The Career Postpartum: The Art of managing the enemy within

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At my previous employers, there were no women telling me this. I had no female mentors offering advice. There was no role model of a successful woman who had had a child, taken her full maternity leave, and come back and picked up where she left off.

some food for thought from a working mother

Whatever is preying on my mind at any given time tends to find its way into my conversations with people. Lately, conversations have been about the necessary evolution of the management of one’s career postpartum, the struggles, the new perspective, the changes, the adjustment and most of all, getting the mind right.

The more women I speak to about this, the more convinced I am that we all struggle in some way to find the new balance we need postpartum. We just don’t necessarily struggle in the same way. This seeming contradiction is reconciled in my mind by the idea that the goal is the same but the path there differs for most. Despite that, there are enough similarities in the stories of different women for me to be more convinced than ever that sharing them will, in turn, convince each one of us that we are not alone in the human experience. A shared vulnerability; the feeling that you are not alone, is in its own weird way, empowering.

There is no managing any situation if you don’t manage yourself first. I have consistently found that when imposter syndrome is reigning supreme within me or I am haunted by the ghosts of the capacity to take on massive amounts of work that pre-baby me had, identifying and applying the practical steps to managing my situation productively becomes more difficult. Understanding this is not the solution but it is a necessary part of the path to the solution: pre-baby you is gone. There is only post-baby you. If unchecked, the expectation that you can pick up where you left off and continue in the same way you did before can become a crushing burden.

If the capacity you have must be shared with a new priority as significant as a baby, how can you continue in the same way you did before there was a baby? To be clear, I believe that you can continue. I just don’t believe that you can do so in the same way.

The internet, a few books, and many other mothers tell me that the way you do things can be changed to suit your purpose in many different ways. The determining factors are means and your personal priorities. I have heard and seen women make adjustments of every shape and size. These include engaging a life coach to help process the change or engaging help at home or outsourcing administrative tasks or hiring an assistant at work or motivating for flexi-hours or having a trusted relative move in to help for a while or joining support groups made of women experiencing the same or seeking guidance from mentors or scaling back on work responsibilities or giving up work altogether. I eventually went with flexi-hours. I can often be found working as early as 2am, like today. In return, I get to sleep in with my baby and to play with my son. Both my need to work and my need to spend quality time with my children are met for now. As our needs change so will the solution to meeting them. Adapting continuously is the name of the game.

All this is to say, the postpartum journey, in many aspects ranging from the physical body to the perception of the self and the management of one’s career, demands the conquering of the overpowering shadow cast by the pre-baby self in our own minds. Understanding that parenting is not a temporary change. It is also not a pit-stop. Naming our priorities so that we know what we are guided by in selecting the best solution for us. Setting up practical steps to achieving them and starting. Nothing needs to be figured out overnight but sitting and waiting for the pre-baby self to come and rescue you is guaranteed defeat. She is not coming. She is gone.

“I felt guilty for wanting time to teach, to be away from the home that brought me a lot of joy, but was starting to feel like a cage. I felt even guiltier because I have a lot of friends who would say, ‘Oh, being a mother is the best job and it’s full-time.’ And while mothering my children is still my focus, I decided that the guilt was not mine. It was the expectations of a society that was trying to tell me what a mother was. And I did not fit those molds. I was not nurturing right off, had no mother’s milk and felt like the walls of my home were closing in around me. So I decided to start teaching evenings. The intellectual stimulation is just what I need. And I come home a rested, stimulated being. Better able to appreciate my kids. I’ve been able to grow as a parent, but I actually think working has helped that tremendously.”

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