Returning to Work as a Mother

How to prepare yourself for the next chapter in your career.

by Lisa Jikeli, March 14, 2023
Returning to Work as a Mother Motherhood Career Women Woman Children

In Germany, two thirds of all women switch to part-time-work after having children. This is due to many factors, including the gender pay gap, the fact that women still do 52% more unpaid care work than men, and the discrimination that many parents experience in the workplace, among others.

Becoming a mother doesn’t only change our so-called professional biography, it also often leads to a significant shift in values. Our priorities, needs, boundaries, and energy levels change after becoming care-givers. At the same time, the longing to experience more purpose and fulfillment at work increases while we ask ourselves questions like: What do I want to contribute to the world my child is growing up in? How can I build a career for myself that gives me energy instead of taking it all away? Is this job worth giving my child into external care all day?

Regardless of societal expectations, “mom-guilt” and unrequested opinions on how much or little new mothers should be working, we should rather focus on what feels right for us.

So, how can we balance building a professional career around our own needs and the needs of our families?

Use your inner compass to guide your career decisions

The answer to the above lies within the very question. The first step to prepare yourself for reentering the workplace should be to get a profound understanding of what you need in order to thrive both at work and with your family. A great starting point is asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What do I need to satisfy my career ambitions and still have enough energy for my family at the end of my working day?
  2. What are my top values and how can I integrate them into my career?

Let’s call the answers to these questions your happy-career-criteria. Once you know these and have prioritised them, they can be used as your compass when navigating your return to work. Comparing your happy-career-criteria with the conditions at your workplace will help you to get more clarity about what aligns with you now and what doesn't anymore.

Own your working schedule

Being a caregiver is a great opportunity to prioritise the way you approach planning. One simple but powerful exercise around the topic of balancing work and motherhood is to set up an exemplary weekly plan of what your ideal week would look like. Namely, a week where you find enough time for all the things that matter most to you.

Key to this: start by scheduling time for rest, recovery, play and non-negotiable family duties. The time you dedicate to work should ideally be planned around that.

Organisational psychologist Adam Grant says that we have organised our lives around work for long enough. I believe in that sense that becoming a parent is a unique opportunity to reverse that by starting to plan our work around our lives.

Connect to your own resources to build courage

Returning to work after several months in the baby-bubble can leave new mothers feeling insecure about their skills. Studies show that the longer women spend out of work caring for their children, the lower their sense of trust in their own capabilities becomes. It's completely normal and okay to feel less confident at this point, and one way to recultivate trust in your own skills and expertise is to reflect on the significant things you achieved in the past, the crises you overcame, and the learnings and experience that you collected along the way.

Acknowledging our own qualities and strengths can be difficult sometimes. That’s why an external perspective can be helpful here. You might want to try conducting a survey with 3-5 friends, relatives or (former) coworkers. Make sure to choose kind people whose opinion you value and ask them for a short written feedback about you: Which qualities and skills characterize xx in particular? What is xx known for? Which topics do you associate with xx?

A kind external perspective can be really empowering and give you that push of motivation that you may need when stepping back into work.

These three steps are the beginning of your journey back to the workplace. In a nutshell: understand your needs, own your schedule, and seek positive reinforcement.

The common prejudice that some employers may have regarding mothers having less time to work and being less reliable needs to be cleared away. Rest assured: being a mother makes you a better employee. Motherhood builds resilience, efficiency, organisational skills, empathy and many other human skills that are duly needed for a thriving and more human-centred future working world.

Rather than seeing motherhood as a roadblock in our career, we need to start seeing it as a big chance to rethink and redesign our career based on the things that matter most to us in life.

Are you registered job-seeking at the moment? Having Lisa as a coach can be 100% free of charge for you- Fired Up Space offers job and founder coaching for people registered at Agentur für Arbeit or Jobcenter.