For many mothers, returning to work after having a baby, whether it’s for the first time or not, can feel overwhelming.
So many mixed emotions fly around: excitement, nervousness, sadness, relief, guilt… And that’s before we consider the logistics of childcare and that a full night’s sleep is likely still a fantasy.
To help make the transition smoother, here are the top three common concerns and some helpful tips.
- Who am I now?
With the average age of a first-time mum in the UK being 31 years old*, women typically have a well-developed sense of their personal and professional identity by the time they become parents.
Navigating a shift in identity is one of the most profound aspects of matrescence – the transition from woman to mother. Many women find themselves in a tug of war between the woman they were, and the mother they want to be.
Therefore, returning to the workplace can be discombobulating as two different parts of a woman’s identity – each with their personality, priorities, and passions – collide.
- Can I still do this?
I am sadly yet to meet a mother about to return to work who hasn’t questioned her ability and whether she can still do the job.
(The answer, by the way, is a wholehearted yes!)
After months of focussing on keeping a small human alive, it’s understandable to feel nervous about re-entering the “grown up world” of meetings and spreadsheets; but societal expectations also play a significant role in the confidence dip mothers often face when returning to work.
There is an unspoken pressure for mothers to prove their commitment and competence for fear of being seen as less dedicated or ambitious, which can further fuel feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
- How can I juggle it all?
As the generation who has been brought up being told we can have it all, one of the biggest challenges for mums when they return to the workplace is, “OK, now how am I expected to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood with those of a career, without sacrificing my wellbeing?”
With such strong competing devotions, can mothers find a blend of family, life, and work that feels fulfilling, healthy, and achievable?
If you’re struggling with these questions, here are some actions you can take to return with more clarity, confidence, and self-compassion.
- First and foremost, approach with kindness.
Bounce-back culture is rife, so it is easy to forget that this is a huge transition that takes time, and things will never go back to exactly how they were before.
There will be days (or even weeks) when you feel like you’re not cut out for this and may question whether you made the right decision in going back to work.
Recognise that these feelings are normal, don’t be too hard on yourself and go at your own pace.
- Spend time reflecting on your values in this current phase of life.
What is fundamentally important to you? What are the priorities? What do these values look like based on the resources you have today? Do some of your old values no longer serve you?
Being clear on your values will be a huge help when it comes to setting boundaries and overcoming feelings of self-doubt and guilt.
- Question and manage your expectations regularly.
Motherhood is an opportunity to do things differently, to let go of the expectations the world told you were important, and to choose for yourself. What does success look like in this season of your life? This week? Today? In this hour?
- Know your worth.
Remind yourself of all your skills, strengths, and the unique value that you bring. And don’t forget to include all the skills motherhood has taught you – it’s a high-stakes leadership role after all.
- Map out your support network.
It’s completely understandable to feel overwhelmed at times and face unexpected challenges. That’s why it’s crucial to have a plan in place to help you navigate through those tough moments.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other working parents or the Careering into Motherhood community for support, or if it feels too overwhelming, consider working with a professional coach.
This article was written by Katrina Court, one of our partner coaches. Katrina is a certified coach who specialises in matrescence – the transition that women go through when becoming a mother. She works with mothers in the early years to help them feel empowered and equipped to redefine what it means to be a modern-day mum. By offering a blend of coaching and mentoring, she helps her clients to mother, live and work in a way that feels aligned with who they are, rather than feeling lost and depleted by societal expectations of motherhood. You can find out more and book a free discovery call through her profile page.
*Office of National Statistics, Childbearing for women born in different years, England and Wales: 2020
July 30, 2023