Giving up work to go on maternity leave can be both rewarding and challenging. I embarked on the journey from career woman to stay-at-home mother five years ago after giving birth to my daughter, Jessica. Like other mums, I experienced the highs and the lows. And I will admit, I struggled. My new role as full-time mother tested me mentally, emotionally and physically.
At the time I had no idea that one in 10 women develop a mental health illness within the first year of having a baby – I wish I had known that, as I think I would have felt less alone. Looking back, I would certainly have welcomed some advice to help me prepare, and an opportunity to share my experiences with women going through the same challenges.
So here is the advice I wish I had been given:
1. Look for communities of fellow parents. These can be virtual or physical. It is important to be in touch, talk about your challenges, share experiences, listen to other people going through the same journey as you. By connecting with others you will know you are not alone – and what you are going through is completely normal.
2. Get some 'me' time. You may have heard this before but it is even more important when you become a mum. There are no longer days off, weekends or sick leave... so you must ensure you have a chance to switch off and have time for yourself.
3. Do share how you feel. A lot of mums worry about sharing their feelings with their partners, fearing negative reactions and misunderstandings. However, talking things through can help to ensure you get the support you need at home. Partners aren’t telepathic – they need you to communicate with them if they are to help you. Do not leave it until it is too late. Should a partner not be around, make sure you share with friends and family. Also, confide in your doctor, and look for local support if you feel you may benefit from it.
4. Reflect on each day and be willing to adjust your expectations. Ask yourself three questions every day: What have you learnt today? How did you feel about it? What were you really proud of today? Answering these questions will help your own self-exploration and allow you to recognise and build upon your progress.
5. Prioritise childcare arrangements that you are happy with. Nothing is worse than constantly worrying about your child while you aren’t with them. Checking up on them every minute and jumping each time your phone rings isn’t healthy or pleasant and will leave you feeling mentally ragged. Invest your time in finding the right solution for you and your child.
6. Stay engaged with the outside world. Learn a new skill – maybe try that course or craft project you always wanted to do but never got around to. Learn about beauty techniques, or photography, or take up sewing. There are so many options and joining a class is a great way to meet new people outside the ‘new mums’ network, give you time away from the childcare, keep your brain engaged, and give you a sense of achievement.
7. Make the most of the local children’s centre. These are fantastic places which offer so many free courses with crèche facilities – and most importantly, parenting courses and peer-to-peer support groups. You need never feel you are struggling on your own again! How about learning baby signing so you can start communicating with your child earlier?
8. Share your skills. All of us are talented and offer something very unique. Use this to build on your strengths and support others in the community. Consider a skills swap as a way to learn something new.
9. Be mindful. Using mindfulness is a great way to stay calm and avoid that overwhelmed feeling, especially when parenthood gets really tough. Just a few minutes each day for yourself could make a huge difference. There are apps, books, YouTube videos and podcasts to help if you feel you need some mindful guidance.
10. Be real. Don’t ignore the outside world. Engage with your partner, family, friends and their lives and work, take an interest in the world outside your baby. Stay in touch with what is happening in the world and how it impacts you.
11. Keep an eye on the money. The family budget is a common cause of conflicts and misunderstandings. So make sure you know what free options are available in your area. There are thousands of community groups offering fantastic free opportunities for parents to learn, for children to develop and play, and for parents to relax and have ‘me’ time. It does not cost anything. Invest some time in doing your research – it is amazing what you will find and how little you need to spend!
12. Enjoy. Enjoy every minute, but be prepared for anything! As well as being incredibly trying at times, having a child can be incredibly rewarding. So enjoy it, make the most of it and, with hope, you will savour the time away from work.
Finally, when you are ready to go back to work, remember that you were employable before you had a baby and you are even more employable now as you have learnt so many new skills – so make sure you reflect this on your CV.
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