As a coach I have worked with several women* who wanted to find a way to fit in better at work once they had returned from their maternity leave. They were worried about their career and their further career development. Can I still bring the same dedication to my work? Will I still receive the same responsibilities and challenging projects? Will I still be considered for a promotion? How can I ensure that my dedication to my child will not be seen negatively? These are just some of the questions and doubts that I have heard.
Let’s face it: having children can be a lot of work, don’t get me wrong they are also a lot of fun and very rewarding, but nevertheless lots of work!
However, unlike a paying job, children can be even more demanding, more time consuming, less controllable, less predictable, and a lot more sleep depriving than even the most demanding and challenging career!
As women we ought to have the right to decide on how we would like to combine and manage all aspects of our lives: family, friends, personal development, wellbeing, and our career development! This will look different for every woman and should reflect one’s individual preferences, background and aspirations. However, I would like to offer 5 areas of reflection that I have seen as useful guidelines for women going back to work and pursuing a successful career:
Having a child is a huge responsibly and thus it seems only natural that this responsibility should be shared between both parents (may be even with grandparents as well). This can be tricky at times when it is something that has not been agreed ahead of time, never been talked about or the father is not taking an active part in the upbringing of the child. However, when both parents agree in detail how they want to share their responsibilities for their child(ren) that can eliminate a lot of tension and stress in the relationship. It might be a good idea to put that on paper so that both parents can refer back to it should a situation arise where that is required.
Depending on how long the maternity leave is – in some countries such as the US women typically only take a few weeks off work while in other countries such as Germany it can be up to 3 years – keeping in touch with HR or the direct line manager during the maternity leave might prove helpful. On the one hand it allows women to stay in the loop with what is going on at work and on the other hand they can try to influence the kind of position and responsibility that they will have upon their return. But also once women are back at work it helps to stay transparent. Things can change. Be it the sick nanny or the baby swim class; addressing these things directly and offering a solution on how to handle them keeps women in the driving seat.
Some things can be outsourced while others cannot! When juggling a family and a career giving some tasks such as the housework chores to someone else might free up capacity for quality time. Instead of running out of a meeting that ran late, having some support such as a babysitter, friend or family member who will take care of the child will help to maintain a peace of mind. We sometimes think that asking for help or support is a sign of weakness, while it simply demonstrates a high level of self-reflection and the ability to organize and prioritize; basically good project management.
With our calendars packed, our days meticulously timed and the hours of sleep we manage to get numbered, doing something on top sometimes seems out of reach. However, as is true for any ambitious woman, is vital to set aside some time for personal and leadership development (such as coaching, mentoring or training). This might be the single most important thing to foster further career development and quite possibly a balanced life.
Mothers who want to pursue a successful career do not have the luxury of any spare time? Often we end up neglecting the people we care about most because our busy lives do not seem to allow us any moment of tranquility and relaxation. However, only if we are resilient will we be able to tackle all the challenges we face when perusing a successful career as well a fulfilled life. While this might look slightly different for everyone, dedicating enough “me time” as well as quality time with friends and loved ones can help us build up the resilience needed to perform in the outside world.
Some of the above aspects seem hard to implement? Nobody said that it was going to be easy! Remember you do not have to do this alone: involve your family, friends, support and a coach to tackle all of this.
Let's face it: every woman handling both a career and children is a Superwoman!
* In many cases this may also apply to men returning from a paternity leave, however, in this article I chose to focus on women.