‘What do you do with your day then?’ Rachel was once asked by an ex-colleague, a fellow mum who had made a different choice to return to work after having her children. Rachel felt intimidated and belittled by this question, the unsaid assumption being ‘not a lot’.
Prior to having her family Rachel had enjoyed a career in the City, working 12 hour days and travelling globally for her role. But after her first maternity leave she found that this type of work was not conducive to spending quality time with her children, so Rachel made a choice to take a career break for a while and reconsider her options.
So, given that she had happily made this choice, why did her former colleague’s words cut so deeply?
More than ‘just’ a mum
As women we need to respect others’ different choices and not make value judgements on these. We need to honour our differences.
Trouble is, we live in a society that still defines our identity and relative worth with what we do for a living – primarily what we economically produce – and the role of mum, and homemaker, is devalued in these simple economic terms. It’s like all Rachel’s previous skills and experience had disappeared into this label ‘now just a mum’.
Rachel had internalised this sense, she described feeling ‘useless’ – not in terms of looking after her family but in terms of making a contribution to society. She was struggling to reconcile her old sense of self with her new reality so her colleague’s words had simply added to this tension.
The Real Value of Motherhood
One recent study has indicated that if you paid someone to do the staggering number of household duties that us mums routinely do – including childcare, cleaning and shopping – the annual bill would amount to £31,627. Time we valued this role – and ourselves – more highly then!
But the real value of motherhood goes beyond these simple economic terms. Aside from the immense contribution we make to our children’s growth and wellbeing, what we don’t expect when we become mothers for the first time is the immense growth and development that takes place for us internally as we shed one persona and take on another new role.
Let’s face it: if we were going to liken motherhood to a job, this is a role like no other. This new role has no clear job description, no induction, no training, no manual and is a role that’s constantly changing over time and that we learn simply by doing.
This is no mean feat! Yet we fail to appreciate and value all that we have gained from this process of becoming a mum.So is it any wonder that in acclimatising to this ever changing role we lose sight of ‘who we once were’ and what we were formerly capable of in our professional lives?
Making a difference
In speaking to her former colleague Rachel’s new role came into conflict with her old. Her desire to make a contribution to society outside of the home had been triggered by this conversation. She wanted to use her brain again but felt torn between the choice of returning to her former profession or forging a new career path.
To move forward Rachel needed to appreciate that she wasn’t now comparing like with like. Through coaching she came to recognise that her head was in a different place now. Motherhood had changed her; it had changed both her perceptions and her values. What had once motivated her in her city career; money, status, travelling, now seemed a distant memory.
Instead she had grown to value connection, empathy, being part of a local community, making a difference and contributing to others.
Once she appreciated and valued this change in herself she was then able to give herself permission to move on and explore a completely different career path based on these values.
How about you?
What has your experience been of taking a career break and how you are perceived and valued? What has shaped your choices when considering returning to work? Please share your experiences, I’d love to hear them!
P.S. Need more help to re-evaluate your Self and consider future career options?
Take a look at my ‘NEW Reignite Your Spark group coaching programme coming to Tunbridge Wells in September! Or fill in the form here to schedule a FREE consultation to get some clarity on the situation you are facing.