depressed. That’s when he told me he thought I’d got polycystic ovary syndrome and that’s why my weight had increased, my hormones were everywhere and I was feeling down. It wasn’t long after this I attended a networking meeting with a friend and told everyone there I was soon due back to work but didn’t know what to do. I explained I knew I didn’t want to work full time but I also knew if I stayed at home I’d feel like I wasn’t contributing or achieving anything. It was at that very meeting I met a lady who introduced me to another possibility, one that meant I could work from home.
I met with her and I loved the idea of still being a mum at home but running a business at the same time around my children. I was sceptical- I’d got no business experience only my retail/catering management roles previous but she was inspiring to listen to so I trusted her and I’m so glad I did. She helped me set up my own business and map out what was important to me. I got the work/life balance I desired. I had my children to look after but whilst they slept or played I ran my business from home. Some people mocked me and some still do because they don’t understand etc. but most are supportive and help where they can. It’s also now allowed my husband to be at home more as well so we can bring up our children together and the children love having both mum and dad around. For me though it’s given me my confidence back. I’m now happy to train teams of people, will talk to anyone and feel comfortable with who I am and what I’m doing meaning I can be a better mum to my children to.
Our 3rd child is on the way and it was a bit of a surprise for us, but I’m much happier this time round as there’s no pressure on me to return to work or give it up, I can take everything each day as it comes. People keep asking me when my maternity leaves starts or what my plans are but the great thing is because of the nature of my business I don’t need to make those decisions, yes I’ll have some time off but as I work around the children I can do the odd task or two and I know my business will continue to grow. My children have grown up around my business and they love it. They love the products and the ‘idea’ of a business and in my eyes if I motivate and inspire them I’m doing my main job!
What I want is for other mums to realise there is no right or wrong, there is no special formula in returning to work. Do what’s best for you and your family and don’t feel guilty about it, but don’t think you don’t have a choice like I did to start with and don’t suffer in silence. I’m so thankful to the friend that took me to that networking meeting and to the mentor I found that day as they really did change my families future and now I’m helping other mums achieve similar things, it’s like I’m giving something back for the help I’ve received.
I hope this story helps you and feel free to contact me to discuss anything.
Devon author Ruth Briddon, based in Torquay, has published a fiction diary as a book to support women who have suffered from PND (Postnatal Depression).
‘Being Sarah Chilton’ is a funny, easy read which will have you smiling on each page but what Ruth does amazingly well in this book is bring out the raw emotions that women suffering from PND go through. Ruth shares her own feelings and thoughts through the process of giving birth to her own child.
Ruth Briddon has a Diploma in Counselling with Oxford College, a Diploma in Advanced Counselling Skills and a Diploma in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy with Open College.
Having had the privilege of talking to expectant parents about preparing mentally for birth at local Children’s Centres, I strongly feel that Postnatal Depression is still not a recognised illness. I want parents to feel that they can open up more about their feelings when starting their new career as a parent instead of feeling they are alone. Reading my book will definitely encourage others to open up because Sarah doesn’t hold back with how she feels!
‘Being Sarah Chilton’ can be bought from Amazon.co.uk
For more information on the book and Ruth, please visit her website at www.being-sarah-chilton.com
Guest post by Beverley Eikli
For twenty years I’ve been the ‘trailing spouse’ of a pilot husband.
Eivind and I met in the early 90s after I’d taken two months’ leave from my job as a journalist to manage a safari camp in Botswana. Chatting with this gorgeous Norwegian bush pilot around a campfire I knew it was love at first sight but unfortunately I was due to return to Australia the following day. To my delight, my attraction was mutual and after eight months of letter-writing Eivind popped the question, a date was set, and my life went from predictable and ordered to the very opposite as I flew back to Botswana to live with my new fiancé in a thatched cottage in the middle of a mopane forest.
So how did I make a career as a writer of historical fiction in the midst of what would be such a gypsy, topsy-turvy life?
Writing about love and adventure was my escape during the lonely and difficult times, when my husband was away, or later when I was the only woman on survey contracts and then after my husband broke his back. During my long apprenticeship I wrote five 5 manuscripts, repeating the same mistakes regarding plot and approach, and adding to my thickening folder of rejections. I was not a member of any writing organisation to show me how to research publishers and make a professional pitch. I had no critique partners to give me feedback on where I was going wrong.
I didn’t know that these things were as important as any formal training in pursuing success.
