Companies can underestimate the trauma that a new mum feels when she has to return to work, leaving her infant at home with a nanny or a carer. Observers might view this as her “choice”, but often there is no choice, and it can be a highly stressful period.
I would like to frame this issue by looking at the five stages of grief that a Mum might feel when she has to “abandon” her baby at home. At every stage there is something that companies can do to make the transition easier, and potentially set the platform for further career growth as well as ensuring a happy family:
Denial. Before Mums go on maternity leave, they imagine that everything will be fine, they make plans for their return and put in place contingency measures for the period that they are away. This positive mindset rarely corresponds to reality, and they need to understand that their company will support them, whatever their situation.
Anger. The “why me” stage happens in the early weeks. The pressures of looking after a very young child and working simultaneously are immense, and it is hard not to feel a little sorry for yourself. Reality hits hard when they return to work and it is important that the company is as sympathetic and flexible as possible.
Bargaining. Some Mums might realize that they can’t cope and look to change their working arrangements. This in itself is often fine, but if it is discussed in advance, often this source of stress can be avoided. If there is an agreed period of 6 months part-time work, the new Mum will have one thing less to worry about.
Depression. This is the toughest stage. Sometimes they just need the kind words of a few people who have “been there and done it” to get through it. If they have had a smooth emotional ride through the first three stages, they will have the emotional strength to overcome the depression stage quickly. If they have had a tough time to this point, it might be a bit harder to conquer.
Acceptance. Finally. They are a great Mum and they are still a great asset to their organization. They feel fulfilled in both worlds, but it is an uphill battle to get to this point, and companies need to do all they can to understand and support them to get there.
If the company adopts a pro-active approach to helping Mums cope, they will set an example for all the “Mums-to-be” and ultimately retain and develop their best employees. Becoming a Mum doesn’t change your abilities as an employee, but it doesn’t half knock you for six. Sometimes you need a bit of help to get back on track.
p.s. I am a Dad of two kids, so I realize how important this is….
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