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The Realities of Returning to Work as a Mum

The Realities of Returning to Work as a Mum

Returning to work after maternity leave can be almost as daunting as having the baby, can you have a career and be a mum? Sadly I have found that although i have worked within fashion buying now for over 10 years, it is a career that doesn't mesh well with motherhood. There are so many choices to make and every company interprets the law slightly differently plus everyone has different needs - do you go back full time / part time or not at all? - especially as the realities of motherhood is that it is a full time job in itself!

 But are you in a position to make that choice or has it already made it for you?

I had such grand plans in my head when I got pregnant – I wanted to be a stay at home mum for as long as I could, but soon realised this approach was a little naive, not only would money run out but actually I need to be around adults sometimes and get some mental stimulation – you can only watch “Hey Duggee” for so long before your brain starts to wilt. I then decided returning to work part time - ideally three days a week - would give me the work/life balance that I wanted, so I put my flexible working request in writing to the company I work for, with reasons and a business case behind the request.

A month later I had a face to face meeting, and discussed in detail why I was making the request and how I saw the role working in part time hours (during this meeting it become clear to me that the people involved hadn't read my letter, despite it being policy to send such a letter). I was very clear that full time hours were not what I wanted, nor were they financially viable with nursery and travel costs - I left the meeting feeling confident that this had been understood. However a month later I received a letter stating that my job isn't doable three days a week (it's not a new job and i've been doing it for five years) and that they propose I continue working 40 hours a week with special dispensation to take two days a month to work from home to help with childcare..... first of all I work in a job that is impossible to do from home, plus I would still be paying for the day at nursery even if little man was at home with me - how does that help?

Receiving this letter left me feeling angry (that the decision had not be delivered in person), that i was being pushed out (as I had been offered something they knew full well I wouldn't take) and pretty worthless (clearly my five years with the company did not matter) and to top it off the wording of the letter strongly suggested that there was no reasonable compromise on their part. So my return to work experience has ended in my resignation, as I felt as though i have been left with no other option than to find a new job. I was given the option to appeal, however the letter got me thinking – Do I really want to work for a company that doesn’t believe a job can be flexible?

I do believe after this experience, if you truly love your job and are willing to fight to keep it then appealing would be beneficial but when you don't what are your options? I want to spend time with my son, enjoy his early years and watch him grow up but I do need some form of income. I have decided to look at this as the next chapter in my life and a new challenge, with the hope to return to buying in the future.

So why even in this modern age, when feminism is such a hot topic along with pay equality, is it so difficult for a woman to return to work. After doing some research I was very surprised by this statistic featured online in the Independent last year, especially after hearing so many women talk about not be able to return to their pre-baby jobs, but the stats in this article don't give information on the kind of work women are actually doing and whether it was their first choice - that would make for some very interesting reading.
The number of working mothers in the UK has surged by 1.2 million over the past two decades, official figures have revealed. There are now 4.9 million mothers with dependent children in work, up almost a third from 3.7 million in 1996, the Office for National Statistics found. The increase means close to three-quarters of women with dependent children are now in work. - The Independent - Sept 2016
I have found this topic so interesting, and it was really put into perspective for me after chatting to some friends at my local baby group, as so many of these ladies have had to adjust their expectations of being a "working mum". Whether that's reducing hours, negotiating working from home, or simply resigning and starting over.  It seems as though corporate companies especially have become smart, knowing how to say no to flexible working without breaking any rules - forcing women to choose between motherhood and a career or at least a change in career.  It also seems to be very job/boss dependent as to whether you are able to return to work with hours that suit your needs, but it is a comfort to me to hear just how many people have had to rethink on the job front as their pre-baby positions were no longer compatible or accommodating to motherhood - sad but so true.

So I thought I would share some thoughts from my amazing mummy friends (and a cheeky daddy view too) on their experience of returning to work...... the good & the bad, as there are companies that will bend over backwards to support you and your needs, they just seem to be few and far between:
I had worked my way up the career ladder, into a senior role which I loved, but was told the only way to come back part time after maternity was to take a step down, which also came with a sizable pay cut. I mainly felt anger, at working my butt off for years to get to where I was and all of that hard work being instantly forgotten the moment I chose to be a mother, especially as I know I could have done the job in reduced hours, I could do it in my sleep! - Anonymous
The company policy for Flexible Working Request was clear to state that any reasonable change to hours or working arrangement would be considered. I put together a business case for my return to work meeting, requesting reduced hours of 21 per week. I proposed a change of responsibilities where I focus exclusively on a growing part of the business and suggested how the rest of my role could be distributed amongst the team. Three days later they call to accept my proposal subject to 6 month review.Anonymous
When it’s your first you feel guilty and try to make sure you spend more time with them than at work...by the third you are thankful for a cup of tea in peace at work. I’m very lucky as work for my dad so if kids are Ill I can stay off but then you get stressed as still got work to do! - Amy
After going through this process multiple times, with a few different employers, i have had both good and bad experiences. In my opinion flexible working is a fantastic and a very worthy issue. I know it works and is cost effective to companies, but I also know how badly its rolled out or promoted. I feel like a second class citizen and a troublemaker when requesting it. It has been the most stressful part of my pregnancy/new baby journey and it really shows that some companies may promote it to look like they are progressive and being proactive when in reality, putting it into practice is non-existent. I truly believe that each time I’ve returned to work, to a whole new role its because they have wanted me to decline and leave – to make it as unattractive as possible to put you off. It’s a real minefield out there... - Nicola
Flexible Working is the latest buzz word – EVERYONE claims it exists in the workplace and every company will sing loudly that they encourage it, but scratch the surface and its soon becomes a murky water. I am lucky that I have a boss and a role within my company that gives me the freedom to work from wherever I please – if that’s home, then that’s fine – as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter to my boss. Other people in other teams within my company don’t have that luxury – how is this fair? How is this acceptable in 2018? – Daddy Anonymous
The final point i would like to make is that this post is in no way judging women who do go back to work full time, it just isn't for me. I like to consider myself an organised woman but I truly don't know how women work full time with children.... I wholeheartedly salute anyone who does it and it would be great to hear your tips on getting a work/mum balance.

I would love your feedback on this topic and your return to work experiences, so please leave a comment below.... I want this post to inspire and inform mums who are gearing up to return to work, so the more opinions and stories the better. #workingmum


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1 comment

  1. That's awful to be effectively forced to resign because they don't want part timers. I am lucky in that I can go back full time but my hubby is a stay at home dad so we have reversed roles here. I will be going full time again after my second baby. Thankfully they do promote flexible working where I am based and I can start back part time initially. xx

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