On the first day that I returned to work after my first baby I joked with a colleague that it was like being on holidays.
Sitting at a desk uninterrupted was bliss. Actually making it through a to-do list, controlling your own time, and eating lunch without a small human bouncing on your knee is a welcome break.
But the novelty quickly wears off.
And the reality is that those first days, weeks and months have you feeling constantly on edge, wondering how your child’s coping with the caring arrangements you’ve put in place.
Then there are other concerns continuously on the back of your mind: childcare fees and the new costs of working that go well beyond train fares and buying lunch; the new morning logistics to contend with; the significantly increased chance of needing to take a sick day; and the fact your child could have been up for hours, or most of the night, before you finally get to work.
Of course the child or children you’ve had since returning to work are only one part of the equation when it comes to the fact you’ve just become a ‘working mum’. The other side involves your personal confidence levels. How has the office culture changed? What new projects and clients are there to deal with? Are your skills still up to date? Will you actually be able to achieve the flexibility you need? And what about balance, can that ever actually exist?
So it’s no surprise that many women feel apprehensive about returning to work.
According to one new study, only 32% of women are confident in returning to work after giving birth, due to concerns ranging from whether they’re ready to leave their child with a carer, to whether their skills are still relevant.
The national study of 550 mothers of different ages by Get Qualified Australia (a service offering ‘recognition of prior learning’) found confidence levels decrease as women get older, with 67% of all those surveyed feeling like their current qualifications are out of date, a feeling that increases the longer they’re off work.
Almost two thirds of the respondents (62%) had returned to work — most within the first year of giving birth — while the remainder were stay at home mothers. Financial necessity was the number one reason those who had returned cited for getting back to the office.
The thought of upskilling and/or getting new qualifications during a period of your life when you’re already figuring out how to fit 30 hours into one day can seem particularly daunting, so it’s concerning to see that 41% of those who’d returned to work still felt they needed to up skill.
Can that much really change within one year? Or is the need to ‘up skill’ merely a consequence of diminished confidence levels?
The transition to working mother is a significant one. There are numerous concerns to contend with, new habits and routines to acquire, and sacrifices to make. But the changes are certainly not all negative. Employers should do everything possibly to support new parents, while also recognizing that while such employees might be working reduced hours, they’ve learnt a significant number of new skills while they’ve been having children.
New parents have, as a matter of necessity, ‘up skilled’ – with new time management, negotiation, and productivity abilities. That’s a transition that’s worth celebrating, and being rewarded for.