Parents with ambition, keep trying.
Heading back to work after having children is such a personal, subjective sometimes controversial issue. Work as you knew it won’t be the same. You might not even like your job when you get back there. The boss you used to love, is suddenly a work-a-holic. Your work-wife just doesn’t get you any more. You may lose your passion for a while, but keep trying. The work and life balance thing starts to take centre stage and the juggle to strike that balance is always a work in progress.
Call me crazy but in March this year, I accepted a four day a week job as a marketing manager believing that I could do it all. “Sure”, I thought to myself, “I can raise two very young humans and work 9-5pm without feeling stressed or guilty. I got this!” Well….I certainly made a big effort to get that balance, but then I started to wonder whether maybe the balance does not exist – despite my vain attempts to prove otherwise.
When I told some of my friends that I’d accepted a new, full-time job in marketing, with a just turned two-year-old and a four-year-old at home, some of them literally backed away saying ‘Oh that’s….great. Are you happy?’. I was actually very happy. I was convinced that I could be super-human, and my kids would be fine if I put a plan in place, (read: nanny, cook, cleaner) to do a job I really enjoy and keep them settled and on routine, it’d be great…right?
Going back to work is not always a choice, but often it is.
For many women, working full-time hours is a financial necessity, the only way to make ends meet. For others, it is a sanity saver, a way to find a sense of balance, calm and order in the otherwise chaotic world of the children’s lives. We often judge without knowing the full story.
For me, it was a combination of both. I like my work. I enjoy the sense of leaving the house and going somewhere and having adult conversations. The frisson of a new project, the spark of company politics. If I can get paid to do that in the right culture and company, I’m more than happy to do it.
I have never understood why these two groups are so opposed and judgy of one another. It isn’t realistic to put ‘return to work mums’ and ‘stay at home mums’ into two separate baskets with neat little bows, not allowing for the ambiguity of being a mum and having a career.
Work is a really energising thing for me. It keeps me feeling alive. It stimulates me, calms me and frazzles me all at the same time.
Ambition doesn’t have to be a dirty word when you’re a mum.
I accepted a job, which was an amazing opportunity working with some very smart, talented people. I was offered great money and flexibility around the kids and given the autonomy to create a marketing strategy from scratch. It was thrilling having the chance to do this.
But things back home started to slide. My youngest suddenly started waking up through the night, refusing to sleep in her own bed, making us all tired and grumpy the next day. My eldest was being difficult and starting to show signs of challenging behaviour. Our weekends suddenly became filled with admin, and the kids were so clingy. I had zero time to myself. My exercise routine went out the window, and I was not eating as well as I could have. When our nanny quit, I started to wonder “Is working worth it?”
I pondered on this for a few weeks and then after a series of major events at work beyond my control, including a restructure and a budget freeze, I decided to make the break and leave the job. Did this mean that I no longer wanted to be a working mum? Hell no! That role just wasn’t right for me.
Point is, all the planets need to align when you want to return to work as a parent – it goes for dads too. You have little people with a constant need for attention to consider, and they tend to throw out that nicely planned schedule – like all the fricken time!
In my experience as a working mum the top four things you need to return to work successfully are:
- A flexible manager
- A work culture that respects women, and working parents.
- Less days in the office in lieu of logging on at night or working from home.
- A supportive partner or hired help who can help with the juggle.
Signs along the way can often guide us. Go with your gut.
I bumped into a friend the other day who used to head up a very well-known kids fashion label design department but stopped to raise her children. I view this friend as a woman so committed to her role as a full-time mum. When I told her I sometimes felt like an outsider in our town because I enjoyed working, she said that she had ambition too but she had made the choice to put it on hold until the kids were older. I so admire this, but don’t think this is realistic for me. The point is that everyone has their own personal belief system and mix that they need to stay fulfilled.
You need to be able to find your happy place. The place that is yours and yours alone. Avoid putting yourself in one box or another. For me, I oscillate from one to other quite freely. One day I’m Martha Stewart, hand-painting pine cones for Christmas and buying drawer dividers for my kitchen, and the next I’m streaming podcasts on how to be an infopreneur while riding my bike to coffee with a client. That’s just how I roll and I make no apologies for it.
Striking a balance with this mum-work thing isn’t easy.
I had an unexpected call today from a friend who is this brilliant high achiever, started her own PR agency while also raising three young children. She told me that my very candid post on how to find your vibe again after having a baby, resonated with her and she thinks of it often when she gets out for some time to herself.
Apart from feeling wonderfully flattered that she would call me out of the blue to tell me this when she could have been doing a million other things. I was suddenly inspired by her. She told me of her health issues, her struggle to keep her business on track, the juggle of kids, daycare drop-offs and renovations. All of us are in the same mashed-up spin of life, and I’d argue that very few of us have got it absolutely perfect. This friend is an example of why being open and vulnerable about the struggle of parenting is so much more attractive than trying to be perfect.
So here’s the message. Don’t give up on going back to work, if you want to. Fearing that your kids need you there full time, and putting your needs on hold is not good for anyone. If have those four ingredients above, give it a try. If it doesn’t work, you are not a failure. It just didn’t work, but don’t give up. Just reset, learn from it and move on.
Before I go, I wanted to share three amazing people who personify being openly ambitions, but-not-trying to be perfect mums. These gals really do keep it real for me and have had a life-changing effect on making me at peace with not being able to achieve the work-life balance.
Perhaps the doyenne of telling it like it is, this lady is quite honestly my hero. I love how she breaks the internet with politically incorrect podcasts and statements and is also wildly successful at what she does. She doesn’t pretend to be organised or together in that ‘picture perfect’ way. She’s like my reference point for moments when I catch myself saying ‘this is not what other mothers would be doing’. Because I know she would be doing it her way with no apologies.
This gal is not only insanely good with nailing the ‘anti-mum’ black humour that makes your sides split, she also has a brilliant knack for graphics. I want to be her best friend. Her Instagram feed is candy for the eyes and the soul. Do yourself a massive favour and just follow her.
A shout-out to my old university chum and flatmate, Liv who has created a business based on coaching and consulting the art of mindfulness. She is also one of the brain trust team members behind the hugely successful Happy Melon Studio in Melbourne and The Smiling Mind. I love her ethos and her constructive approach to dealing with the blur of being a human in this crazy thing called life.
Do you know any amazing women who keep you inspired and energised? I’d love to hear about them! Tell us in the comments below.