Many women worry that starting a family will put an end to their career plans. And, unfortunately, research shows women’s careers often take a backseat after childbirth. Women also take a financial hit by having kids. On average, women take a 4% pay cut for each child they have, while men get a 6% pay increase, according to the New York Times. But there are many examples of women who have successfully combined work and family life. Here are some steps you can take to help you do the same.
1. Manage Your Expectations
As Oprah once said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” It’s not possible to give 100% to all areas of your life simultaneously. Are you putting too much pressure on yourself to be perfect? With social media bombarding you with unrealistic images of the perfect mother, it’s understandable that you might believe you have to have the perfect career and the perfect family life. Whilst you’re not alone (60% of women feel like a failure in their first year of motherhood), accept that things won’t go according to plan with a baby around. Trying to live up to unrealistic standards at work and elsewhere will negatively impact your mental health. Find support by communicating how your feeling with your network of friends and women who have been in your shoes.
2. Define Your Priorities
What are your non-negotiables when it comes to your career goals? Do you want to reach a certain level in your company, finish some study, or take extended leave to work on that side hustle? There’s no right way to balance work with caring responsibilities, so the key is to decide what’s important to you. Discuss your priorities with your partner and how you plan to achieve your goals alongside raising a family. Ensure you’re on the same page before planning a family.
3. Do Your Research
It’s important to understand your entitlements including the pregnancy and parental leave policies at your company. Make sure your partner is also aware of (and encouraged to take) the parental leave offered at their work. More employers are also now offering additional entitlements like support for employees undergoing fertility treatments. In Australia, employees now have the right to request flexible work arrangements. Consider asking for provisions such as returning to work part time, working from home or altered start and finish times.
Have conversations early with your manager about the support given to parents. Compare your company to the industry standard for parental leave and flexible work options. If you don’t believe your current employer will be supportive, consider moving to a workplace where you will be able to succeed whilst raising a family.
4. Choose the Right Time
Some women decide to delay their family plans until they have reached a certain level in their career. It can make sense to wait until you have established yourself in a profession or industry and feel confident that taking a year or two out won’t set you back. Given the cost of childcare and the other many expenses of raising small humans, you may decide to wait until you have reached a certain salary level before taking time out.
5. Share the Load (Equally)
Pre baby, couples assume that the responsibilities of child rearing will be shared equally, but in reality, women tend to fall back into stereotyped roles, doing much more of the cleaning and childcare. To avoid this, have discussions on the sharing of household tasks, childcare and life admin well before you start planning for a family. Even better, make sure you are currently sharing domestic duties equally. This will have you well placed to keep these habits when you have a baby.
How to stay engaged in your career on maternity leave
Keep in touch
Make use of the “keeping in touch” days provided during parental leave to reconnect with colleagues, attend important meetings, or work on a specific project. In Australia, an employee on unpaid parental leave gets 10 keeping in touch days per year. Stay updated with what’s happening in your industry by attending company events or meeting up with contacts for coffee. If in-person networking is difficult, be active on LinkedIn or attend virtual events hosted by professional associations.
Update your skills
Take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by your employer or industry association. Stay up to date with changes in technology and consider learning new programs to add to your skillset. Listening to podcasts related to your role or industry can also help you stay informed.
Reconsider your goals
Maternity leave can be a time for career reflection. Assess your skills, interests, and career values. Take a career quiz or work with a qualified careers consultant if you decide on a career change.
Starting a family doesn’t have to mean the end of your career goals. While it’s true that women’s careers can take a hit after childbirth, there are steps you can take to successfully balance work and family life.
By managing your expectations, doing your research and communicating clearly with your partner, you can set confidently plan for a family. While on maternity leave, you can stay engaged in your career and you even use the time to realign your career goals. With a little planning and support, you can achieve both your career and motherhood goals. So don’t let fear hold you back – you got this!