I became a mum almost seven years ago and my career since then has developed in ways I never imagined when I was commuting into London on a packed train with my twin sized bump. One of the developments I'm really proud of is that I finally wrote my first book. Granted, it wasn't the book I thought I'd write, having dreamed of being a romantic novelist since I was young, but in writing Maternity Leavers: What to do about work now you're a mum I'm pleased that I was able to consolidate and share my experience and advice for other mums coming up against the 'argh, what do I do now?!' question.
Here are a few things I learned during the first few years after my twins were born.
1. The person I was before I got pregnant, the one I was while I was pregnant, and the one I have become as a mother, are all different. By which I don't mean that I've lost my identity or changed beyond recognition but just that my dreams, hopes, priorities, interests, and who I want to be in the world have all changed. I still feel like me, but a newer version of me.
2. Some successful, ambitious career women suddenly have the urge to be a stay at home mum and develop a love of making jam and baking cookies. Some don't. Some previous career drifters suddenly get all ambitious. Some don't. Becoming a mum did (and continues to) affect my career aspirations. The plans and assumptions I made when I was pregnant were hopelessly outdated by the time my kids were a few months old.
3. There are days when I've put my career development above my children. In laying foundations for a flexible career that has allowed me to use minimal childcare over the past few years I've sometimes had to work when I'd rather have been parenting, and I've sometimes worked when I was parenting. Sometimes it's unavoidable.
4. There are more options than I realised. At first I fell into the trap of giving myself the choice between returning to my old job either full time or part time. But there are so many more choices than these two. Self-employment, a new job, other forms of flexible working are just three of them.
5. I was (and still am) shocked and appalled at the viciousness and nastiness that comes from other mums on social media. I have never felt so judged until I became a mum, and there have been some comments threads which have shaken me up and made me feel like the worst parent ever. And those are just the threads about job choice. Venture into comments threads about food, baby photos, or car seats and the vitriol is unbearable. Conversely, the amount of support and love I've felt from other mums out in the real world has been beyond anything I could have imagined. I could write a book on the effects of social media on the way we parent these days (perhaps I will one day) but for me personally, I've learned that less social media is definitely best.
6. Decisions aren't set in stone. I went back to work full time when my twins were 6 months old because it was the only way I could practically see to pay the bills etc. A year later I left to become a self-employed consultant in my field of work. Later again, still self-employed, I changed my focus away from consulting and towards writing. Career decisions at this time are often compromises, so the changing needs of growing children has meant many changes to my original decisions, and that's fine.
7. People at work treated me differently. Probably partly because (see number 1) I acted like a different person. For me, some of this was positive and some was negative. I found that some colleagues assumed I was no longer interested in my job, when the opposite was true - I was more ambitious than I had been before I got pregnant. I learned to be clear about my intentions and deal with others graciously. Plus, I moved on from that job as quickly as I could.
8. I'm better at most things than I was. I'm more productive. I have better skills of time management, multi tasking, assertiveness, and getting stuff done. This definitely made me better at all the work and study I've done over the past 7 years.
9. It's hard to give up a career path after spending money and time on the skills and qualifications to build it. But what you've invested so far is not a good enough reason, on its own, to stick with a career that doesn't work for you anymore.
10. Maternity leave is a gift of time to decide what next. It's a wonderful time of mother and baby bonding but it's also a chance to catch your breath and consciously decide 'what next' on the whirlwind path through life.
For more personal experience (myself and others') and practical advice, get Maternity Leavers: What to do about work now you're a mum.