5 Things She Could Be Thinking (But Not Saying)...
Many employers think of the words “maternity leave” as a signal for change.
Change as in: who’s going to provide maternity cover, and for how long? How and when will you keep in touch with your new mum, so that when she finally returns to work, she can pick up right where she left off?
Meanwhile, the new mum herself will be experiencing an overwhelming barrage of emotions, some of them for the very first time.
While issues of cover and contact are as important to her as they are to you, her mind will also be racing with frantic questions about the new stage of life she’s embarked upon, and how she’s going to make it all fit with ‘business as usual’.
As her employer, you can make the process a whole lot easier, by providing the support she needs to feel safe, comfortable, and confident during maternity leave…
…so that when she’s ready to return, she’ll not only be more likely to remain a loyal employee, but to advance her career with you in a way that benefits everybody.
How can you do this?
Simply by taking a moment to step into her shoes, and imagine what she might be thinking.
To help you on your way, here are some common thoughts and quotes from new mums, taken from our many successful years of maternity support coaching. Each thought comes with an accompanying tip, helping you provide the right employer support just when it’s needed most.
1. How am I going to cope?
New motherhood can exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure, particularly when you’re parenting in the aftermath of a global pandemic.
If she hasn’t given birth before – or even if she has! – she may be worried about the baby’s delivery (“I’m freaking out!” in the words of one client), and then, how she’s going to form a bond with her child.
There could also be a lack of wider personal support to contend with, since many families are still not travelling due to the pandemic.
Added to these fears will be practical concerns about how she’ll continue to perform well in her job, now she’s also a mother. Aren’t both of those things immensely time-consuming, after all?
Tip: If appropriate, point her in the direction of maternity/birthing resources, offer self-care tips, and encourage her to focus completely on her new baby during maternity leave. You will discuss her role, and any potential changes that may be needed, when she’s ready.
2. Is my career finished?
“Women on maternity leave shouldn’t be seen as not being career-focused. It’s not a holiday; instead you constantly worry that you’re going to miss out career-wise, or be seen as not working as hard as everyone else, when effectively you’re doing two jobs! Line managers should be more understanding of our inner debate and guilt.”
For many women, the guilt is immense. New mums often feel pressured to be seen as working harder than the rest, partly to compensate for all that ‘time off’ on maternity leave, which can lead to burnout.
Meanwhile, she also has a brand-new baby to care for at home, with all the practical and emotional upheaval that entails.
Exhausted and anxious, this is a prime time for paranoia to set in: Will she still have a job to return to? Are her promotion prospects non-existent? How can she possibly re-adjust to working life, after such a major change?
Tip: When she’s ready, have a full, open conversation with her about where she would ideally like to take her career in future. What support can you offer to help her achieve her goals?
3. Will I be expected to ‘jump straight in’ when I return?
“In the lead up to and following my return from maternity leave, I found it very useful to chat through the various ‘return-to-work’ options, and subsequently to consider how best to structure my day and put in place work-life boundaries, especially while everybody’s working from home.”
Maternity leave can last for a whole year.
As we all know well, a whole lot can change in a year.
Not least, a loss of confidence and imposter syndrome can start to set in. Particularly if, during said year, your new mum has been wholly focused on keeping a little person alive… feeding, changing nappies, and trying to catch a few moments of sleep whenever she can.
So the idea of returning to her ‘old normal’ (does that sound familiar?) as though nothing has happened can feel incredibly scary. That’s, she might worry, if anybody can remember who she is!
Tip: Organise regular ‘keep in touch’ points throughout her maternity leave, so she stays updated with developments and team events (without any pressure to take part in them). When the time comes, think about a phased return to work if needed.
4. What if my plans change?
Forget trying to find ‘work-life balance’.
The expression of the moment is ‘work-life sway’; in recognition of the fact that we will never find a rigid, permanent balance between each aspect of our complex and ever-changing lives.
(Think of a surfer riding the waves… you can’t control the water, but you can adjust your position with its swell).
Motherhood brings a great deal of reasons to adjust your plans as you go along, so prepare for her mindset to change – perhaps dramatically – during maternity leave.
For example, she may have intended to return to work as though nothing had happened, but after the best part of a year with her new baby, she may feel differently as her return date draws closer.
Tip: Stay in regular, open contact, so that when the time comes to make concrete plans for her return, she will feel more comfortable discussing any changes with you. In turn, your business will have time and scope to prepare in advance.
5. Can I work flexibly if I need to?
“The most useful aspect of the maternity coaching was preparing myself to return to work on four days as opposed to five. The support has helped me to think about how to formally and informally set boundaries, and communicate these to clients and colleagues in a professional manner”.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about stiff, outdated employment practices that don’t allow for reasonable flexibility.
They tend to belong to businesses that have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation to employees who were simply looking for the best, most productive way to manage work and childcare.
It’s almost redundant to say that since the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority of businesses have embraced the need to incorporate greater flexibility in their working practices.
Yet many new mums will still feel nervous about putting their heads above the parapet to make their request, for fear that they will seem lazy or uncommitted.
Tip: Incorporate the idea of flexible working/share your company policy as part of your ‘keep in touch’ conversations, so she is both aware of the procedure for making a request, and encouraged to suggest options that work for both her and the business.
Drawing on our expertise, we at Beyond EAP have produced a range of informative resources that cover every stage of the parental journey.
If you would like to discuss managing maternity leave in greater detail, we’d love to speak with you. Please get in touch here.
Praise for Beyond EAP Maternity Support Coaching
“The coaching was a real help in giving me confidence when returning to work, helping me consider and plan my return to work in a structured and methodical way”.
“I felt supported and genuinely listened to. I received some helpful suggestions on how I could change my approach to certain elements of my work to ensure I get the optimal work-life balance, which in turn means I am a happy and productive employee”.
“The coaching sessions have transformed my approach to work on my return from maternity leave. They have allowed me to accept that feelings of anxiety and imposter syndrome are normal on return from maternity leave, and this helped me to put in place strategies to deal with the new demands of balancing working life and parenthood”.
“The support reinforced the positive changes I have made to both my personal and working situation in recent years, and has given me confidence that I can offer a great deal to my employer on a sustainable basis, while maintaining a work life balance and enforcing personal boundaries”.
“The support was invaluable in helping me navigate pregnancy, motherhood during a global pandemic, and latterly, juggling work and parenting”.
“Having someone impartial to listen, not judge and give advice was great. It was also great to have support as I transitioned back to study first, then work (particularly as it takes time and patience to adjust your mindset back into work mode)”.
If you want to talk to us to discuss maternity leave for your employees, please get in touch.