Why having a baby can strengthen your career and personal brand
If you’re currently in talks with your old boss about returning to work part-time or with flexible hours, but you’re getting that overwhelming feeling that you’re being shafted, this blog title might see you hovering over the red x button. But give me just another paragraph to put my stake in the ground before you click away.
I understand that returning to work after having a baby isn’t easy. I chose to leave the corporate world after seeing one too many parents being force-fed the work guilt. There I would be, pre-child, sat on a bank of desks and the landline next to me would ring. The colleague/parent would pick up the phone and cup his or her hand over the mouthpiece trying to huddle within themselves, while someone from their child’s nursery explained how their child was sick and would need collecting early. Then followed a phone call to their partner justifying why it couldn’t be them who left work to collect their child and they’d either win their case or concede. Usually, it would be the woman who had to go and god forbid they left work before midday. I once witnessed a boss tell a young, first-time mother who had to leave work early to collect her sick son, that she had made a big mistake having a child. Whether he said this as a joke or not, the seed was planted. Shortly after, she gave up the job title that she had worked so hard for. I made a decision there and then to find a way out of the corporate world. I did not want to be at the top of my game and then have to step down and feel like I was a second-class citizen in my career just because I'd had a baby. It was then that I set up my business.
Finding a balance
Currently, I don’t know anyone who is employed, has secured flexible working and feels like they’ve nailed the work-life balance. Five days' work is still usually crammed into three. Sunday night working is standard, if only to clear the email traffic that has accumulated on Thursday and Friday to then start working on ‘actual work’ come Monday morning.
However, I’m here to tell you that there is a purpose to the mess that you may have been in or are facing when it comes to work. You know that feeling when the penny drops with your child when you realise that you just have to roll with whatever is facing you and that they will do as they wish, so there is little point stressing yourself over certain things. Well, imagine if you could have that same penny-drop moment with your career and then end up in a more peaceful place. Sounds bliss. You will get this same feeling soon enough, I promise. It will then strengthen you and you will radiate a confidence that you didn’t think was possible. You will have a much stronger career, even if you’re earning less money. You will take what you need from your job and be happy with any job title. You will really enjoy the time you do have with your child and be disciplined with your time. You won’t work for anyone who you wouldn’t invite into your home. You will be proud of yourself. But how can you get to this point?
- Give your old or current job the perspective it needs (which you’ve ignored for many years). We’ve been conditioned to put aside our wellbeing needs in the workplace. Companies are desperately scratching their heads while trying to solve the wellbeing dilemma, but not so many are willing to put money into what is really needed. Would you want your child (when they are grown up) to work somewhere where his or her wellbeing isn’t given much importance? Where nobody bats an eyelid if he or she is repeatedly sick, whilst still working all the hours to get a piece of work finished? I certainly wouldn’t. So why are you letting yourself do this? See your job for what it is.
- List what you value in life and then make a list of the things you do that make you feel fulfilled. Do the two lists match up? Most likely no. Given that work accounts for five days out of seven, it is no doubt down to your job if you find there is a big difference. Most people will then excuse the part that their job plays and credit it with allowing them to live the life they do. Rubbish. We can all live differently, if only we allow ourselves to change. Habits are changeable, but you have to give yourself permission.
I’m assuming you may have got to the end of number 2 and confirmed what your gut was telling you anyway. So what next? Now you need to devise tactics that allow you to build strength and resilience. Why? Because of the dire situation facing parents when they seek the option to work flexibly, there will sadly be changes to your career along the way, which may not be weighted fairly on you the employee. Your ego is about to take a bashing if you’ve ‘given in’ to your boss who won’t allow flexible working on your terms and decided to give 5 days per week a go. Perhaps you have then decided to leave the job that you worked so hard for, because you thought you could work 5 days per week and juggle your child/children, but you’re missing them so much and leaving the house at 6:30am and getting home just after 7:00pm is getting you down. And, by the way, this relates to men just as much as it does women. I find it overwhelmingly sad that men have to put up and shut up and conform to the bravado that exists in some offices, which means they wear the provider badge, but they are never allowed to take it off.
So what are these strength tactics?
These are slightly random, but can provide a massive source of alternative strength or distraction if you're having a tough time of it when negotiating back to work terms, or dealing with life after going back to work on your pre-child terms and finding it's sh*t.
- Set up a social media account and attach yourself to topics that are totally unrelated to your job or career. Things that you can talk about or are passionate about, and get chatting with other people. Maybe go one step further and write a blog. Don’t care who sees it (if anyone). Use it to vent, celebrate and move on. It’s seriously effective and easier than you realise. Hate writing? Record yourself talking and turn the files into text.
- Talk to ex-employees of the company you worked for. Why did they leave? Are they glad they left? I guarantee that many of them are relieved. Write statements that make you think ‘screw you old company, I feel the same’. Read them over and over whenever you feel the doubt niggling at you.
- Volunteer. And it doesn’t have to involve animals, older people or cleaning poo. It could be for a local parent network, a group that is campaigning for something which resonates with you, or doing what you do/did best in your job for a charity. Do this while you’re on leave and prove to yourself that you can do something where you’re asked to deliver and you deliver. It’s a massive confidence booster and something I found invaluable.
- Stop attaching your career change to the birth of your child/children. Yes, I know that a lot of the time the two are linked and there’s no point trying to dance around the truth. However, doing this when you already felt/feel vulnerable about parenting is going to make an already delicate situation (no matter how much time has passed) even more delicate. Blame it on a much-needed lifestyle change or just accept it for what it is. What is the change trying to tell you?
I know this works, because I’ve done it twice now and, most recently, with a just 20-month-old in tow. I will no doubt do it again when I have more children. Life changes and so do I, and I have had to accept this in order to strengthen myself and my career. Good luck.
And get following two social media heroes when it comes to returning to work post-baby. Anna Whitehouse aka Motherpukka and Pregnant then Screwed. Both are campaigning hard for a change to flexible working and how it is treated and also provide an advice resource for parents. Also check out their army of supporters and people who are in the exact same position as you for that reassurance and resonation that we so need as parents when the going gets tough.