As I’ve said before, I work from home. Any day now I’ll be having my third child and it never occurred to me to take maternity leave. Call that pregnancy brain, or call it some kind of Protestant Work Ethic logic (my anxiety counsellor says I suffer from the Protestant Anxiety Sydnrome I shall address later), but I just thought I’d take a week or two off and then go back to work. I only work 15 hours per week so I felt it doable. When my boss informed me I have the option (in Australia) for paid maternity leave for up to 18 weeks, including my month of personal leave, I was dumbfounded. Then excited. Then scared to get my hopes up. Then excited again. Then I mentally checked out of work. You know the drill.
As it happens, I’ll be on paid maternity leave until mid-January which means I’ll be able to nap during naptimes or independent playtimes and not worry that our bills will go unpaid. I am so grateful for my job and wouldn’t do without it during this season, but it is so very very nice to be able to take a break and simply focus on the home life.
However, as soon as I set things in motion I began to have doubts and fears about my job situation. Can you relate? As I thought it through – and remembered research I had to do (for this very job) showing that women often decide not to have children simply to avoid career derailment – I realized that a lot of my fears were common to woman.
(1) Fear work will decide they don’t need me.
Whether your leave is for a few months or you take an actual leave for a few years (where you’d find a new job in your field after) I believe this is a big one. Will my job see that I’m replaceable and then…well… replace me? Will my resume take such a hit that no one will hire me? The truth is, your co-workers may absorb your work quite easily and then when it’s time to come back there may be an initial “yeah, well, we managed.” Or there may not be. That isn’t actually my point. The fear of this is what can make leave less enjoyable and it’s that emotion I want to address. When you decide to take time off or to quit, why are you doing it? You are doing it for your family. So, my strategy during this time will be to think of my family first. When the fear creeps in I will say to myself that at the end of the day, family was chosen first and if a snag comes around with work, then family is still first. Someone somewhere will hire you back. In the meantime, you are doing what you’ve chosen to do and when you look into the faces of your children, you won’t regret it.
(2) Fear I won’t be able to do it again after the break.
I personally am worried that I’ll get so used to being able to rest when they’re resting that I will find it extremely difficult to make the transition back to working while they’re resting. What if I get lazy during this time? What if I lose my multitasking skills? What if the time away makes me realize I don’t actually want to work – even though I have to – and I am miserable when I return? If you’re like me (and I sincerely hope you are not) then you are fairly Type A and therefore can tend to worry easily. What if, what if, what if. My dreams and thoughts are often plagued by potential future disasters and negative circumstances. I wish it wasn’t that way and I’m trying to get better but right now, it’s my reality. I believe the most important thing to tell myself is that my capacity will not be lessened by choosing to focus on my children. In fact, watching little ones requires a huge amount of time and attention. It requires hyper-vigilance, to be exact. The characteristics that made me successful at my job won’t disappear simply because I’m using another skill set.
(3) Fear I will lose my professional prowess.
This is a big one for me. Not because I think I have that much prowess to begin with, but I remember when I went back to work after time spent volunteering with a charity and my daughter was born, and I felt silly sometimes trying to use “big words.” Oh my. It sounds juvenile, but it took a while to get back into a professional mode of speaking where I was able to speak and write confidently and quickly in a professional sense as opposed to a normal everyday conversation way. Plus, depending on your career, there are things that happen and happen quickly and if you don’t keep up you’ll get behind. One way I believe you can combat this is to continue – however small – being involved in your career or field of choice. I will do a couple low stress weekly tasks to make sure I keep abreast of what’s happening. Whether you are just reading magazines, newsletters or blogs from your field or even attending the occasional professional development courses, this will help prevent you from falling into insecurity about your own ability that would make it hard to transition back to work if you so choose.
(4) Fear I’ll be behind the curve and out of the loop.
This is probably both a fear and a reality in some fields. My boss, aside from the capacity in which she is my supervisor, is a career mentor for women. As a former partner in a major international accounting firm she saw firsthand the struggle women had to “have it all.” She encourages taking maternity leave but also acknowledges that currently in the way the world works, there’s a chance you’ll get behind your peers. For me, this isn’t really an issue because while I enjoy working to provide an income, I’m not career ambitious. As in, I’m not on a fast track that having babies will shove me off of. But, I think what is key here is to count the costs. If you’ve made a pro and con list and counted the cost of taking time out for maternity leave or to put your career on hold, then these things will need to be considered. If being home with your kids ism ore important than your career then it won’t be an issue. If a career is equally as important, then you’ll have some important decisions to make.
As is the case with much of motherhood, guilt is always lurking nearby to assail us. You choose one thing and what if yourself to death. For me, staying home with the kids is top priority. Though I find it stressful at times (refer to a recent instagram) I would not have it any other way. The thought of not being able to stay home makes me want to OD on reese’s and diet coke… as if that were possible. While these fears are real, I believe the best way to handle them is to know what your reasons for your choices are and then to believe in yourself that you are doing what’s best for your family,