For years, gendered roles have firmly established a woman’s place both at work and home - on average, women spend around twice as much time on unpaid cooking, childcare and household chores than men. Before the pandemic, working mothers had a level of support through networks of childcare and school to take off some of the burden of juggling the two. However, over the past year childcare became scarce, virtual schooling became the norm and boundaries between work and home suddenly became non-existent. The pressure and unrealistic expectations experienced by millions of working mothers saw a sharp increase in them leaving the workforce.
It’s estimated that around 35% of working mothers in the UK have lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare support during this past year. So let’s establish some of the ways in which you can get the most from your employer while balancing work and motherhood.
Communicate your needs and establish boundaries
Maintaining contact with your employer before you return is a great way to ensure that you’re kept in the loop about any past or present changes that are relevant to your role or the team. It may also help reduce any stress or anxiety you might be experiencing at the idea of returning to work after an extended period of time off.
Keeping in touch doesn’t have to stop at professional meetings. If your company hosts a work party, or if there’s a leaving meal, attending would be a less stressful way to re-familiarise yourself with your colleagues and any work updates in a more relaxing environment.
Make use of flexible working arrangements
There’s more to flexible working than simply choosing to work from home twice a week. Check what else is available within your employer's flexible working policy, this can range from flexi time to compressed hours, whatever helps to balance your work and family life, as well as protect your mental health. What works for others may not work for you, so don’t feel pressured to fit back into your old routine for the sake of making others feel more comfortable.
Ensure you’ve made it clear in writing, specify the change and when you’d like it to take effect. You may even find that working full time in the office is best for you and your family. Having that separation between work and home may be most beneficial to help you establish firm boundaries between your two worlds. Either way, the most important part of working is ensuring you’re feeling supported. Flexible working arrangements have become increasingly popular, with 48% of mums stating that they will be using some form of flexible working to help them manage childcare over the summer holidays.
Find new working habits to replace the old
Your working habits from the past 18 months may have included a mix of being locked away in another room with hours spent at your laptop in virtual meetings, your child has spent that time normalising the regularity of your presence. Learning to adjust to a new world where this is no longer a frequent occurrence may be difficult for not only yourself but your child too. This feeling, however, is not uncommon, with 53% of new mothers having concerns over their child missing them when they returned to work.
It can be an overwhelming prospect thinking about a post COVID world, and certainly even more anxiety inducing when you see everyone else around you jumping for joy at the return to “normality”. It’s important to remind yourself that your feelings are completely normal, going at a pace that suits you and your family is the most important part, instead of trying to slot back into your old routines.
New working habits will naturally evolve out of having a child. In the case of new mothers, you may not have been previously aware that you have legal rights around breastfeeding at work. Since the birth of your child you may now be considering your options of expressing milk while in the office. Or this might extend to needing flexibility when joining international calls a little later allowing you to put your child to sleep in the evening.
There may be pressure, externally, or internally, to keep up with the same momentum you had pre-parenthood. But trying to slot back into your old life and routine without accepting that your priorities and focus have rightfully shifted could end up causing more damage than good.
Final thoughts from Kami
The pandemic has exposed people to all sorts of uncomfortable truths, and the increasing need for a work life balance, this could work in your favour as there’s greater leverage to ask for additional support. What had traditionally been viewed as a weakness, especially amongst full time working mums, is now being seen as a sign of strength and leadership. The supermum narrative has shifted dramatically from “I can do it all” to “I’m struggling and I need help”. There’s no shame in admitting that juggling two jobs is challenging for even the most resilient, and it’s even more difficult when one of those jobs requires you to be on call 24/7.