“When I finally took the step to return to work, my son was very young. I’d often need to strap him into a car seat and take him along to the bank or office,” recalls mum of kids aged 11 and 7, Shilpa Jain.
Jain, who worked as a research scientist in India, had decided on a career break soon after having a baby in 2011; the now Dubai-based expat only started to put effort into her husband’s electronics venture in 2016-17.
In the case of 45-year-old Indian expat Anjali Menon, who has two daughters (15 and 10) and is the Chief Business Officer of Instant Cash, a career break seemed like the thing to do after her first child was born. “I was paranoid about leaving the child home alone with the maid. I constantly had the fear that my helper would forget to change her diaper, or the baby would fall or not be fed. I think it was a first-time parent thing,” she laughs.
She says she ended up tacking on six months to her 45-day maternity leave. By the end of this period – where she found herself micromanaging everyone - she was ready for her corporate return.
There may be several reasons why a woman decides to step out of the workforce including bereavement, familial obligations, and health issues. And several reasons why she opts to make a comeback, including rediscovering her own identity.
In taking care of family, one may end up sliding their own needs to the back of the line, creating this vapid hollow where the sense of self used to be. What’s important to remember, says British expat Sarah Babiker, who is a certified positive psychology coach and founder of A Life You Chose, that identity is a dynamic concept. “Who we were as children, teenagers, adults, and parents are all different. We bring along some traits and behaviours, but life circumstance can play a huge role in shaping our identity. So, the best thing we can do is accept that things are different, so we are different. This is not about adapting or changing who we are to fit our outside world. This is about restructuring our identities - using the strengths, values, and traits that we want to be present the most in this new phase and working on elevating those areas.”
When considering a return to the workforce, it is this sense of self that needs to be explored, analysed and used as a guiding light. When considering a new position, ask yourself:
- What am I passionate about?
- How many hours in a day will I be comfortable putting into this job?
- Do I want to work full-time or flexible hours?
- Do I want to work from office or home?
- What are the things I have learned while on my sabbatical – have I gained insight into time management, for example?
One of the top reasons mums who spoke to Gulf News said they decided to take the bench was so they could be there for their children.
Jisha Basil Koshy, who is 31 years old has two children 6 and 3, works as a HR personnel in tech firm Avientek. “I took career breaks twice – for each of my pregnancies I took two and a half years off,” she says. Goshi has been working for the past year. “Returning to work was pretty difficult,” she says, “As a homemaker, I had to do everything. For one kid it’s okay but for two, cooking food, etc. [was tough]. I had to drop them off at the babysitter's while I went to work, so I had to plan everything, including cooking, getting them dressed.”
As a homemaker, I had to do everything. For one kid it’s okay but for two, cooking food, etc. [was tough]. I had to drop them off at the babysitter's while I went to work, so I had to plan everything, including cooking, getting them dressed.
It took a while, she says, but they have fallen into a schedule.
Thirty-seven-year-old Gulf News reader Deepa Sharma went back to work as a programme manager in a firm in India. “I took a maternity leave and gave birth to my child in 2016, and those first few months you get some time off but then, I wanted to give my child more time, like a year or so. So, I took a break for about seven months (post eight months of maternity leave) and when my husband was posted abroad, we went along. Then when I got back to India, I returned to the same firm. And I’ve been working since then.
I remember I was working at 2am and was on an international call and my son started crying. Things like that really make you wonder if you are doing the right thing.
“When I joined, my husband couldn’t move back to the city with me. I was scared because I didn’t know if my son would be okay to adjust to the new schedules. But gradually, family support helped him get used to it. There were some bumps; I remember I was working at 2am and was on an international call and my son started crying. Things like that really make you wonder if you are doing the right thing. There is that guilt – not spending enough time with your child, etc.?”
Dealing with 'mum guilt'
Mum guilt is an umbrella that seems to fan open often, creating shadows of inadequacy that haunt. Joanne Jewell, parenting expert at UAE-based Mindful Me, says: “‘Mum guilt’ seems to have become a label for all the feelings mums have related to not doing enough, being enough or comparing themselves to other mums who appear to be doing a ‘better’ job at parenting.
“Most people assume guilt means we are doing something wrong, that it’s a ‘bad’ feeling to have and we need to feel bad, do something different - so we don’t feel guilty anymore, and for many of us the feeling of guilt also comes with an expectation of punishment - because these were connected for us as a child.”
Most people assume guilt means we are doing something wrong, that it’s a ‘bad’ feeling to have and we need to feel bad, do something different - so we don’t feel guilty anymore, and for many of us the feeling of guilt also comes with an expectation of punishment - because these were connected for us as a child.
However, she says, neuroscience points out that it’s not caused by ‘wrongness’ but a perceived sense of ‘wrongdoing’. “It’s just one of many emotions we experience, and our job is to calm ourselves when we feel this difficult feeling and then, once we are calm, decide what it actually means and whether we need to change anything,” she says.
Little tweaks can make a huge difference to this guilt. For Menon, alleviating that niggling feeling that something was amiss was quelled by moving closer to her new workplace, which had baby-friendly policies that allowed her to nip home once a day to feed and connect with her child – and reassure herself in the process.
