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Image / Self / Parenthood

‘Guilt and relief’: Inspired by Project Meghan, working mums have this advice for those returning to work after babies


by Amanda Cassidy
11th Sep 2021
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Guilt, relief, exhaustion - returning to work after any absence is a challenge, but when there are tiny humans involved it is an added transition. We spoke to three mums about the advice they'd pass on to those dipping their toes back into the workplace after having children.

“Before I had my children, I worked in a corporate environment and was the department head and business development lead for the team. I always felt huge pressure to be there and to keep the department running.”

Jean Evans is a mum of three, currently living in Wicklow. She believes working mothers can often be pulled in all directions.

“On my first pregnancy, I was determined to combine maternity leave with some work from home, but when my son arrived, well needless to say, he had other ideas. I was simply exhausted.

I couldn’t get over how tired I was. I was used to working really long hours and travelling, but this whole baby thing made me tired in ways I couldn’t have comprehended. Everything was new and it was emotionally draining.

With the constant feeling of exhaustion, women often feel they are not succeeding. Not doing right by anyone.

Support

When I went back after my second maternity leave, I was exhausted once more – physically and emotionally. I had been a workaholic in previous incarnations, so readjusting to manage children too was tough and I found it hard, if I’m honest. Creche pick-ups meant I couldn’t work late anymore, so it started to put manners on my working hours – not a bad thing. I travelled every few weeks, so thankfully I had and have a very supportive partner who’d be with the kids and my mum was on standby for any other occasions.

Businesses need to do so much better to support women coming back to work. With the constant feeling of exhaustion, women often feel they are not succeeding. Not doing right by anyone, be it the employer, the team, colleagues, spouse/partner or the children.  This then leads to a lack of confidence in their ability to perform.

Right now, I’m starting my own business and it allows me a flexibility and freedom that I cherish, while still being able to develop something with purpose. However, having gone through the processes of returning to work at a bigger operation, I have these tips for mums.

Information

Understand the creche policies around pick ups, collections etc and share this with your manager and/or HR team as appropriate, so they are aware of the parameters. Some creches charge parents for every minute that their kids stay after closing and this puts enormous guilt and pressure on the parents.

Next – if you’ve been breastfeeding your child, find out if you can breastfeed or express in the office and ask if there’s somewhere to store milk safely and hygienically.

Chat about what happens in problem situations before they arise, e.g. your child being sick and you having to collect them during office hours. Pre-empt and get a feel and understanding for how the company is going to react.  The panic, guilt and fear that can strike when you know you have a meeting and then you get a call from the childminder or creche is awful.

Changes

“They would joke that they were coming back for a break (little did I know they weren’t entirely joking) For others they were returning to work because they couldn’t afford not to.”

Clodagh O’Donovan from Advance HR has seen both sides of this coin – the mums who made the often tough journey back into the workplace.

It’s a difficult transition no matter what the reason is, and I saw how anxious those women were in those first few weeks back. They said it was like starting a new job between new people on the team, new managers and learning the ropes again. Some confided in me that they felt they had to work extra hard to prove that they were as committed to their job and career as they were before their maternity leave.

Nothing that can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster that is the first day your child is not with you 24/7

I struggled to understand this until I became pregnant and found myself having the same thoughts.

For various reasons, I had additional time with both my babies after each maternity leave ended which allowed me to settle my kids into the creche before I returned to the workplace.

Adjustment

That said, there is nothing that can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster that is the first day your child is not with you 24/7. I knew they would be looked after differently to the way I looked after them, every bit as good, but different and I struggled with that each time.

While my son Conor was settling in, I was job searching and preparing for interviews. Ahead of my first day in my new job I was feeling nervous and excited about going back to work. I was also feeling guilty because I was looking forward to being more than Mama for a few hours.

On my first day, Conor woke with a high temperature and wasn’t well. I was completely torn. I felt that I couldn’t ring up and say, “Sorry I won’t be starting today”. I left him in the capable hands of my husband and headed to my new job. I spent the day figuring out my new role while furtively checking my phone for updates on Conor. The following week he spiked another temperature and was put on antibiotics. I called my manager, explained the situation and arranged to work from home.

No matter how understanding and supportive my managers were, it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty that I was doing something wrong by putting my sick child before my job

Guilt

The funny thing that I noticed is that no matter how understanding and supportive my managers were, it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty that I was doing something wrong by putting my sick child before my job. I never felt pressure from my managers, the pressure was all from me and is something that other mothers I have spoken to have also experienced.

If you are returning to work after maternity leave, consider arranging a visit to the office before you go back. It will ease your nerves on the first day, give you a chance to get up to speed on changes and meet the new people on your team. Figure out what plans B and C are if your child is too ill to go to the childminder but well enough not to need you with them.

Knowing who you can rely on will help ease your stress. If you do not have support, check with your manager on the options available should your child become ill. Having the conversation up front makes it easier for both you and your employer.

