This article was published in Great Health Guide magazine in May 2016.
“Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.” – Meryl Streep
One of the most difficult transitions for women is the leap from working when “child free” to making the choice between working or being a stay at home Mum. Motherhood can be terrifying, tumultuous, tedious and terrific all at once. Whilst pregnant, the one thing that is not spoken about very much is the huge change that confronts a woman as she assumes the role of mother. The once capable member of the workforce, finds herself in a position where life suddenly changes. The working wardrobe changes to that of “wash’n wear” together with a “baby bag”…..Intellectual stimulation of a working day is replaced by the minutae of what to cook for dinner…the daily routine is centred around mealtime, sleep time and bathtime….the world shrinks and conversation becomes primarily about babies. One’s whole identity changes….no longer is achievement measured by a big pay cheque and results, mums are conditioned to measure themselves on the achievements of their kids and how perfectly they manage their day.
Then comes the age old dilemma – to work or not to work? For some, the second income is a necessity and ability to maintain “the essentials” and a a desired lifestyle. For others who are career driven, the need to keep a foot in the professional door is necessary for advancement and personal fulfilment. There is no perfect choice – whatever the decision, women judge themselves and are judged by the wider community. The mum who chooses to stay at home with her baby loses her work identity and sometimes can become invisible in society.
The reality is, that returning to work after having a child is never the same. Many seem to think that just because a woman works, she ceases to be a mother. Employers are guilty of this mentality and the prevailing assumption is that if a woman works, it is up to her to manage the demands of motherhood as well as achieve professional goals. Innovation by employers to accommodate the needs of mums is slow, part – time work is scarce and an understanding employer is hard to find.
As well as their work – role, women juggle the full time job of motherhood.There are meals to prepare, the school run, extra – curricular activities to organise, homework, as well as domestic chores. And it is always Murphy’s Law that your child gets sick the night before or the day of the most important meeting! There is not much down time, and when there is, the needs of the couple can’t be ignored. Exhaustion becomes a constant companion!
Many working mums feeling guilty and torn between their love for their child and their choice to work. Often, working mums find themselves in the position of having to defend their choice to leave children in daycare or with a carer for long hours. Society does not help, as we are bombarded with images of the “put together” mum who manages everything ” perfectly”. How many times have I heard mothers say, “she seems to do it so effortlessly!” Women rarely look at how well they manage and often will set themselves extremely high standards that are unrealistic.
For stay at home mums, professional life is spoken about in the past tense, if spoken about at all. There seems to be an assumption that if you stay at home and care for your children you “don’t work” reinforcing society’s notion of the idea that only financial contribution to the household is valid “work”. Many stay at home mums have made this choice because the balance they want is non existent.If one looks closer, it is these stay at home mums that have used incredible creativity and have honed entrepreneurial skills that provide them with the mental and social stimulation that they need. Also, you will never find better time managers, multi taskers and self motivators.
Being a mother is a hard transition and one where life is certainly reduced to “essentials”. The important thing is to know your own needs, not listen to others and decide the best course of action that will enhance your role as a mother. Remember not to take on too much and also keep in mind you will spend a lifetime figuring out the right balance!!!