The mummy returns
A real reflection on the challenges of returning to work.
54,000 women a year lose their job simply for getting pregnant (1).
Women in the UK encounter many barriers when trying to have both children and a career. Two big ones are an expensive and dysfunctional childcare system and a lack of access to flexible working.
Another is a mother’s experience when she returns to work. For me, it’s important to acknowledge the challenge returning to work presents and how having a supportive employer can make all the difference.
Is as much importance placed on the return, as there is the send-off?
Colleagues going on maternity leave isn’t a new thing. Excited chat about the growing bump entering the office each day, talk of gender and questions about when you start your year ‘off’ (not sure about you, but I wouldn’t include incessant crying, wiping bums and sleep deprivation on a year-off to-do list).
But what focus do we put on mothers returning to work? Do others really understand? Is as much importance placed on the return, as there is the send-off?
Bloom, a professional network for women in communications, are on a mission to ensure women have equal opportunity in the communications industry. Their 2021 Maternity Leave Survey (2) found that women with negative experiences returning to work were 63% more likely to leave within 6 months than those with more positive experiences.
The reality of returning to work
Returning to work after maternity leave can be daunting. Motherhood changes you. You’re not the same care-free, work-hungry being you once were. You’re time-poor with a vast mental load and more responsibilities. Not to mention a level of sleep deprivation that turns you into a zombie-like state… the mummy returns indeed!
Some might say that going back to work is a break, a bit of peace, a hot cup of tea. For many others, it can be unnerving. A world that’s lesser known, a world you once knew well but now feel out of the loop on.
You also have the overwhelm that parenting brings. Between waking and logging on you are likely to have dealt with an unfathomable amount of whinging, a constant stream of ridiculous questions, a loud rendition of dingle dangle scarecrow and his flippy floppy hat, and an art session at the kitchen table whereby exactly four pictures MUST be drawn (a tree, a dog, a watermelon slice and a mermaid) otherwise your 4-year-old says he won’t go to nursery (ok, that last one is pretty niche, based on a true story).
That’s 3 hours of utter carnage before you’ve even checked your inbox.
Throw into the mix a bit of imposter syndrome, and you have a perfect storm for ‘it would probably be easier to pack it all in’ thoughts to creep in.
Expecting a mother who’s been out of the workplace for a year, to switch seamlessly to work mode is a big ask. This is particularly pertinent in the world of advertising; the industry is fast-paced, client pressure is real, and deadlines are tight.
A level of understanding is needed
This isn’t about mothers getting their teeny violins out, many people experience challenges in their home life, some may even be thinking, well… you chose to have kids! Yes, we did. But if everyone decided not to have kids to avoid the back-to-work struggles, then where would that leave our future generations?
Britain's birth rate is 1.61 children per woman, compared with 1.94 a decade ago (3). The declining rate will leave us with an ever-growing ageing population, leading to an undermining of economic growth.
Blaming parents for whatever they face ignores the very real systemic challenges parents must overcome. It also perpetuates the wrongful assumption that supporting parents in raising children is of no value to society.
We’re not demanding special treatment, but a level of understanding. The last thing you need as a returning mother is an employer who doesn’t ‘get it’. They need to rebuild the confidence of mothers and support them to ensure work works for them. I feel fortunate to work for a business that is making positive changes to their return-to-work policy, IMA-HOME is taking genuine steps to support returning mothers. I’ve benefitted from flexible working, a phased return and an understanding team. I’m also part of the dedicated parents and carers group.
I’ll finish with a quote that stuck with me, ‘as a new mum you’re expected to work as if you don’t have kids, and parent as if you don’t work’ – let’s not make this the expectation.
P.S. A quick shout out to the dads doing the work/parent life hustle. They face challenges too.
- Bloom 2021 Maternity Leave study – the survey captured the experiences of over 200 women in the run up to, during, and on their return from maternity leave. Participants came from across the spectrum of the comms industry – media agencies to client organisations, junior to board level.
- Birth rate from Macrotrends.net