We’re bombarded with messages about the great disability of motherhood.
Caveat: for many, pregnancy brings physical disabilities. In one of my pregnancies I spent weeks in a wheelchair so I understand.
Aside from this what I mean are seeds that land and burrow deep into our brains. Insidious seeds of knowledge from others including:
“You’ll be guilty every day of your life”
“You’ll feel like a failure all the time”
“Your career will be irrelevant once you’ve kids”
“You’ll have a hard time deciding whether to go back to work”
“You’re going to try to have it all, really?”
“You’ll be exhausted, hope it’s worth it”
These comments are typical but not exhaustive because everyone seems to have So. Many. Opinions.
Society still holds parents to sexist, gender stereotypes that insist women shouldn’t work after we have a child. We know too that by choosing to work and parent at the same time, we face backlash and judgment, but often we can’t be prepared for just how frustrated/upset/angry that judgment and backlash can leave us.
Which is why we must define our own working motherhood pathways or we get sucked into the vortex of other-defined views on what’s possible and appropriate. Being a working mother of ten means I’ve oodles of practice managing both career and motherhood. Here’s three tips I hope will help:
TIP 1: Get Clear
Google ‘working motherhood’ and you’ll drown in articles picking apart whether women can Have It All. My advice; step away from that google search because almost everything written on the topic is both uninspiring and impractical. Rather than weighing yourself down with women lamenting about how hard it is (yes, it being motherhood is) – get clear on what You NEED to thrive both at work and at home.
This is an exercise requiring honesty and a sheet of paper. In order to be the career woman that you want to be (if that’s the case) what MUST happen? In order to be the mother you’re choosing to be, what MUST be in place? In other words you’re shaping up your Mission in life. Who do you want to be? And since society automatically views men as multifaceted human beings, but women are usually whittled down to one or two defining characteristics, stuffed in a box labeled “mum” or “single” or “wife,” it’s up to us to set out for ourselves what we want. Without this practical planning, it’s almost impossible to achieve structure and anything resembling balance.
TIP 2: Research Research Research
Armed with clarity on what you want and need in order to thrive it’s time to make it a reality. It sounds dry but research is the only way to find out whether the culture of a workplace fits your vision and mission. If you’re joining a new company gen up on their parental policies and speak with people who work there.
Choosing to be a mother or not, is a key inflection point for women and if an organisation does not see the impact of that lifestyle difference then they are unlikely to be particularly progressive. Progressive companies are those that see that mothers are assets (not liabilities) and treat them as such.
It’s encouraging to know that a company has ample maternity leave and swish breastfeeding rooms but if that’s the extent of their consideration for working parents you’re likely to be left wanting further along your motherhood journey. Consider the lifecycle of your family – you’re unlikely to need a lactation room once your children are over a certain age – how will the company support you then?
Once you know their policies you need to establish if they’re being followed through and taken up by employees. Great policies created by those at the top of organisations often languish on intranets because the culture to implement these policies simply doesn’t exist. Be brave and dig deep.
TIP 3: Negotiate
Too often working mothers feel disempowered to ask for what we want and need, particularly if we’ve embraced lies about our diminishing ambitions and our potential unreliability. Many women make the decision to give up careers to be full-time mothers without asking for what they need and exploring what might be possible. This is no criticism – if you’ve been operating in a culture that devalues mothers it’s the most obvious choice point. Additionally, mothers re-entering the workplace assume they’re less valuable than before becoming a mother. However, taking a career break, of whatever length, doesn’t mean your intellect has diminished. Whilst you may need some training or upskilling, your experience, talent and value has not disappeared. Which is where negotiation comes in.
To create a fulfilling career and a healthy and happy family life you need to have a meaningful career defining conversation with your boss. Find out what it is that they truly need, and share with them how you’re going to achieve that. Walk in with a forensically thought out plan of what you want in your career, and you’ll prove your ambition through the clarity of your planning. Make a detailed, sensible, but ambitious plan of how you want to work and what conditions need to be in place to achieve your goals.
This not only applies to conversations with your new or current employer but also your family. Childcare may have been your sole responsibility when you were on a career break but it’s obvious you and your partner must accommodate your dual work requirements with some lifestyle tweaks. When we move away from the idea that negotiation leads to a win-lose situation and instead embrace it as an opportunity for a win-win situation, we are in strong positions.
We need to muster inner core strength and courage to figure out what we most want and then to stand up for ourselves in getting exactly that. Take ownership of your life. Stop asking for permission; this is your one wonderful life.