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August 31, 2018

Men go to school. Some go to university. Many get a job. Some frequently change jobs. Others stay in one job for most of their lives, climbing the corporate ladder to success.

Women go to school. Some go to university. Many get a job. Some frequently change jobs. Others stay in one job for most of their lives, climbing the corporate ladder to success. Some bare children. Some return to work. Others choose not to. Some fight to return to the top. Many lose momentum.

Last year I made the decision to extend my maternity leave. Cradling a baby riddled with acid reflux, I was fortunate in having the option to extend my time at home.

Today, I finally feel ready to return to the workforce. But things have changed. Due to the length of leave I chose, my original position has been chugging along nicely without me for an extended period of time. Suddenly, I am looking a long way up a ladder I thought I had already climbed.

But, I chose this. I chose her.

So why then, do I feel so sad? So frustrated?

Looking at the motivated professional I once was, it is as though she was running, and I am walking. Will I ever run again?

I am quickly learning that becoming a mother takes a greedy bite out of a woman’s career. A bite so significant, that it has become a deterant for many to return at all.

There was a time when gender roles were simpler. Women married. Women bared children. Women stayed at home. Today, however, women are every bit as successful and ambitious as men in the workforce. And so, gender roles in society have become blurry. And with this, women face both judgement and setbacks in their fight to prove that they can be both a good mother, and a successful employee.

The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one; the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children, as if one did not have a job. – Anabel Crabb

While many industry professionals claim to be empathetic of the professional juggle women face when becoming mothers, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent pregnancy revealed otherwise. Shockwaves rippled through our country as the true colours of what is expected of a mother were revealed.

How can a woman be a mother, and, run a country? How can a man, I repeat a man, raise a baby at home? Yes, running a country is a big deal. Yes running a country is not the same as working in an office, a school, or the like. But the principal remains. People are uncomfortable with women going against the grain.

A mother’s role in society is hazy.

Equality is still a work in progress.

Mothers who return to the workforce are faced with a barrage of challenges. The challenge of re-asserting themselves amidst those who never left. The challenge of balancing two worlds; one of adult conversation, stimulation, and deadlines, and the other of sleepless nights, maternal instinct and love. Many fall off the bandwagon, and take years to find the momentum they once relied on. Many grow tired of having to prove themselves once again and close doors on their careers. For those who choose to bare multiple children, these choices are laden with anxiety as each announcement is met with knowing and expected glances.

Rather than judging, stereotyping and challenging women who juggle motherhood and a career, shouldn’t society be recognising the strength it takes to do such a thing?

I am a valuable employee, colleague, mother and wife. One does not cancel out the other. And so, I will continue to remind myself of the fearless strength I have gained when navigating the speed bumps of my impending return. After all, nothing in the workplace holds a candle to the challenges I have faced in navigating motherhood.

And I know I wont be alone, as so many other mothers navigate their own return to work.

And we will stoically answer the same questions about our plans for child number two (or three or four). We will endure morning meetings beside single professionals who will have had twice as much sleep as us, and who don’t have playdough in their hair. We will anxiously watch the clock in the final hour itching to hold our children, while our colleagues stay on for after work drinks. We will receive phone calls of sick children needing us, and battle between heart and head as we arrange childcare. We will arrive on time, after a morning of flung nappies and ‘Little Baby Bum’ as we morph ourselves from mum chic to consummate professional. We may even glance at a colleague enjoying a piping hot coffee and roll our eyes.

But we will be there, doing our job. Just like everyone else.

And we will be every bit as valuable as them.

Every single bit.

And so, while we mamas may still be a misunderstood species, one thing is for certain. Our strength in combating the hurdles we face in returning to work is to be admired.

We, are to be admired.

You, are to be admired.

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