Are you a ballbreaking unmaternal harridan who rushed straight from the labour ward to her office and never saw her children again or are you a suffocating earth mother type whose children run shrieking from your over attentions and never wish to see you again? The harsh view of mothers who work or not means this over-exaggerated scenario can seem like reality. You may be very keen to go back, or to work freelance. Or you may want to be a full-time mother, which is after all, a considerable amount of work, although it is frequently undervalued, except by MPs when they wish to silence the masses with misty eyed platitudes about the importance of family. Women face a barrage of opinions from all sides, not to mention their own thoughts and desires as to what they should do. It is unfortunate that in so many areas of mothering, women’s choices are pitted against each other, fuelled by the media.
Having a baby is a humungous event and naturally you want and need to retreat from the world for a while. What had been simple tasks beforehand: paying bills, walking the dog, even dressing before midday, can now seem like insurmountable challenges. The overwhelming feeling is you wish the world would go away and come back when you’re ready for it. A helpless being is literally dependent on you for life and this may well affect how you view your career, which was once all-consuming.
Some women work merely from necessity, but many truly love it, both for the financial independence and the sense of self worth. But will you want to go back when your maternity leave ends? Quite often, a woman who has confidently predicted she will be back after six months can find herself dreading the day as it comes closer. Her mind will be like a mouse on a wheel, weighing up whether she can continue breast-feeding, should she attempt controlled crying to get better sleep, who will look after her baby, is she ready to leave him in the care of strangers…?
If you have to go back to work, you might feel extremely guilty that you will damage the bond between you and your baby. This is perfectly natural but it isn’t the end of the world. Life with your child(ren) has new stages evolving all the time. You might miss a few months, but there will be others to take its place. I believe it is important to keep a sense of identity that is independent from your children. This may necessitate a career change in order for you to work freelance because a lot of women find their workplace more challenging when they are mothers.
I conducted some research a few years ago with mums about whether they had felt supported on their return. ‘Yes, although challenging to establish different working patterns with a young, mainly childless team. I am no longer available at all times. There is also a culture to work late, which I can arrange with notice only.’ Sometimes they are their own worst critics. ‘ I put myself under pressure to be as knowledgeable and committed to the role as before, to keep my position within the company, resulting in a certain amount of ‘franticness’ at times.’
Work does pale into insignificance if you are wondering if your child’s cough that morning has developed into something more serious. Even though the concern is usually shared by both parents, actions taken are more likely to be the preserve of the mother. This is why many women are passed over for promotions before they have even had children, the assumption being that they will not be as committed. This is ridiculously short-sighted when you consider the skills the mother acquires: negotiation, patience, listening, multi-tasking – these should be an asset to any working environment.
If you’re a new mother in turmoil as to what to do about work, the answer, like most things to do with babies and children, is to relax and wait. How you are feeling soon after the birth is not the same as you will feel in a few months, or years. The first few weeks can seem like a vast chasm of time, but in the grand scheme of your life it is a short segment.
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