Women, Confidence, Babies and Beliefs; How to be a working Mum
Women, Confidence, Babies and Belief’s; How to be a working Mum. Catchy title I thought, but let’s face it, no-one has the answer on how to be a working mum. We’re all doing the best we can, working it out as we go. And that’s OK. Except, for many of us, having a family and returning to work just heightens the insecurities we had before we had children.
With 3 children under 7 I feel I’ve earnt my stripes as a working Mum. It feels like a good time to write about it because identity plays such a huge part in how we feel about ourselves and our work.
I am both a Mother AND a Businesswoman. I value my work as a parent AND I have strong ambition for my work, I have drive for success and passion for achievement in BOTH my roles. Having children bought me greater clarity over my career direction, greater self belief and confidence, purpose and ambition – but the transition into this ‘identity’ wasn’t necessarily easy or smooth.
In last week’s Blog I mentioned the increasing amount of media coverage about Women in Leadership. Women who seemingly ‘Have it all” and those who believe they cannot. Becoming a Mother means that Women have to make choices. Choices such as “Do I return to work, when do I return to work, what sort of work do I want return to” and these are all the surface level challenges that women can make decisions about. But so much more lurks beneath the surface.
In my role as a coach I’ve had the pleasure of working with a range of Mum’s facing their return to work. What strikes me most of all is, firstly, the capability, drive and desire to have a fulfilling and meaningful career. Second to that are the crises of confidence and self imposed limitations that these highly successful women plague themselves with.
These are not ‘broken’ women, these are high caliber, well respected, professional women, who, after taking time out to start or grow their families find themselves in a position where they have to make sense of their role as Mother and Working Professional. When I ask women what they believe about returning to work I am now not surprised when I hear “I cannot have a successful career being part time”, “People won’t see me in the same way now that I’m a parent”. And when I ask what beliefs they hold about themselves, I hear, “I’ve lost my ability to think on my feet” or “I don’t have the confidence I used to have”, worse still, “I think it’ll be better for everyone if I just give it up”.
I wonder; how much talent are we missing out on because women are self-selecting themselves out of the leadership and entrepreneurial space by believing that they can’t have it all, after all?
It’s the internal challenges that can become a real blocker, and it’s here that friends, spouses, fellow mum’s, employers and line managers can make a real difference.
So if you’re a mother (or father let’s not exclude the guys right?), then read on. I hope you’ll find this reassuring that you are not alone, and pick up some ideas for how you need to be supported.
Let’s start by considering what a transition to work, or in fact daily work, can look like/feel like through the eyes of a mother:
No-body tells you about the new relationship you will have to build with guilt as a new parent. Whether it’s the time that your child has been up all night with a high temperature and you tentatively drop them off to nursery and tell a little white lie about how your child is a ‘little under the weather’ just so you can make the strategy meeting you’ve been preparing for all week. Or, the time you call into work to cancel the strategy meeting because your child has been up all night with a high temperature. You are simply damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s quite a journey learning how to manage this guilt in a way that keeps you healthy and thriving at work.
One minute you are on maternity leave drinking coffee exchanging stories, stacking blocks, changing nappies and singing nursery rhymes, next you’re staring at your overspent budget having to explain yourself to your senior managers.
The mental dexterity you need as a parent is simply mind boggling. When you turn up to work singing the theme tune to DinoPaws it’s easy to think that you can’t hack it in the boardroom.
At the extreme maintaining positive mental health is a real issue for many mums. 1 in 10 mums experience some kind of post natal depression, which doesn’t just fix itself upon returning to work. In fact stress can be a trigger for many women. It can be a crippling condition that mums have to learn how to manage. Even without PND being a factor ensuring that maternity returners maintain their self-belief in the face on crises of confidence is something most Mum’s could relate to.
We all have internal voices. Some are kind and act as our cheerleader “well done, great work, you nailed it!” but more often that not our negative internal voices hold us back.
When a good night is defined by stringing together 6 hours of broken sleep and a successful morning is defined my using baby wipes to clean everyone’s faces and dropping the baby off in their PJ’s, its easy for that internal voice to become unhelpful, giving you messages that you aren’t good enough and can’t compete with other – child free – colleagues at work.
With the right support, we can all learn to control these voices and turn the messages into something empowering.
