I never intended to be a stay at home mum, it just sort of happened. Returning to work after maternity leave, I fully expected my career to carry on as before – albeit 4 days a week instead of 5.
However the reality was rather different. My boss was a bit ‘old school’ and seemed to think my brain had been removed with the after-birth. Therefore I couldn’t possibly still be competent at, or committed to the job that I had been doing for years.
I endured what can only be described as about 18 months of bullying. The organisation was quite old fashioned with an aggressive attitude where you had to be seen to be putting the hours in. Me with my 4 day week (1 day working from home) just didn’t fit the mould. So I got the worst, most difficult project in the entire office. People I didn’t know came up to me to commiserate – it was that bad. They said it was ‘extremely high profile’ and ‘heads would roll’ if anything went wrong, but I got no support from management to ensure it didn’t. Colleagues kept coming to me to tell me that I was being set up to be the scapegoat…
Just before I went on maternity leave a second time, I was given a ‘requires improvement’ grading in my performance review. When I received my performance review form the ‘evidence’ section was blank. WTF ??!!
I should have taken some legal action against them and I’m sure I could have. I was advised to record every incidence of when I felt bullied as soon afterward as I could. Therefore I had quite a pile of evidence. But I was eight months pregnant, my pregnancy had been quite stressful for other reasons and my husband had just lost his job. I just couldn’t face it at that time. When I did feel strong enough to do something, it was 6 months later and too late.
Leaving it behind…
And so I left it – the company’s maternity leave scheme was pretty generous; 6 months on full pay; 3 statutory pay; 3 months nothing, so I took the maximum maternity leave that I could before resigning. I did not feel one iota of guilt about it. I know that I was very fortunate to have the choice not to go back – many people are not.
And so here I am – almost 7 years later. I have worked part-time since for periods of time when money was tight – but not in my former field. I have done lots of voluntary work. But I have not had a ‘proper’ job. Do I regret my decision to leave and give up my former career? Sometimes I do, yes. Often I feel as though I am not a ‘proper’ person anymore because I don’t ‘do’ something. Sometimes I feel really bored and frustrated – I am an educated, intelligent woman with 2 university degrees, cleaning and hoovering all day is pretty tedious. Plus I’m not very good at it!
However I have also had the incredible joy and privilege of seeing my 2 sons grow up every single day. I get to be there at the school gates every afternoon and at their school plays and special events. I’m not’super mum’ – sometimes I get cross and shout, and I find playing Lego very dull. Having the luxury of time with them though is something that I will never regret.
The stress and the constant feelings of guilt are also something I don’t miss. Even if I had loved my job, working 4 days a week and having young kids is really really tough! I have nothing but admiration for people who do it. Overall I am where I am. It’s not where I expected to be 7 or 8 years ago, but am I happy? Most days, yes!
It’s not right!
I didn’t intend this post to turn out quite how it has…but I know so many women with similar stories. Capable intelligent women are shoved out, demoted or just generally treated badly by companies simply because they have had a baby. I think women need to tell their stories – it’s not right and its not fair. The workforce is worse off for not having those women in it. Many other women are not reaching their full potential. When you think about it, a couple of years out to have a baby in the lifetime of your career is nothing. And you can’t tell me that new fathers are on the absolute top of their game for the first year after their child is born – sleep deprivation affects us all!
Attitudes need to change.