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If you’re a new mum thinking about going back to work, the chances are that you’re pre-occupied with two big decisions: what working hours will allow me to have my ideal work and family balance? and who will I trust with the responsibility of caring for my baby?
I know all too well that, in reality, there’s a lot more to the return-to-work decision than that: there’s the financial necessity – often the main factor in the decision, the logistics of nursery drop-offs and pick-ups, the ‘Plan B’ for the inevitable poorly days, the support offered by your employer, but too often the mum’s own career wants and needs don’t factor.
While it might be the pounds and pence that drive the decision, for many of the women I work with the paycheck is way down their list of importance. It’s career meaning that they prize alongside the chance to use their brain and have some social contact with other adults. For some mums, though, that career can have changed. The fuel of her ambition is different. Can anyone say they’re the same person once they become a mum as they were before? It’s that shift in identity that can influence a change of heart when it comes to work – a change that is frequently overlooked.
And here’s the tricky part. It’s one massive period of adjustment – adjusting to becoming a parent, adjusting to a new lifestyle, new responsibilities and a new identity, and then adjusting again to accommodate your pre-baby working life and your post-baby instinct. Adding another big question like what do I really want out of my career now? might just tip you over the edge. Add to that the fact that, for many new mums, being out of the workplace for an extended period can be a knock to their confidence in themselves and their abilities. They undervalue what they can offer and feel unable to ask for more.
If you’re planning to return to work, here are four tips to help you factor in YOU:
Time out: Create some time and space for yourself to think about returning to work. What is it that excites you? What parts of your work did you love before maternity leave? What feelingsdo you most want to feel when it comes to your work? Take some time to honestly reflect on what you truly want out of your work now.
Flip the fears: Thinking about returning to work, when you’ve been out of the game for a while, can be daunting. Feeling like your brain is mush and out of the habit of making grown-up conversation, you may be all too focused on your fears: I often hear worries about being taken seriously at work, about having the ability to cope with work pressure in the same way, about feeling restricted by having to stick to a strict routine that fits around childcare. The list goes on. Try to flip it: focus on what new skills you’ve learnt in your role as a mummy. How have you changed for the better? Start to see the positive attributes that your dual role can bring – how can your new-found skill for organisation, for example, enhance your performance at work.
Take a walk down memory lane: Your most recent challenges might be changing nappies and weaning, but remind yourself of your professional value. Add to the new skills you’ve learned through your mummy role (as above), by listing all the skills and experience and personal attributes you can offer. Look at your personal inventory as if you were looking at someone else and truly appreciate your professional value.
Your signature: In getting clear on what you want out of work, what you truly want to strive for, as well as recognising your professional value, you should begin to have a picture of the professional image that you’d like to project. If you had to describe it in three words, what would they be? Give yourself some confidence cues by surrounding yourself with subtle reminders of these three words. For example, if ‘confidence’ were one of the values you wanted to exude, what would give you confidence? A new pair of high heels, a bold lipstick colour, a statement necklace. If you wanted to show yourself patience, what reminders could you create in your working day? It could be a simple message to yourself that you set as an alarm on your mobile phone, or it might be making a nutritious lunch that you wouldn’t normally get the time to enjoy on a mummy-day. Be gentle with yourself as you adjust and make the most of little props to help you along the way.
*Emma Gwillim is a Clarity Coach & Confidante for ambitious mummies. She is passionate about helping mums to get reacquainted with their inner sparkle so they can nurture their own dreams as well as their family. Emma works with women through one-to-one sessions, virtual group programmes and through free resources on her website. Sign up to The Glitterati weekly newsletter here to get inspirational interviews and advice delivered to your inbox.