Why emotional support is as important as flexibility in the workplace for mums - The Grace Tales

Why emotional support is as important as flexibility in the workplace for mums

One of the things that motherhood cemented for me is my desire to work. As daunting as I found the prospect of juggling motherhood and a career, the pros definitely outweighed the cons when I returned to work after having my daughter Gigi. But that doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing…

I returned to work after a year of maternity leave in a different role to the one I had held for almost four years prior. The truth is, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I had mentally prepared myself to scale-back on my previous role as a website publisher because it was a position I could no longer see myself doing as a mother. The responsibility and hours didn’t suit my desire to work part-time, and to be honest, I had simply outgrown the brand I worked for. In a time where I was keeping a small human alive, focusing on celebrity news and blogger trends seemed completely insignificant. I guess you could say, the penny finally dropped.

Luckily, my boss was understanding and agreed to create a position for me that was not only part time, but also suited my childcare hours. I returned to the company working on a new title, in a new role, with a brand new sense of perspective. All sounds peachy? Yes, except it really wasn’t. In the year I was away on maternity leave, there was an almost entire management and staffing reshuffle, which meant I no longer knew many of my colleagues. Suddenly there was an elephant in the room (me) who worked different hours, on fewer days than the rest of the team, and who had previously held a senior management role but now didn’t. I’m not sure if it was the constant looks of confusion (or was that pity?) but none of the staff seemed to know how to treat me. I was the only mother of a young baby in the entire office, and boy, did I feel it. In a desperate attempt to get some support, I reached out to my boss and asked him if he could set me up with a mum-mentor who worked for our parent company. I thought this might help for the days that I’d come to work frazzled that the baby was left crying with the nanny, or when I really just needed someone to talk to, someone who had been in my position and could tell me it was all going to be ok. He agreed and put me in touch with our HR manager.

Two babies later, I still haven’t heard back from the HR manager on organising someone I could speak to. In fact, in the last two years, I pretty much felt as invisible as I was perceived to be in an office where the culture was all about kicking career goals, not family goals. It was as if my decision to return to a less demanding role suddenly meant I was less of an employee.

While flexibility in the workforce is paramount when you’re a mum returning to work, so too is the duty of care and support your employer should offer you. As soon as you become a mum, you change, in fact, everything changes, so expecting that you’ll be the same person you were at work before you had a baby is just not realistic. I hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be working amongst a team that didn’t understand how tricky the mum life/work life balance was, or that couldn’t sympathise with the juggle that is the daily commute dropping kids off at daycare and getting yourself to work. While some days seemed to run smoothly and without a hitch, others were fraught with tears, anxiety and angst, and not having anyone to speak to only exasperated an already difficult situation. From all the mums’ I’ve quizzed on this very topic, the general feeling was that unless you’re surrounded by other working mums in a similar situation to you, then the level of emotional support you need at work is simply not available.

Six months into my second maternity leave with my son Louis, I resigned from my part-time position. To be fair, I know my experience was unique as I was a sort of “guinea pig” for the company’s first foray into maternity leave, but it did make me realise I could no longer pretend I was happy in an office environment that applauded career progression but lacked care for family progression. At this stage of my life, family comes first, and that means more to me than climbing the corporate ladder ever did.

Words: Marisa Remond | Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo