Two years ago, I set out to start writing. I was inspired, motivated and ready to share my story. I wasn’t entirely sure who I would share it with, however I continued on and wrote the bare bones of an article. It was a first-person piece talking about my feelings about returning to work as a mother of two (at the time I had a 2 month old, and a 3 year old) and how I was more confident and hopeful the second time around.
Whilst it’s a little delayed, I want to share it with you now. This is more for the parents (particularly Mums) out there, however it’s also relevant for everyone to stay true to your own beliefs, values and situation as you make your decisions… and remove some of the societal guilt inflicted upon us.
I’m just one of 300,000 mothers who will give birth this year in Australia. And I can guarantee that all of us will experience pressure to comply with societal ‘norms’ in raising our children and adapting our lives accordingly.
We all have such unique circumstances that it would be impossible for me to presume what each woman should do with their personal life now that they’re a mum for the first, second, or tenth time. Yet people do. And no one knows the unique situation and the balancing act the family are trying to navigate in the decisions they make.
As a second time mother, I look back at my first experience with more wisdom, perspective and clarity. I shouldn’t have cared that a ‘well-intentioned’ elderly lady told me I was a ‘no good mumma’ for not putting socks on my 3 month old baby (it was 22 degrees). Yet I held back the tears.
Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t realise how awesome I was. I planned an adventure for my son, successfully got out of the house, traipsed down the 50+ stairs at the train station… packed a full baby bag, remembered my phone, wallet etc. Oh, but I forgot socks.
Societal ‘norms’ also craft the definition of the mother as a care-giver. Whilst there is a lot more support (and necessity) for women to work after having children, around 80% of women with kids under 2 work part-time. When I returned to work full-time, I felt extremely guilty… and wasted way too much energy doing so. The decision was based on what was best for my family – my entire family. Yet I felt I needed to explain the rationale of why I was doing it… ‘My husband is going back to uni to study teaching, so financially blah blah blah’. Why does it require an explanation at all? A secondary outcome which was really positive was that I also continued the momentum in my career… (but can I say that???)
Whilst I’m thankful to be able to spend such meaningful time with my new baby and toddler, I do worry about the effects that this second maternity leave will have on my career.
I’m one of those rare people that love working. More and more I hear about people’s lack of enjoyment from work. They feel stuck, under-valued, demotivated. That’s not me.
On returning to work after having my first child, I quickly begun to understand that work was part of my work/life balance. I never thought I’d be so happy to return. But with motherhood also came clarity. If I was to be away from my child, I needed to be satisfied by my work. And I was.
Now I’m on my second maternity leave and I want to continue my career momentum.
ANZ released its Women’s Report (2015) and the stats reflected what I had experienced or witnessed in the workforce:
- 49% of mothers experience discrimination at some stage during pregnancy, parental leave or return to work
- Women experience a ~7% ‘motherhood’ wage penalty when they return to work following maternity leave
- Only 20.4% of ASX 200 board members are women
It’s everything you expect but there’s nothing like reading stats like that to get you worried.
Whilst I’m caring for my children, I’ll also continue investing in my career – listening to podcasts, reading books, staying connected to my industry.
And I’m going to [try and] ignore the societal pressures of what it is to be a good Mum. Because I already know I’m the best Mum for my kids.
And I’m sure you’re just as awesome!