Using Maternity Leave to re-assess your Career – What do you Really Want?

For most women heading off on maternity leave, their return to work feels far in the future. It certainly felt that way for me. But as all working mothers know, that time off passes quickly in a blur of sleep deprivation, new routines and coffee mornings. Before we know it, the moment has come to dig out our work clothes, switch our brains back on and try to mentally separate the career woman from the exhausted mother. But what if that break makes you realise that your former career just isn’t what you want anymore?

One of the greatest benefits of maternity leave is an opportunity to evaluate what we want from life, and our careers are a big part of that. Some women prefer to return to the exact same role, content with familiarity and working with colleagues they know and trust. Some women return to work determined to secure a promotion and progress up the ladder. Many women come to the realisation that they haven’t felt fulfilled at work for years, and decide to embark on a complete career change.

My first project on returning to work was developing a new careers advice and information website called Careersmart. I had to research and write about everything from career change and getting a promotion to freelancing and equality in the workplace. Being a professional working mother, and being friends with many other working mums, certainly helped me generate a lot of content for the site, and I thought I’d share just a few tips from the site that you may find useful.

Working around your family

An inevitable obstacle for most working mothers is that of trying to secure more flexible working hours. Thankfully, most workplaces are today happy to offer their staff hours and days that marry best with the family’s routine. Despite this, some women are inadvertently made to feel bad for receiving ‘special treatment’, and worry that their reduced or flexible hours label them as different to their colleagues. One helpful article I wrote which is published on Careersmart looks at how to ask for a change in working conditions, you can also read up on your legal rights in this section on Mum & Career, or check the ‘Ask the Expert‘ section for issues other mothers have encountered, including being made redundant whilst on maternity leave, changing job conditions once you return, and studying on maternity leave.

What about returning to work after a long break?

For women who choose to give up work indefinitely to be stay-at-home mothers, the decision to return to work isn’t always an easy one. While the prospect of having some relative ‘alone time’ after years of full-on childcare is certainly attractive, many mothers find they’ve lost confidence in their abilities and aren’t sure how to get back into the workplace. In my experience, a large number actually decide that a complete career change would be more exciting and fulfilling than returning to the same job they’d done before. You can find more on changing career in the sections on Find your Passion , Find a new Job, or read about Mothers Real-Life Stories on Changing Careers. You can also find a piece on the Career Smart website how to go about career change, which you may find interesting.

Unfair treatment

A sad fact for some working mothers is discrimination – something a number of my friends have encountered after returning from maternity leave. Unfortunately, it’s certainly not unheard of for a mother to be overlooked for promotion in favour of a colleague who’ll never have to suddenly leave the office to collect an ill child from nursery. I put together this useful guide that is published on Careersmart, that defines discrimination and looks at how to tackle it, should you find yourself at the receiving end.

The main thing for working mums to remember is this: you are not alone! There are tens of thousands of us out there, frantically juggling our home and work lives, and only we can understand just how difficult this (often overwhelming) workload can be. There is plenty of advice and support out there for you – don’t be afraid to seek it should you find yourself struggling.

Author: Suzanne Rose. Suzanne is a freelance writer who contributes to Careersmart, a careers guidance and information website covering many issues that working mothers will find helpful, from freelancing to career change and getting a promotion.

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