It might not make sense on paper but it’s something many new parents experience. Stepping away from work to have a baby can diminish confidence even in the most accomplished and confident people.
There are plenty of reasons for this. Having a baby is transformative in many ways and babies are not always like jobs where effort and outcomes tend to go hand in hand. Even the most diligent parents can spend hours upon hours trying to get feeding, sleeping and settling “right” and still feel like they’re doing it all wrong. Compared to a work, caring for small children can be isolating.Maternity leave is like inhabiting a whole new world and it’s different from work. The thought of straddling both can be difficult to comprehend particularly when considering the physical demands of pregnancy, a delivery and then caring for an infant.
I know all of this and it was something I thought about when the host of ABC’s 7.30 Leigh Sales returned to her post in September last year after maternity leave with her second baby. At the time there were articles published asking whether she’d be on par with Sarah Ferguson, the host who filled her role whilst she was away.
At the time I hoped this wouldn’t upset Sales. That she would be assured of her own ability to the extent that it wouldn’t bother her but I suspected that was unlikely.
Even without public speculation in a newspaper, or having to perform on national television, returning to work from parental leave is daunting. Even seasoned and established professionals experience self-doubt. In those circumstances would anyone be immune?
This week Sales gave an interview with The New Daily and confirmed it was indeed difficult.
“Articles on my first day back critiquing my work put me under a crazy amount of pressure,” she told Antonia Acott. “It just sent a bad message to women generally. I’d come in behind Kerry O’Brien and had a whole period where I had to prove myself. I felt like I had to prove myself all over again. It was tiring. I had a two-year-old and six-month-old.”
I am saddened it was as difficult as many guessed it might have been and I am grateful Leigh has spoken about it. It might be wishful thinking but I’m hoping the more people talk about the reality of returning to work, the more respect and understanding we might develop.
If you have been on parental leave how was your experience returning?