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“The only thing stopping you is you…” (except that’s not true, is it…)

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Jennifer Ross Sales Manager at News Ireland

Life is full of motivational quotes and memes these days on being your best self.  

“You can achieve anything you put your mind to.”  

“You can do it.”   

“Beyonce has the same 24 hours in the day as you, What’s your excuse?”  

Erm…. I don’t have a personal chef & a gaggle of nannies, for a start. 

The overwhelming images of people’s picture-perfect Instagram lives are everywhere, but what’s the reality? 

According to Research by the Priory Group, more than one in five parents (22%) said that happy family pictures posted on Instagram, or exuberant baby blog posts on Facebook and other sites, made them feel inadequate” – while a similar amount, (23%) said it made them feel “depressed”.

And they didn’t think they were alone.

Nearly 40% said they thought idealised images of parenthood – and “over-sharenting” – were fuelling anxiety among new parents, while more than a third (36%) said they thought that baby bloggers and “Instamums” were contributing to rising rates of depression

The pressure does not come from social media alone, it is the overwhelming nature that comes with working full time and being a parent.  Research by Network Ireland showed that 87% of working mothers feel overwhelmed.

The traditional ‘nuclear’ family no longer exists.  And what was once an extremely flawed concept is now entirely outdated, yet employers still seem to be stuck in the dark ages when it comes to their expectations.  Because as a working mum, let’s have a look at my to-do list…

Keep the kids alive, Have a career and thrive in it, Pay the bills, Clean the House, Have you sorted your pension?  Manifest your dream life, What’s your 5-year plan? Have a clear outline of your aspirations & goals, Meditate, Work out 5 times a week, 10,000 steps a day, Be a size XYZ, Have Hobbies, Maintain your relationship, have date nights, Maintain wider Family relationships, Friendships, it’s not all about being a mother after all…. Keep your social life, Stay in Touch with XYZ, Eat healthily, Wash your hair (I’m mentally prepared to wash it, but not dry or style it), make home-cooked, nutritious dinners, do crafts, go on adventures, watch the kids’ screen time.  This list is not exhaustive!

Returning to work after my first maternity leave was overwhelming.  The baby I had attached to me for the last year was handed to a virtual stranger whilst I sat for three hours a day commuting to work.  I felt like a fish out of water in the career I had temporarily taken a break from, and questioned everything I was doing.  This needed to change.  I took the decision to see a Business and Life Coach who helped me refocus and adapt to life as a working mother.  Taking this step in self-care was invaluable for my career.

I was able to take every one of these lessons into my second maternity leave, and had the further flexibility of working from home that the global pandemic delivered.  Research from Catalyst, a global nonprofit that focuses on building workplaces that are equitable for women, finds that long-term remote work options could be the key to retaining more women in the workplace.  32% of working mothers are less likely to leave their job if they can work remotely. The additional time I now get to spend with family, for self-care and the mundane chores, has been a game-changer. They make me a better, less stressed employee during working hours and I’m sure there’s many parents who feel exactly the same.

So my final question (to everybody but Beyonce, I guess…) is: are you the only thing stopping you from achieving your career and life goals as a working mother?  

Absolutely not.  When it comes to living, the theory and the practice are often very different. Life spans much further beyond a 5 year plan.  (After all, it was Joseph Stalin that first created the concept of the 5 year plan and I wouldn’t be looking to him for life advice.)

So no more unrealistic motivational memes. We need to let go of the burdens of the to-do lists, we need to demand flexibility, and be aware of our worth to an organisation. Our employers have a responsibility to support us in being our full selves, and that includes our status as parents, too. So seek out support from your employer and if that doesn’t not exist, it’s probably time to find another company that allows you to thrive as a working mother.  

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