My first job after getting married was as an airborne geophysical survey operator working the computer in the back of low flying aircraft during a year’s contract in Namibia with Eivind. Later, during three-month contracts in French Guiana, Greenland and Sweden, writing romance was my escape when I was tired of playing cards or didn’t feel like drinking beer with the boys at the end of the day.
After we returned to Australia in 1998 for a couple of years, I got work as editor of a craft magazine in Sydney, and later, as a journalist on WA Homes & Living magazine when we moved to Perth. I also joined Romance Writers of Australia, which was the first truly sensible thing I did with regard to my writing career.
During the two years we lived in the Solomon Islands in 1991 and 1992 after Eivind got the job of Chief Pilot, I wrote the first drafts of what would be my first three published books. The expat lifestyle was conducive to juggling a vibrant social life with mothering our two-year-old, and with lots of help in the house and garden, and guided by the mentoring I received from RWA, I got a lot of good, structured writing done.
I’d written my first romance when I was seventeen, but drowning the heroine on the final page showed how much I had to learn about the genre. It would be 23 years before Robert Hale published my first book in 2009. However, since joining RWA I’d starting winning writing competitions, though I was having trouble completing a workable manuscript without overcomplicated plots twists and unnecessary tangents.
Unfortunately South Pacific politics proved volatile and unexpectedly we found ourselves without work or a home. My dad’s farm in South Australia provided six months’ refuge before my husband got a job flying in Antarctica, and we moved to Adelaide where I was pregnant for five of the months Eivind was flying south during the summer season.
Polishing my first book, Lady Sarah’s Redemption, kept me occupied during long, lonely evenings when I wasn’t playing with our now four-year-old. I sent the manuscript to various publishers but my rejection folder was growing thicker.
Shortly after my husband returned from Antarctica and four weeks before I was due to give birth, my husband broke his back while renovating the South Australian property we’d bought from dad. Our first child had been delivered by emergency caesarean but with my husband in rehabilitation I was hoping for a natural birth so I could be on my feet in the shortest possible time to look after Eivind and a newborn. I was lucky. Lillie was a respectable 8lb 3oz and a textbook birth.
Now living in Adelaide, South Australia, writing fell by the wayside as I looked for work to pay the bills. Moving around such a lot meant it was difficult for me to find the kind of work I was trained for. I remember the desperation of walking into a temp agency on a Friday morning saying I had to have something – anything – by the following week. Sure enough, on the Monday I was working at Medicare Head Office only to have to phone in with my apologies on the Tuesday because the entire family had come down with bronchitis. My husband’s vertebrae had all been sheered off and were a floating mass amidst the scar tissue which, combined with the Golden Staff infection and now bronchitis, spelled agony.
As my position in head office at Medicare had since been filled, I was relegated to the data entry hall. I knew it was only a matter of time before my supervisor would twig that I’d never done data entry in my life but I slogged on, hating every minute of the work, living in a twilight world of exhaustion and fear of exposure. When that moment did arrive, the timing was in my favour. I got ‘the call’ advising me I’d no longer be needed at the very moment my husband was pouring us a glass of sparkling burgundy in the kitchen and announcing he’d got a job with Ozjet, a business-class-only airline flying Melbourne to Sydney. Naturally Eivind had to be off all pain relief, and as pain was – as he put it – his ‘best friend’ for about six years, that was hard. Pilots have to be so careful about the medications they take, as even most cold and flu medications are on the prohibited list.
With the pressure off, I threw myself back into writing and looking after Eivind and the children. Things were looking up for the family.
However, several months later, Ozjet folded. Another three months of unemployment followed and then the company was up and running again, and Eivind was rehired with a basing in Melbourne. We packed up, moved cities and were in the car, driving to sign for our new house, when we heard the radio announcement: Ozjet had folded. This time for good.
During the next few years my entire approach to my writing changed. I learned how to really be focused and to utilise every minute I could, in between looking after the family and working a variety of jobs, including waitressing, proof reading and teaching English as a Second Language with an occasional freelance article to write. I was still getting rejection letters for my romances but had started regularly winning competitions and getting requests from Avon and Berkley for the full manuscript.
In 2007 Eivind got a three-year flying contract in Japan and the family packed up again. After a year, though, a job offer flying the Boeing 737 with Virgin was too good to turn down and and we returned to Australia.
