Why the return to work after maternity leave can feel hard

“The desire to work and to have a thriving career doesn’t make the transition back to work after maternity or adoption leave easy,” says business coach and HR expert Alice Darbyshire…

Alice Darbyshire spent 20+ years working in HR, climbing the corporate ladder, and is now a qualified coach and certified NLP practitioner. She specialises in supporting women who are navigating the return to work after maternity…

There was a time when women gave up their careers when they became a mum. Today in the UK, at least three in four mothers with dependent children also work.

There is a myriad of reasons for the rise of working mums and a very important one is that many of us actually want to continue our successful career into motherhood.

Yet the desire to work and to have a thriving career doesn’t make the transition back to work after maternity or adoption leave easy. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve also worked with hundreds of women who’ve been there too.

Here are some of the reasons so many of us find the return to work tough…

The guilty conflict

Going back to work is often coupled with an excitement of getting some of our identity back. And of using our brains again, having adult conversation, a hot cuppa and taking a wee on our own. And just as we’re beginning to feel warm and fuzzy, our heart strings are pulled as our little ones smiles up at us, squidgy cheeks and all. And the guilt of leaving our most precious thing in the hands of others sets in.

“I felt guilty. All at once missing the children and enjoying the buzz of being at work”

Alexandra Sacks, a leading clinical expert on motherhood, describes it as the push and pull of motherhood. How very accurate.

The childcare puzzle

You’ve decided to go back. The next job is to sort the childcare. Choosing the option best for you and your little one – financially, logistically and for their personality and needs – is tough. Then you’ve got to make sure the childcare hours you can get work with work.

And when you go back, a reality kicks in; commuting challenges, a global pandemic closing all childcare and of course, your little one falling sick. All things out of your control yet so very impactful. They add a very real layer of stress just as you’re wanting to make an impression and get your career back on track.

“It was stressful. I had to have my first day back off because the kids were sick (we got a nanny shortly after that!)”

The anxiety self-doubt train

All too often we find that our confidence goes AWOL the year we become mothers. This feels ironic given it’s also the year when we’re being the bravest, strongest, most resilient of beings.

“I was so anxious with a loss in my confidence and a feeling that it’d take me a while to get back up to speed”

This is the most common of feelings amongst mums returning to work. Often feeling like you’re the new girl again, we worry how the team will receive us back, whether our maternity cover was better than us, if we can still do a good job, whether we’ve forgotten everything.

We can feel disconnected and a little lost. Often quite alone, wondering whether we’ll ever again be taken seriously at work again.

The emotionally physical load

And to top it off. This.

It was hard enough keeping up with everything before kids. And I know we chose to have these little ones in our life but still, it’s a lot. It can feel very overwhelming. And for good reason.

When we think about the shopping, cooking, cleaning, the social calendar, the wider family, the dog or the fish, Grandma, oh and don’t forget your in-law’s golden wedding anniversary. And then there’s work.

“I remember wondering how on earth I was going to balance everything”

We want to do well at everything. That’s the way we are. Yet, without some help, emotional support and tough choices, it is impossible.

The return to work isn’t easy. It’s often a journey of turbulent feelings and emotions; all the highs and all the lows. And it can feel quite lonely at times. We can find ourselves questioning why we’re even trying to have a career alongside motherhood. It’s because you’re worth it and you deserve it. And despite the journey, you will once again thrive.

If you’re soon returning to work and would like a guiding hand, smoothing the path ahead for you then take a look at my new online course. A 4-week programme designed to make this journey feel easier and to help you to go back to work feeling truly confident, ready to boss your career once again.