As a mama of two, I’ve weeded through my fair share of advice — solicited and unsolicited. I’ve learned to tune out parenting advice that I know wouldn’t work for me, my baby or my situation. Where I faltered (and still do) is filtering through career advice.
Much of today’s wisdom for new working mothers is built on old ideas.
Like the "have it all" narrative. You know, the one that continues to be discussed in boardrooms and on the red carpet and everywhere in between. It’s the idea that dictates women can "have it all" only when they have a career and a family (defined by the narrowest possible terms). The truth is, “having it all” means something different to different people.
Here are other out of date concepts that are passed along as advice that should be ignored, or at the very least, reconsidered:
1. Take time to focus on your baby.
Parental leave is essential for every new parent. If you’ve birthed your child, you’re going to need enough time to recover. You’ll also need time to get a handle on how to properly care for your newborn and adjust to your new life. Plus, the bond you’ll develop with your baby in the first months will bring lifelong benefits to you and your child.
It’s for these reasons and others that so many tell us to forget about work and to just focus on our new family. Yet, can we really do that? The world is changing quickly and radically every day — even while we’re out on maternity leave. That means businesses will make the shifts needed to respond to market conditions.
During my first maternity leave, my team was restructured. A new leader came in and accounts were reshuffled. Had I listened to everyone’s advice, I wouldn’t have known about the change until my return. And, by that time, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to share my points of view and pitch for the accounts I most wanted.
It’s not just businesses that have to adapt to the new world, professionals do as well. New technologies, new industry regulations and the like are introduced regularly. Yes, you can block them all out until you’re ready for your return, but has the cram method ever really worked in the end? Instead, find ways to stay professionally fit throughout your maternity leave. It could be a call into the office every couple of weeks or periodically reading industry news.
2. Do whatever it takes.
This often repeated piece of advice is given to those just starting out in their careers. It's also regularly doled out to new moms. Because just like when we were starting out, we have to prove our abilities and our worth.
Unless you are starting out on a new career path, your up-to-date career record is all you need. Many new mamas come back to work feeling guilty for inconveniencing their colleagues, bosses and clients for taking maternity leave — no matter how short it may have been.
It makes it tempting to do whatever it’ll take to get people to believe in us again.
To avoid the mommy track, strategically lobby for opportunities where you can shine today while also serving you in the long-term. Even the most well intentioned of managers, colleagues and clients have unconscious biases about mothers, working mothers in particular. So, while they may believe a less challenging project is just what you need, it may very well divert you away from the career goals you’ve set for yourself.
Being proactive may help you avoid at least some of those “mommy” assignments. Plus, you can help your manager understand where you want to move your career next.
3. Make your life less stressful by…
Everyone has an idea on how to make life as a working mom more manageable. (I know I do!) But what works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for you.
Meal planning works for me, but meditating in the morning stresses me out. Flexible working options may work for you, but I need structure between work time and home time. I was told checking the daycare webcam would ease my separation anxiety, and it did — until the camera was on constant display and I was calling into the center regularly, trying to control everyone’s day from my office desk.
The point is that you have to consider each tip that comes your way in relation to who you are, how you want to use your time, your situation and so much more. Try the ones that sound right for you. If they leave you feeling more stressed, divert you away from the things you feel are more important or if you feel that they set you up to fail, stop. And do so without guilt; they may have worked for your friend, but it's okay if it just doesn’t work for you.
4. Balance your work and life.
The holy grail for every working mother is finding work-life balance. From the very start, the odds are stacked against us, yet we’re told to figure out how to best balance these two opposite forces. After a full day in the office, we then should spend eight full hours spending time with our children, connecting with our partner, having fun with our friends, fulfill family obligations, find time for self-care and exercise and anything else that makes up your life.
So when do we sleep, again?
Start looking at balance as something to achieve over longer periods of time — a week, a month or perhaps seasons or years. When we do, we take away the pressures — and the guilt — that we have to do it all and have it all in a span of 24 hours. It’ll make us happier, get us feeling more relaxed and we’ll be less hard on ourselves.
6. Be sure to take time for yourself.
This isn't bad advice — caring for the physical, mental and emotional well-being of another human being requires physical, mental and emotional energy. If you tap out, you won’t be able to keep going.
But here’s the problem: self-care has become another thing moms have to do in their already busy day. Another item on the list that goes unticked.
When you’re trying to ramp back up at work while simultaneously working to adjust to your new routines and schedules, the mere idea of spending a couple of hours at a spa de-stressing could do the very opposite. Instead, reconsider what self-care means to you.
Getting your nails done or going to a yoga class may not fit into your new schedule, but perhaps packing a lunch will make sure you’re getting the fuel you need for your busy day. Or, try building relationships five minutes at a time. Give a friend a call or grab coffee with a colleague in the office. Connecting with others can energize us and give our brains a much-needed break from the tasks we have set out for the day.
There’s a lot of advice to go around, the key will be to find what works for you and to let go of any guilt or feelings of being less than if one of them doesn’t work for you.
Good luck, mama and remember — you’ve got this!
Lisa Durante is a working mama who believes in the power of AND. She offers strategies and insights, as well as resources and programs to help you design a career and life that works for you as a working mom. Get new tips and free resources every week at LisaDurante.com.