GETTING TO KNOW MY WORKING MUM SELF

Today I returned to work after eight months of maternity leave. As I logged onto my laptop and worked my way through the latest e-mails and IT updates, in many ways not much had changed over the course of half a year. At the same time, everything felt a little bit different.

This was something I was prepared for. In theory. Having trained and worked as an Occupational Psychologist for the last 15 years, I was well aware of the challenges facing returning parents; the conflicting priorities, impact on confidence and emotional challenges that accompany the transition back into the workplace after new parenthood. Yet the reality of facing these challenges in practice was quite different.

My professional self has always been important to me. I’ve worked hard to qualify as a chartered psychologist, and I’m genuinely passionate about the work that I do. It was (and still is) a big part of my identity. But on 6th December 2018, when my son was born, my professional self was muted. Along came a new self in the form of motherhood – a powerful force that I had perhaps underestimated in both its wonder and its ability to kick other selves into touch.

Although, adopting my new motherhood self was no easy ride. The first few weeks and months of motherhood were chaotic, exhilarating, enlightening and exhausting in equal measures. There were endless nights awake with a new born, delirious daytimes full of nappy changes, and plentiful doses of self-doubt as I waded through the vast and, at times, conflicting parenting manuals. My experience of motherhood imposter syndrome was not helped by an unfortunate incident 8-weeks into my son’s life, where I failed to recognise him when presented to me at a postnatal Pilates class; a funny anecdote now but a motherhood-self crushing moment at the time!

Over the course of the last eight months, I have developed my own identity and confidence as a mother. It’s been a lot of fun watching my tiny baby grow into a bouncing little boy. And I’ve surprised myself at just how much I’ve enjoyed regular conversations with other parents about the perils of baby poo and other such childhood development delights.

So, when I think about just how hard I’ve worked to build belief in my motherhood self, it’s no wonder that I’m a little reluctant to fully let go of its exclusive status. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to spend eight whole months entirely focused on my little boy, in the awareness that elsewhere in the world three months is the norm. Yet I also feel guilty that, living in the UK, I could have taken 12.

I’ve found that one way of making this transition easier to manage is to view my return to work as the merging of two positive forces. In doing so, I’ve realised that there are many similarities in my professional and motherhood selves. For both, agility is a superpower; as a consultant and a mother the ability to think outside the box, be resourceful and adapt to rapid change is crucial. Both require effective prioritisation and time management. You must be brave enough to try something new, celebrate small wins, learn quickly from mistakes and be willing to seek out and take on valuable insight and support from others. And both benefit from having a good sense of humour!

I also want my son to see me as both a doting mum who loves and cares for him unconditionally, and a working mum who loves her career, without having any negative impact on our special relationship. In fact, I hope that demonstrating my professional self can only be a benefit that will help my son as he grows older to appreciate the value of hard work, and recognise and support equal opportunity for women and men in the workplace.

And I can see multiple benefits my newly acquired parenting skills will have on my professional life (beyond how to operate effectively under extreme sleep deprivation). The last eight months have helped me to hone skills in resilience, empathy and self-belief, to name a few. I know these will have a positive impact on my work as a coach and facilitator, as well as my role as a colleague and manager.

I’m at the start of a journey of new self-discovery. Like any change, I know it will take time. There will be good days, and there will be tougher days as both my son and I settle into our new routines. It’s an exciting time; it’s an emotional time. It’s an experience I know many other parents have been through, and so there’s advice and reassurance to be had.

From today, I no longer see my professional self and motherhood self as two separate entities. They can, and they should, coexist (perhaps not always in perfect harmony, but in alignment at least). From today, I identify as a working mum.

Jayne Ruff

Business Psychologist and Director

 Changing Point is a leading organisational development and change consultancy. We work closely with leaders to enhance their self-awareness and stretch comfort zones a little at a time. We focus on the practical application of learning so that powerful new behaviours are effectively embedded.  To learn more about our Personal Impact Leadership Programmes, get in touch at leaders@changing-point.com

About the Author:

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Jayne Ruff Business Psychologist and Partner at ChangingPoint. For more information on ChangingPoint, please contact jayne@changing-point.com