REAL EXPERIENCE: True interactions in a professional environment
A New Life Stage: Balancing Baby
This piece has been written from the real experience of an individual who entered a new life stage full of excitement and happiness, only to be faced with new challenges as a result. We can prepare for change, but adjusting to it is a whole other story.
It was a very exciting time in my life. I was pregnant for the first time and going through all the regular celebratory motions of looking at strollers, prams, discussing baby names and of course experiencing development milestones along the way. I had a job that I truly enjoyed at a company that I had been working with for several years and in the lead up to my maternity leave I honestly struggled to know how I would go not working, thinking that was my lifestyle and I might go a little stir crazy each day without it.
I knew I wanted to be a working parent, and had full intentions of returning ASAP to maintain my career progression, not to mention the financial benefits and the thought that I would be a good role model to my child. When I went on maternity leave I was very unsure of what awaited me but also very excited of the new life stage I would soon enter.
After giving birth to a beautiful, healthy baby and taking the time I needed to recover, I returned to work. As I am sure most parents know, the idea of dressing nicely and going for coffees filled me with enthusiasm, so I walked into the office full of ambition, confidence and determination to conquer this working-parent-balance.
The glamour quickly faded.
I sat at my computer, coffee in hand and probably a bit over-dressed, and suddenly felt complete emptiness when there was no little person at my side needing me. A huge wave of guilt took hold of me. I desperately wanted to leave and battled with myself the entire day, telling myself it was just a stage. But this wasn't the only day I struggled.
Playing catch up in the office each day only to rush and collect an infant who absolutely hated daycare, managing breastfeeding, meals, laundry and only sleeping a few hours a night was just the start of the life I had adjusted to. However, I did not anticipate the guilt and shame that came with it.
My ambition soon wore thin.
The usual urgent tasks or heated meetings that I once controlled with ease now seemed pitiful and pointless. I also found myself making errors that I had never made before. Having no working mothers, or even females for that matter, in senior roles in our company I found it hard to benchmark my performance, and practically impossible to speak to anyone about the internal struggle I was having.
I felt isolated, defensive and under pressure from the increasing expectations of fellow employees. It was as if I was suddenly pigeon-holed into a corner labelled ‘NOT FLEXIBLE – CAN’T WORK LONG HOURS – MAY RESIGN SOON’. And it hurt. It hurt because I had been a loyal employee for years. It hurt because I was working my absolute hardest just to even be there, and it hurt because, to be honest, I really didn’t want to be there.
This continued for some time, as I was determined not to throw away the years I had spent building a career.
When my beautiful baby turned toddler and blew out the candles on their second birthday cake, something came over me. I realised they were no longer a fully dependent being, but an individual person, with their own personality, likes and thoughts, all aspects that I had helped create and foster. It was something more spectacular than anything I could achieve in any career. So why was I trying so hard to prove myself professionally? The pinnacle of any success was right in front of me.
I resigned from my employment with no other role lined up. I stepped away from it all, and it was one of the best decisions in my life.
I understand now that I was focusing on upholding a socially accepted ‘successful career’ and didn't pay enough attention to the candle I was burning at both ends. But when I did, I found myself tired, emotionally drained and constantly at war with myself. I wanted to be that industry-praised wonder-woman success story because that’s what I believed women were meant to be in this decade. The truth is, it took more strength and power for me to be able to walk away from something that I had spent years building than it was to continue working.
Being fortunate to have the option to step away, I was able to look at my career, education and personal life in a way that I hadn’t before, and truly prioritise what is important to me and my family. As a result, I am now working in a role that is much more slowly paced, and though externally it may look like a step back in my career for now, it suits me and my family just perfectly.
There is no blanket rule for working parents. All have to compromise in a way that is deeply personal and never easy, and just because they decided to go a certain direction does not mean they have to deal with the repercussions. It is far more complex than that, and deserves all of our attention.