When a woman becomes a mother for the first time there is a huge adjustment that takes place. You no longer have the freedom to come and go as you please. If you want to head out for a run it’s a negotiation with your partner about childcare and when you return to work after having your first, second, or third child the adjustment continues as you factor in childcare, pick ups and drop offs, who takes time off if your child is ill. There are just more moving parts to factor into life so when you have to factor in work too it can be more challenging to keep stress at bay.
The important thing to know about stress is that it can bring out unhelpful behaviours. Everyone has them and they tend to show up in 1 or 2 of 5 drivers; Be perfect, Be Strong, Hurry Up, Try hard, Please others. For example, someone with a Be Perfect Driver, under normal circumstances has high expectations of others and strives for excellence in what they do, under pressure these characteristics can lose perspective and the need to do better and be more perfect takes over.
Learning to become aware of reactions under pressure and how to navigate these behaviours becomes another lesson to master in returning to work.
So what can you do to build your confidence as a Mum returning to work, or a Mum who still feels they haven’t mastered the balance.
1. Ask “How do I need to be supported?
You’ll probably think of surface answers such as a little flexibility in your hours, or more support with the childcare but keep thinking (how else? What else?) and open up your mind until you get answers that point to your values, such as reassurance that I’m doing a good job or appreciation for the extra effort it’s taking to run the household as well as work. Then ensure that you meet these needs by talking to the people around you and asking for what you need.
2. Don’t let people make assumptions
It should go without saying that people shouldn’t make assumptions about your aspirations. If you return part time, even full time, people shouldn’t assume that you have given up on your career ambitions. But, they might. Their intention might be wholly positive, i.e. not to put pressure on you since you’ve just got back. People will fill the silence with their own assumptions so be proactive and put the conversation on the table – even if you don’t have it all worked out yet, keep the conversation alive.
3. Lower your expectations
Something is going to slip. You’ll forgot to buy nappies or you’ll run out of milk, you’ll double book yourself or reply “ALL” by mistake (EEK). This does not mean that you are failing. It’s going to take time to get a handle on this next phase of life, plus, people who don’t have kids make mistakes all the time. Being a mother does not make you LESS THAN anyone or anything. So lower your expectations, take the pressure off and give yourself time
4. Talk to someone about how it’s going
This may not be easy for you but if someone asks you how it’s going don’t just say ‘yeah good’ or ‘fine thanks’. Take the invitation to explore how it’s really going. Maybe it is going well at work, how are you feeling about home? Are you missing your child? Maybe you’re not missing your child and you feel bad about that? If no-one is asking, find someone who will listen.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others
You might be surrounded by working Mum’s that seem to have it all together whilst you feel you’re on the edge. Don’t compare your day 1 to their day 670. You will walk your own path, stay focused on your needs and pull in the help and support you need to make this transition a success. People do a great job of putting on ‘front’s, just because someone looks like they have it all together does not mean they are thriving and have all the answers.
6. Know that you are no less of a professional now that you are a Mum
In my opinion Mum’s are amongst some of the most hardworking, most driven people in the workforce. I balance running a business with looking after my 3 children (with my husband who works full time) and I know I have to work hard the minute the kids are gone. I squeeze every ounce of productivity out of my days because there is no other time to get things done. Mum’s get that time is precious.
7. Be at choice and control
Becoming a working parent is a big change. I hope that most employers today accommodate needs and show empathy and understanding, but that’s not always the case. If you find yourself in a position where your needs cannot be met, stay focused on what you can influence and what decisions you can make. Don’t get caught up in things that you can’t control. It may take time to find the right ‘balance’ for you. Other people’s judgements don’t need to be a part of what your needs are.
This is a post about working Mothers in recognition of Mothers Day, all women and men with or without children have needs they wish to balance in the workplace. The tips above can be equally applicable.
If you’re a working Mum, trying to figure out what this means then take advantage of my £99 “Next Career Move” Session. This coaching session is specifically designed to help you understand what is important to you and what you need to be able to decide on your next career move. I can’t make any decisions for you but I can give you the clarity and information you need to decide what your next move should be. You’ll take away from this coaching session a personalised checklist of everything you need to be able to confidently move forward with your next career move. That’s got to be worth way more than £99 and an hour of your time. You can book your session by e-mailing me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Just pop £99 session in the subject and I’ll come back to you with my availability for our zoom meeting and payment details. Simples!
The Leaders Guide to Finding Passion and Purpose in your work