For six years we’ve now been living in a pretty country town an hour north of Melbourne. It’s lovely to put down roots, to have the children attend the same school and to live with a husband who is mostly pain-free these days. It’s also lovely to have eight books under my belt, to be looking forward to my next Choc Lit release, The Maid of Milan, in March, and to have just learned that my first release with Choc Lit, The Reluctant Bride, has been shortlisted for Favourite Historical Romance of 2013 by Australian Romance Readers Association. It’s my third nomination.)
So much has happened since my first book was published by Robert Hale in 2009. My first three books with them all went to Large Print, I wrote six e-books for Totally Bound, Pan MacMillan Momentum and Ellora’s Cave, and then I won Choc Lit’s Search for an Australian Star for The Reluctant Bride.
Gradually I’ve secured contracts to teach creative writing contracts around Melbourne and these provide the bread-and-butter money between my book contracts. Last year was the first that all my income derived entirely from what I love doing most: writing stories and teaching students how I go about making them, together with my ‘History through Costume’ talks where I dress in Georgian clothing and discuss the historical background to my books. (Costume making and corset-making are other great loves of mine.)
Life’s never been better. My lovely husband is employed full time in what is, essentially, his hobby. He now flies the Boeing 777 long haul to Los Angeles where he keeps a motorbike and explores California when he’s away from us, while back home I write stories of strong, brave women triumphing over desperate circumstances.
My writing journey has been a slow, convoluted one, but weaving tales of love and adventure has sustained me through adversity. At times during my 23-year-long apprenticeship I felt like giving up, but then I remembered that making up stories of the heart with lots of passion and a happy ending is what enriches my life. Despite the seemingly futile hours when it seemed I was plugging away with no return, the payoff has definitely been worth it.
Hopefully, like the endings of my books.
Beverley Eikli is the author of eight historical romances. In 2012 she won UK Women’s Fiction publisher Choc-Lit’s Search for An Australia Star competition with her suspenseful, Napoleonic espionage Romance The Reluctant Bride, which has just been shortlisted by Australian Romance Readers for Favourite Historical in 2013.
She has worked as a journalist, a safari lodge manager in the Okavango, and owes her biggest job promotion as an airborne survey operator to the fact that at half the weight of her male colleagues she offered her company an enormous fuel uplift advantage.
Having made her home in more than twelve cities in too many countries to count, Beverley is back in Australia teaching in the Department of Professional Writing & Editing at Victoria University. She also teaches Short Courses for the Centre of Adult Education and Macedon Ranges Further Education.
You can find Beverley at www.beverleyeikli.com
According to research entitled ‘Boardrooms and Babies’ carried out by maternitycover.com, more than 68% of working mothers claim to earn less than they did before having their baby.
1,300 UK women were surveyed for the research which also found that 54% of new mums had to end their maternity leave early because of financial worries.
Other statistics from the research are as follows:
- A mere 5% of respondents experienced an increase in salary
- 5% of respondents got into debt due to maternity leave pay, with 23% of this group blaming their employer’s poor maternity package
- 73% of respondents said they are better employees as a result of having a baby, with 32% of this group believing that motherhood has made them more focused and organised.
Paul Jenkins, Chief Executive Officer of Maternitycover.com, said:
Women face countless unspoken taboos when it comes to having children and maintaining a career. Our survey makes this all too clear.
We wanted to drill down into what women really experience, practically and financially, in the workplace when a baby appears on the scene. Only by lifting the lid in this way can we encourage conversation and improve communication between everyone involved.
As a working mother, you have your hands full. Between your career and raising your children, life can be pretty hectic. Being a mum who works and has a family to care for makes you an employee both in the office and in your home, and, as you already know, motherhood is a 24-hour job that requires plenty of overtime and allows for minimal time off. Maintaining your professional existence, family life, and sanity can put a lot of pressure on career-oriented mums.
For many mums, working a typical 9 to 5 or 8-hour day can be draining, even if you have a nanny or your children are in daycare or school. Because your day doesn’t end when you shut down your computer or clock out of the office, mums who work outside of the home experience more stress than their male counterparts.
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If you run your own business, the school holidays can mean you have a challenge on your hands. Are you ready to face the challenge?
The key to managing the summer holidays is all in the planning. It may sound a bit tedious, but it is important to have a plan of action to ensure that you continue to work consistently (albeit with reduced hours), spend quality time with your children and above all, keep your sanity. Before you start filling your diary with lots of pursuits let’s look at some of the key factors.
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