Advice

For employers, know that returning to work is difficult for employees who have been away from the office. Their confidence will need rebuilding and they will be anxious about leaving their child(ren). Talk to your people, acknowledge their challenges and offer support. Be transparent and consistent with decisions around flexible working arrangements.

With my daughter Kate it was a different challenge. She was 15 months starting creche and clung to me crying every morning for weeks because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t be with me.

It was around this time that I set up Advance HR and joined Network Cork.

The level of support I received from people I had never even met was amazing. What helped me most was knowing that I was not alone and that other women had similar challenges about going back to work. I became a Mentor for Network Ireland at the start of this year to pay forward that support.

Self care

No matter what the circumstances are, whether you have settled your child with the childminder or whether they are starting the same day as you, it is not easy. It is emotional, you feel guilty and relieved at the same time. But you are not doing anything wrong.

Your child will still thrive, and you will get the biggest smiles and hugs when you collect them. I discovered that I am my best self when I am working, and it took me a while to stop feeling guilty about this. What helped me was the realisation that if I am my best self, my kids get the best me too and isn’t that a win, win!

 

 

 

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Anna Healy is a Mindset & Confidence Coach for women who want more out of life, career and business. She’s also Programme Manager for Network Ireland’s Mentoring for Success programme. Living in West Cork, Anna has 2 children, 10 year old girl and 5 year old boy. She says the transition back to work wasn’t straightforward.

Having good childcare will reduce the stress immensely when you go back to work. Allow time for your child to settle in, and also you to get used to leaving your child with someone else.

“I was working full time when I was pregnant with Lucy and worked part time when I returned to work 10 months after she was born. If I am to be honest, I don’t think I was ready to go back to work, I think I would have liked to stay with her for another few months but the reality was, it was a financial decision and I had used up all other leave. As a new mom it was hard to leave her to the childminder at the beginning.

I remember my first week back to work, I was a bag of nerves as I had never been away from her for that length of time. I remember being delayed at work by my manager one afternoon and feeling so stressed at being late collecting her. That feeling settled after a time, when I built a strong relationship with my childminders. They were so good with her and my son 5 years later, and they built a lovely group of friends from being there.

Having good childcare will reduce the stress immensely when you go back to work. Allow time for your child to settle in, and also you to get used to leaving your child with someone else.

Juggle

The juggle is constant, regardless of what age your child is. There seems to be a never ending list of tasks, be it housework, after school activities, homework and the dreaded dinners. I have gone through phases of hating dinner time, hating cooking the same dinners that the kids love. I absolutely hate spaghetti bolognese!

I also dread the evenings when we are home late from afterschool activities, it is usually eggs or soup for dinner those days! If there is something to learn from this, it would be to take time out at the weekend to plan your week and be aware of your pressure points in your schedule- your meals, your activities, appointments.

I want my children to be resourceful and independent as they grow up.

When I am busy with work, the house suffers. Because I work from home, I have a tendency to potter when I am supposed to be working so I made a decision early on that if I am meant to be working, then the doors to the rest of the house stay closed and that I will deal with the house when I finish work. I know that if I didn’t set boundaries around responsibilities in the house, I would end up taking the lion’s share of the work.

Shared responsibility

So when my husband comes home from work, we share the responsibilities of the house and the children. We have also included the children in the housework from a young age, we work as a team. They are experts in laundry – using the washing machine, hanging out the clothes, using the tumble dryer, sorting clothes, they also empty dishwasher and tidy their bedrooms. I want my children to be resourceful and independent as they grow up.

When Christopher was born, I felt a lot more confident as a mother as I had a bit of experience in the role. I suppose I had better structure by that time he arrived, I knew what to expect and I had the same childminders for him. When he was very small, less than 6 months, I realised that I wanted to try something completely different and start my own business. I had been working in my role for 10 years at that point and I felt I needed to stretch myself.

Being self-employed has it’s perks in that I can collect my children from school and work stops at 3pm. I absolutely love my work and I find it difficult sometimes to close the office door. Owning your business requires discipline and strong boundaries.

Go gently with yourself, returning to work after having your child is uncharted territory for you and it takes time to navigate the path

Finding Network Ireland was also a godsend to me. I didn’t realise what I was missing until I met all these amazing positive ambitious women. It completely opened my eyes and some doors to the endless possibilities and opportunities out there.

Mentoring

I found support, friendship and inspiration from my branch and the wider Network when everything went online. Being a Mentor with the Mentoring for Success Programme with Network Ireland has been really rewarding, I have mentored fellow Network Ireland members through challenges that they experience and I have also availed of the support from the other Mentors. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am now without Network Ireland.

Go gently with yourself, returning to work after having your child is uncharted territory for you and it takes time to navigate the path. There are lots of decisions to be made but remember not all decisions have to be final, if it isn’t working for you, there are always other options

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