Thirty-six-year-old Nitasha Sharma, who has two children (aged 6 and 2), said her job kept her living out of suitcases in Saudi Arabia often on. And this travel triggered separation anxiety in her older child (who was three at the time). So, she took a step back from her nine-to-five job; she decided to work as a consultant. Then came a pandemic and a pregnancy. Realising that her schedule was packed, and she had no help, she gave up her job. “Earlier when I would go to work, I’d sneak out after distracting my daughter, this is probably what made the eldest more anxious. With the second one, I experimented. Every time I leave the house, I tell her. She was one and a half when I started working again. I let her shut the door, so she knows I’m not in the house, she doesn’t go looking for me. This has helped settle her and understand that I will go out and I’ll come back. I feel now it’s not as bad as it used to be.”
Sharma has also made some lifestyle tweaks so she can spend some time with her kids. “I spend a lot of time with them over the weekend. And well, I’ve relaxed rules. So where earlier I would tuck them in at 8pm, now I tuck them in late, so I get to spend a little more time with them,” she explains.
I spend a lot of time with them over the weekend. And well, I’ve relaxed rules. So where earlier I would tuck them in at 8pm, now I tuck them in late, so I get to spend a little more time with them
Tips for mums getting back into the workforce
Here are Jewell’s pointers:
- Notice any feelings you are having about returning to work or being back at work and choose to soothe/calm yourself first before deciding what to do your think about these feelings
- Pay attention to what you are focusing on - whether at home or work - and notice when your focus is constantly being pulled in different directions then choose what you want to focus on at this time
- Release yourself from the expectation of being ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ at anything - you will be good at many things, and you will also find many things difficult at times. That is normal for all of us.
- Choose to spend quality time with the people that are important to you - and that includes yourself. One of the ways we can spend quality time with ourselves is through a mindfulness meditation practice - it can take as little as 12 minutes per day, and you can do it anywhere!
How to stay organised
Roshni Khemlani Mehta, co-founder and CEO of the baby store Little IA and co-founder of clothing firm Izaak Azanei, is a mum of three kids. She offers the following hacks for mums trying to stay organised in a chaotic world.
Use an app: Adding everything into a scheduling app so you can diarise weekly workouts, kids’ classes, playdates, and drop-offs is key. Add even the most mundane reminders such as - check the fridge or buy fabric softener. Once everything is written down in one place, it will immediately feel like a weight lifted from your shoulders. An app that is seamless in this arena is TimeTree, which is also free. Every time an event is scheduled an alert goes to everybody who uses that calendar. You can colour code by task or person, and multiple calendars can be created for different uses such as family and work.
Make a master list of meals for meal planning: Meal planning can be a drag, especially after the novelty of planning meals for your cute little one wears off. Start a master list of meals in your phone, adding every meal that you can make for your kids. Now you can get really organised with this, you can split it into chicken, fish and vegetarian and by meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. So that when it comes to deciding your weekly or daily menu you can just go to your phone and select a few from your master list. If a new meal goes down well, add it to the list. Avoid taking things away that don't work well, it is important to encourage your kids to eat healthy foods that perhaps they don't always enjoy.
Adding everything into a scheduling app so you can diarise weekly workouts, kids’ classes, playdates, and drop-offs is key to being organised. Use an app.
Add a white board to your kitchen: These days, you can get pretty much everything stylised to suit your home, including small stylish white boards with mini-washable pens. This can be used to write down all the kids' weekly classes, so that everyone in the house can be reminded of the schedule - with multiple kids and multiple classes it can be easy to forget. A quick visual reminder is a great way to keep everyone in alignment with the weekly routine.
Invest in mum gadgets: Mum gadgets come in a variety of shapes and forms, but the ultimate mum gadget is one that saves you time and improves your life by some measure.
On-the-go organisers: There are many on-the-go organisers that you can use, to ensure you have everything you need at your fingertips.
Self-care - Schedule ahead: Mamas, self-care is not only important, but it is necessary to be the best version of yourself for you and your family. It is easy to put this at the back amid crazy schedules, but the way you feel after you've had some indulgent spa time or that facial you've been putting off, is truly something else. With that in mind, schedule your desired self-care for the next six months, and schedule around it.
Make use of your car glove box: Take a pouch and fill it with all the essentials you'd need if someone were to whisk you off for a luxurious date night right after a drop-off. This little hack can save you on many occasions and add for more spontaneous plans in your life. Also add some make-up remover. As mums, we are tired pretty much 24-7. When you've had a late night and all you want to do is get into bed, this little thing will save you time and energy.
DropBox for family documents: Whether you have one kid or five, the number of documents you need as a family is mind-boggling. To have everyone's Emirates ID and Visa Copy at your fingertips, create a DropBox file, which syncs with your phone, and save all family documents in one place. That way you can separate by child, by file type, and you'll have it readily available on your phone as and when you need it. Plus, they're saved on the cloud, so you don't have to fear losing them. You can also use this to store all family photographs.
Use WhatsApp Groups for receipts: Have a chat just for receipts. It means that you can devote a set time weekly reviewing your receipts instead of doing it in that exact moment you're paying. Simply add the people responsible for paying regular house bills (groceries, maintenance, electricity, gas, etc.), and each time a bill is paid for, ask them to send a photo in the WhatsApp group. That way, you have all receipts in one place and can refer to them at any time should you want to spreadsheet them.
Use Once Upon app for photo books: Still not made a baby book and feel guilty about it? Stop right there. Download the App Once Upon, and you can make a book in under an hour. The app syncs with your photo library and filters photos by month and by year, it creates automatic layouts based on your pictures, making it easy to create a professional photo album seamlessly. Take the photos, make the memories, but don't let them get lost, these days are far too special.