How can working women handle pregnancy, maternity leave and babies, and still be a front runner at work?

There is this myth that we can have it all as women, but something gives. Even if we don’t want to say it out loud or admit to it, something gives. You have to decide what your priorities are and I do hope you don’t put your career before your children. I say this because whoever you are working for now, will not think twice about making you redundant. If you suddenly don’t fit in the org chart in a power point slide of the next re-org, you are out on your ear, it is simply business. I beg you to priority your children because you can always find another job somewhere else but the time you lose with your children, you will never get back, especially in their formative years.

 

That said, I am not advocating becoming an earth mother, all breast milk and no focus if you are not that type of person. There is middle way and I personally will go insane if I became a full time mother. My children will not want me there permanently over managing them within an inch of their lives.

 

I did it hard way, by that I mean working hard, going back to work and trying hard to prove that I could be as good as the men regardless of having small children. I had help, full time help, so perhaps it wasn’t the hardest way as some women do it without help but I can’t vouch or their mental wellbeing! I always had a full time childcare in the form of nannies, mothers -helps and au-pairs. (I even went on a business trip once with my one year old and the nanny because the nanny was new and I wasn’t confident enough to leave her with the baby for a week!) Dinner in the evenings at the hotel where we were staying was a hoot. My one year old in his high chair, the nanny and my male colleagues who were all lusting after the nanny but that is a whole other conversation! I am not sure the impact all this paid help had on my children but no doubt they will let me know soon enough as they are now in their teens and quick to let their half formed opinions be known.

 

Why do I think this was the hard way? I did stay at home for a year with both my children before I went back to work. I wish I could say both were by design but it was rather by accident that I found myself at home and I embraced the opportunity. With the first one I was working remotely anyway so after my maternity leave, I only had to pop into the office every now then so it was no big deal. Then after 6 months when I went back after my maternity leave, shock horror, I was made redundant, so I guess the decision to stay home for another 6 months was made for me.

 

After a year at home, I went and found myself another job at the level I was at before I left which meant that I had lost nothing in position except change companies. I worked hard and went toe to toe with my male counterparts but I stress, I had full time paid help at home. So this is what gives, you end up seeing your baby about an hour a day! You maintain your ‘frontrunner’ status but what an expensive price to pay!!!

 

For my second child, I had to move countries so I gave up my job and when we moved I decided to have an other baby and get all that out of the way before looking for another job. Luckily I got pregnant straight away and after I had the baby, I was very ill and had to have surgery etc, so I inadvertently ended up staying home for a year with my baby. Did I resent it? Yes. Did I feel the world was passing me by? Yes. Did I feel like I was losing all my skills and confidence and will not be able to go back to the working world and resume at where I left off? Yes. But guess what? I went back at an even higher level than I left and yes again I had full time help again at home. I made it happen and I kicked arsed at work just like before. So no loss of status here.

 

But the time I spent at home doing all ‘mind-numbingly’ mundane stuff with the kids, are some of their most cherished memories. The 30 minute walk to school everyday with one of them in the pushchair and the other one holding on and picking berries along the way to school, for them was very special. I wasn’t present enough to see how special it was and I regret that. I was bored out of my skull, but now that they are in their teens, every now and then they will say ‘mum do remember one day when we were walking to school and blah blah blah…..’ That is when I realise how special those enforced stays at home were to them. Looking back now, I wish I had the presence of mind to really relish that time with them rather than fretting about my professional life passing me by.

 

Knowing what I know now, if I had my time again, I will still spend the time at home with them like I did but this time I will do it through choice rather than begrudgingly. I will be present and I will do all the mundane stuff they wanted me to do in fully engaged way. Then I will go back to work part time and try and do some flexible working if possible and have the best of both worlds. Yes, this is easier said than done as those options are not always available to everyone but if you set your mind to it, it can be achieved. Most companies are getting more and more enlightened that way now, and don’t want to lose their talented women. If more senior women ask for this, it will soon be the norm. I push for this on my speaking circuit. Those of us who have been through it owe a duty of care to educate employers to have more family friendly work practices.

 

And oh by the way, through out all this my husband was working full time so let’s not discount his contribution as it enabled my choices.

 

So after all my waffle above what do I think is the best way forward? I question the ‘frontrunner’ premise. I think it is an expensive price to pay and women need to redefine ‘you can have it all’ to mean you can have the career and and still be an engaged mother if you are are not trying to do it all. How?

  1. Get all the help you can. I have always been confused by these women who want to put in full 8 hour days at work plus a 2 hour commute and then come home and do the housework, cook dinner and feed the dogs. What the hell!!! You can’t be a front runner if you don’t delegate. Delegate all the crap you don’t want to do and do the things you want to do. Give the kids a bath yourself and read to them but for God’s sake let someone else do the frigging laundry!
  2. Get your husband/partner engaged. Luckily for me my husband is very hands and does loads with the boys. But, even he thought the housework did it itself until one time we had no help and I insisted we split the housework down the middle. He didn’t complain, he did his bit but my point is it had to be pointed out to him and he is one of the good ones.
  3. Negotiate for flexible working so that you can start early or late. I currently start at late which means if I need to do the school run I can.
  4. If you can afford it do a 4 day week if not try a compressed week where you compress your weekly hours into 4 days rather than 5 and don’t lose out financially. These days your work is judged by your output not your geography (obviously this depends on the work you do) but don’t stint on your output and no one will really care if you showing your face twice or 4 times a week. If you are not in an industry that allows that facility consider looking for work in one that does, it is worth the investment and your sanity.
  5. Get help with the housework so that you can spend your weekends enjoying your family. This allows you to come back to work rejuvenated on the Monday rather than spending your weekend picking up after everyone and being grumpy and distracted on Mondays. Remember you have to be sharp for your male colleagues to know that giving birth doesn’t mean you lost have your brain.
  6. When you are at work you kick arse anyway so don’t accept any rubbish from any male colleagues about delivering less because you have to take the odd morning off to take your child to the doctor’s etc. You are efficient, you are focused and you multi-task so they just have to deal with the odd absence. Stand up tall, look them the eye with the look of a I am a working mother, I am proud of it and I will kick your arse if need be, and they will leave you well alone. Remember my male colleagues who had to have dinner with my me, my nanny and my one year old on a business trip? I was unapologetic about it and we all got on swimmingly.

 

So can you manage maternity leave, pregnancy and still be a frontrunner, you absolutely can but it will take more planning, delegation, negotiating and smart thinking. Enjoy your life, work flexibly, get help and prioritise the people who cannot afford to make you redundant because you no longer fit in the box on their organisation chart; your family. You will do just fine and won’t even have to go on prozac!!!!

Enjoy the juggling act aka, working mother.

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