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A mom talks about the challenges of getting back to work after a career break, and through her experiences, offers practical advice on coping with them.
If you are someone who is thinking of joining work after a break, a long maternity break to be very specific; then this article is for you. You certainly will face some challenges but then there also are ways to get over the challenges. Here are my thoughts in this regard, purely based on my experience.
To set down the context, I am a working mom who has been working for last 13 years. I have 2 kids, my elder one is 6 years old and the younger one is 2. During my first time, I did not have a choice of leaving my job and staying back at home – things were pretty much planned and controlled, so I was able to join back to work right after my maternity leave of 12 weeks.
At that time I faced my own challenges – my mommy guilt of leaving a 12 weeks infant back at home with parents and in laws, the insecurities of my baby being less attached to me, the fingers pointing that I misuse my parents to babysit for me just so that I can make a career, the comments indicating how bad a mom I am, and the unsolicited advice on how much my baby needs me in these initial days.
Not to mention the discrimination at work like approving a genuine sick leave or family care leave or work from home requests just because I am a new mom and the fear that if they approve it once, it will become a trend for me.
I managed to get over all those with very strong family support and a few very good female friends who were travelling in or had travelled in the same boat. After an initial struggle, I was settled at work and was able prove myself in the work I handled.
At the time of my second baby, I already knew it was going to be difficult managing two kids and the increased work pressure, so I was anyways planning to take a career break. Thankfully the women friendly policies at my then workplace and circumstances at home allowed me to go for it without resigning from my current job.
I fully enjoyed my SAHM status and my world was all around my 2 kids and their needs. Time flew and my little one was already a toddler before I even realized. With him growing up, my sabbatical was also exhausted and it was my time to either join back or quit the job. A tough decision it was! At the end of these 2 years, I knew one thing for sure – I am not SAHM material, and if I chose to quit the job, I will not be happy. I won’t be doing justice to myself.
I thoroughly enjoyed being at home, getting some time to breathe and the most importantly, time that I spent with my kids. But then something was missing, I always kept looking for that something, I became intolerant to very minute issues in life. Kids and home 24X7 became a little too much for me.
I felt that if I get to go back to work, use my brain somewhere else, I probably will see fewer issues in the routine work and will be able to value the rest of the time I get with my family. And then, I finally decided to give it a try; I started working again.
It definitely is not a piece of cake, but it has worked for me. Based on my experience, below are some challenges you would face while joining work after a career break and some tips on how to cope up with them!
You will feel guilty about leaving your kids alone, no matter how much you know the fact that they will be surrounded by family members at home or will be well taken care of at the daycare. Please remember that kids definitely need their mom but they also need some space. You need to let them explore the world on their own and make them learn to be independent. The earlier you start, the better it is. Leaving your kids at daycare or with your family members is not a crime. Its ok and it is actually sometimes good for your kids and you too. Luckily, my mom also worked for 35 plus years (even after having 3 kids) and hence it was easier for me to accept this fact.
You might face separation anxiety which may lead to a fair amount of depression. Separation anxiety is very natural, but then try to keep it to its minimum. Don’t overthink and don’t forget that a mom will be a mom, and no one can replace you in your kid’s life. As an adult, you might have left your mom’s place for studies or a job or after getting married. So has that PLACE been taken by someone else in your life? Definitely NO! So just chill – your baby will not forget you if you go out for 8-10 hours a day. In fact he/she will value you more for the quality time they get with you.
You will feel that your confidence has gone down because of not being in touch and not being up-to-date with the industry for these 2 or more long years. To get your confidence back, please try to brush up your skills and knowledge prior to joining back. Certification, trainings and seminars can be your options to get back on track. If possible, update your resume and try to attend a few interviews so that you know where you are and you can scale up yourself if you lag behind.
After all this, even if you are all set to join back you will have that constant fear of whether this will work or not. I would say go for it, at least you will get to know if it works or not. And be open to the consequences, if it works – well and good. If not, you anyway were open to extending this career break, weren’t you? After all, the decision will be yours, so why not try it out and then decide if you want to continue the job or want to be a SAHM for some more years?
Society will question your decision, no matter what it is. So, unless these people matter a lot for you, don’t pay a heed to any of this talk. Nobody is going to help you with your challenges by not joining the job or joining it. So decision has to be yours!
You will also feel your family is a bit sceptical about you joining back. It’s natural for them to panic. Like it’s a big change for you, it’s a big change for them too. So be patient, give them some time to accept it. Tell them the positives of your decision and soon they will be standing behind you steady and strong! All you need to do is, plan things better so that whoever is helping you out also find sit easy to help. Make sure you have few things clear – who will take care of your kids – day care, nanny at home or family support. See to it that you have worked out all pre-requisites to make the chosen arrangement work.
People will condemn you for being a ‘good’ Mom, Wife or D-I-L. I would say, don’t try to be an ideal anyone! Know your capacities and plan accordingly – ask for help, utilise any domestic help available.
Also set your expectations clear with your spouse. He may also react negatively because already your time for him was curtailed due to extended family and now your job will take most of it. But if you have a lovely and supportive husband like mine, you will be able to handle it too. This struggle will be temporary, not forever. Everyone takes time for adapting to a change, so give things the time to settle. And don’t feel guilty if your husband has to babysit or take care of household chores at times. After all we are in the time where we talk about gender equality the most- don’t we?
If you are lucky enough to be with an organization where discrimination does not exist, then this may not apply to you. But overall, women joining back after a break face challenges like not getting equal opportunities, rigidity in accepting your genuine reasons for leaves, always putting you in the mommy-track (read it as slow-progress track!) even if you deserve the growth.
Only thing that can help you here is to come up as genuine and hardworking. If you have skills and talent, no one can stop you from showing it. Try to find opportunity and make sure you make most of it, once you get a chance. Let your work speak for you and no one can pull you down in that case.
You may face some slow progress because of the career break but don’t feel bad about it. After all it was your choice and it’s fair enough if people who did not take any career break and proved themselves meanwhile, get better perks. Right? Just be cautious that you are not being shamed for your decision.
Nothing should stop you from performing well, now that you are back to the battlefield. Also, set your milestones and act accordingly. Consider everything while setting your goals – your skills, your priorities everything. So that your expectations are in line with your efforts. In that case, you would know exactly what you want and you can plan on how to get there.
Fact is – There are challenges on both the sides – you stay at home or you start working again. It all depends on how you deal with it and what makes you happier – finally you should be able to decide what you want and then strive to make it work.
Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live! – Anne Sweeney
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