Illustration by Rob Dobi Written by guest editor Nicola James
I was raised to be a strong woman. An educated woman. A free woman. Fast forward 9 months into pregnancy at 30, with an MSc and 10 years’ work under my belt. Then I had my beautiful baby girl. EVERYTHING changed. I went from ‘career-driven-child-hater’ (other people’s children) to a crazy, maternal tiger mummy! I didn’t sleep for 6 months and the thought of going back to work at this time terrified me.
I was deranged with lack of sleep, and the thought of leaving my baby for 10 hours a day filled me with anxiety. What if she was ill? And it took me over an hour to pick her up!? Plus, the cost of childcare before 3 years is crazy – I’d basically be paying for someone else to raise my child! I then had my youngest, and she was 8 months old when I decided I needed something to engage my mind past nappies, and add to the CV. So, I started my own small online business. I worked every hour I could and learnt everything from scratch, and it killed me – but it was MINE. My brain was being used for more than baby quiche recipes and nap schedules! But…I wasn’t actually earning any real money from such a tiny business. So, we moved back North to be nearer my parents, and I looked for part-time work. I decided not to go full time as the girl’s dad worked in London during the week, pick-ups and drop-offs were on me and I also desperately wanted to be there for my kids.
But it proved an absolute nightmare. I was told, or it was implied that I was out of the ‘game’ too long, or that my skills were not right for the role. I was turned down for an admin job because I ‘wasn’t admin, I was research’, even though I clearly had the skills I could transfer! It was then I decided to develop my own, new business – selling girls clothes and accessories Iris Dares Designs. It was mine, I used the skills I had developed when setting up my first business and I could do it around the girls. I still continue to look for part-time work to supplement my income and get more skills as a backup in case I needed to go back into full-time work.
It’s not always easy and everyone will have a slightly different experience but this is what my experience taught me:
My Top 5 tips:
1.If you can’t find work, still do something. Anything. It’ll add to your CV, and keep your brain ticking and it’ll be all yours. I’d highly recommend something like starting a blog, or your own small online business even – even if it’s an eBay shop selling all your old baby junk! You don’t need to spend too much, and I have to say I have learned so much and have enjoyed the whole new world I’ve created. I’ve even made some great friends along the way. Volunteering might also be an option if you have any spare time (what’s spare time!?) – it all helps increase confidence and your skill base.
2.Don’t lose confidence. Imposter syndrome is real, and it has made me shy away from applying for so many jobs as I feel like I’ve been ‘out of the game’ for too long but the reality is you are clever and skilled. Believe in yourself even if others don’t. Keep going, until you find the opportunity or job that is right for you.
3.Think outside of the box. Maybe going back to the same job isn’t possible because you need extra training to get ‘up to speed’ – but think about something that may be related. Taking that side-step is ok – don’t think of it was a step backwards as hard as it can be. You can get to where you’re going, it’s just taking a different path to get there.
4.Don’t feel pressured. You may have partners, in-laws (or outlaws), friends, the postman – all insinuating you need to go back to work. Remember as a mother you ARE working, and you need to be happy and healthy to do that role to the best of your ability. If taking on a full-time job means trebling your workload and compromising your wellbeing, maybe it’s not the right time. It’s YOUR life. Likewise, if you need to go back to work to talk to actual adults and you want to get on with your career – that’s totally OK too!!
5.Don’t be ashamed of being a mum. It’s something to be proud of, it’s incredibly hard and you’ve acquired so many new skills because of it. Put it out there early, it may be that there is an opportunity to work flexibly and it’s best to let your employers know early as they react to the implications of you being a working mother. You don’t want a job that isn’t going to work for you in practice. You need to actually be able to do it. An interview is a two-way thing!
Are you a mum returning to work? We’d love to hear your experience. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org