A fellow stay-at-home mama recently said she was felt envious when she heard my "boardroom talk" and had wistful "visions of tailored clothes, shiny shoes and coffee machines." I love my shoes (I am accepting shoes as Diwali gifts this year, just in case you're wondering) and the trimmings of corporate life too. In fact, I firmly believe that I am a better professional post baby.
That the toddler can be the most formidable client is not apparent to employers, nor is that getting the child to eat makes you a brilliant negotiator.
I had no idea what working motherhood would be like, and I pretty much felt my way through it. But boy, does it bring perspective now. I feel much better equipped to deal with office politics, and other stuff that would have rankled me in the past doesn't any more. Kids don't come with instruction manuals, so working mums are great at dealing with ambiguous situations and improvising. I also feel I am more forgiving and patient—taking in my stride things that would have been unimaginable in my past life. I am also more efficient, packing in more into the same day than I ever had in the past (yes, also more caffeinated).
I didn't get the memo on what it would be like to go back to work as a new mama. If I had, here's what it would say:
1. Get started on your career 2.0
Yes, being a new mom is overwhelming. There's the fatigue and the humbling business of taking care of a tiny new human being. But strangely, amidst the infinite feed-poop-clean cycles, motherhood also helps you figure what truly makes you happy. Use that clarity to initiate a change in your career if you've been meaning to make one. It's hard to return to your old job if you're stuck in a rut, or are toiling away at something unexciting. Take advantage of the situation to reimagine your work life. Find a job that offers better growth or is more fulfilling or find an employer that is more family-friendly.
2. Make that shiny resume
No, employers don't value the skills that early motherhood adds to your repertoire. That the toddler can be the most formidable client is not apparent, nor is that getting the child to eat makes you a brilliant negotiator. Getting back into the game almost always means making and sending out a resume. While interviewing with future employers, be honest. It is important to acknowledge the gaps in your employment history—but it's also important to do it in a no-apologies way.
3. You need to talk about being a mom
Don't expect your employer to "get" it—and it doesn't matter whether your boss is a man, woman, has children or doesn't have children. My mantra has been to over-communicate. If you want people to understand, take the trouble to talk about it (shout-out to my teams for bearing with me).
Few things can be weirder than talking about milk ducts at work, but would you pick formula just to avoid an embarrassing conversation?
If you want to come back to work but keep the baby breastfed, talk about pumping (I know, I know, few things can be weirder than talking about milk ducts at work, but would you pick formula just to avoid an embarrassing conversation?). At the minimum, you'll find out if your company/boss is not accommodating. Life with an infant or toddler is unpredictable, and things don't always go as planned. Be honest about your needs as a new mom, some bosses will get it, some will choose not to (and even the best intentioned won't agree to all requests).
4. Mom guilt is a real thing
If you've found a fix for this one, patent it right away. Every single working mom I know is dealing with guilt. Guilt for not spending that extra hour with the kid, guilt for not pulling that all-nighter at work. That pang when colleagues are making plans for after-work drinks. I was even feeling guilty for not making time to discuss a neighbour's business idea!
To try and eliminate guilt is hopeless. But I tell myself "it's OK" a lot. It's OK I didn't make it to that overpriced exhibition, it's OK my kid doesn't have customized name stickers on her shoes (yes, they exist!). And it's OK to opt out of that frenzied competition to host the best and biggest birthday parties.
5. Cut out all the unnecessary stuff
Simply put, you'll be burning the candle at both ends. Brutally say "no" to things that you find de-energizing. We spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to please other people, prove something to the world, or do things because society expects us to. De-clutter to make time and energy for people and activities that nourish and energize you. Here's a tip: Mute pesky WhatsApp groups. Most of them are swapping pointless forwards or are filled with whiners or are palming off overpriced candles on each other anyway. Any group that has the will-thank-everyone-individually type enthu-cutlet deserves to be muted.
6. Avoid defining success
Unlike the pre-baby days, it's harder to define success. It's tough to predict what going back to work will entail, what challenges it will bring and what joys it will throw up. Maybe you'll hit the maternal wall at work or maybe you'll get promoted with each child you have! Either way, giving up on a set definition of "perfect" is a good start. At home, take parenting seriously—but not too seriously. There are days when I feel like cool, confident mom-fessional and then there are days where's it's quite the opposite.
7. Wear waterproof mascara
There are tough days. Times when you must leave a sick baby behind to make a work commitment. Or when you are coming into work after a particularly tantrum-y morning and the head-stuck-in-his-ass-type client is acting up. It's okay to tear-up a bit—for those days there's waterproof mascara.