27 September 2023

The ‘transitional phase’ identity shift that happens after motherhood

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Melanie Ramachandran* discusses how career support could make all the difference.

As an ICF-certified coach with over 15 years of leadership experience, I understand the unique challenges that women face as they re-enter the workforce after maternity leave.

Following the birth of my first child, I took a one-year hiatus to focus on motherhood ie. keep said human alive.

However, when I returned to my career, I found myself struggling to connect with who I was now, outside of motherhood.

Although my professional skills and experience remained, something was missing, and I felt lost and disconnected.

Through months of personal growth and discovery I learned my instincts had not abandoned me, they just communicated differently now, and I needed to learn their new language.

It is of course natural to lose sight of our innate abilities, forgetting that we’re also programmed to “do what feels right”, despite our educated mind telling us otherwise.

Unsurprisingly, this disconnection becomes alarmingly apparent when re-entering the workforce after maternity leave.

I call this the transitional phase.

Of course, having a baby means that your mind, body, and life go through unrecognisable changes.

Everything is different, your whole life as you knew it has literally changed.

Your priorities, homelife, friendships are all different.

This can be made even more overwhelming by the physical and mental effects of having a baby – many of which can have an ongoing affect, months or even years later.

But despite all this, what really hasn’t changed is your identity.

Why? Because it is our personality traits, abilities, likes and dislikes, our belief systems and the things that motivate us that make up our unique identity.

So yes, becoming a mum changes you, but at the very core, you are still YOU.

For many working mums, there is already a genuine risk that they will become disengaged, miss out on promotion and development, and ultimately decide to leave their organisations and wider professions all because the right support isn’t in place.

According to a survey conducted by Tena UK, it takes new mums nearly six months to readjust after going back to work – with nearly a quarter saying the workplace is “completely different”.

Out of the 1,000 mothers who were surveyed, 31 per cent found it harder than they expected to return to their job after an average of 10 months’ maternity leave.

Whether it’s down to new members of staff, different processes put in place or just a consequence of not being there for a while, almost a quarter found the working environment was nothing like the one they left behind before giving birth.

If this transitional phase was acknowledged in all workplaces, and handled with the right support, companies would be able to retain and even grow female leaders during this transitional phase.

But the question I hear you asking – how do they do that?

Since your identity hasn’t changed, it’s all about reconnection.

Employees should be utilising services, such as coaching, to help women reconnect their innate abilities and professional skills.

A global study commissioned by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) found that although Australia is an established market, on average only 23 per cent of all employees have an equal opportunity to receive coaching from a professional coach practitioner.

Yet when participating in a coaching relationship for a variety of reasons, the top three employee responses were to improve communication skills (37 per cent), work/life balance (35 per cent) and to increase self-esteem/self-confidence (35 per cent).

If you had to translate this into working mum speak it would say;

  • Work through the fog of baby brain
  • Learn strategies to manage the juggle
  • Feel reconnected with myself

Of all the organisations studied, 78 per cent strongly agree that employees value coaching and 75 per cent strongly agree that senior executives value coaching.

Leadership and Executive coaching are nothing new, but what this implies is only the c-suites are valuable and sets a precedent that only they should have access to this service.

It’s also worth noting that the most common length of paid primary carer’s leave in Australia is between 7-12 weeks and only 1 in 5 taking it are men.

So, if the physical recovery alone can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks (min) and working mums are, in theory, expected to go back to work smack bang in the middle of this recovery, is it not justifiable for there to be a dedicated support program to help her navigate the return?

It can take longer to recover from pulling a hamstring and that’s with the support of a rehabilitation program that manages your physical and mental health for a slow return to running.

Former NRL player, Michael Jennings has been through a couple in his career and described it as “A niggly thing that just hangs around.

You’re just not confident and you worry about the load you’re putting on it.”

So, if we’re not expected to put our full physical and mental weight on our leg whilst regaining full momentum, then why are working mums expected to do so when re-entering the work force.

If a niggle is not properly addressed, it can manifest into something that then dictates how you go about your daily life and can even become a trigger.

Just like a pulled hamstring.

If it’s not given dedicated time and attention, it will continue to niggle and have an ongoing effect on how you walk and run.

Essentially impacting the innate things we do every day.

This is where coaching can be a brilliant resource that helps you capture that trigger or niggle and work through ways to help you stop the growth or intensity of it, so that it becomes more manageable on a day-to-day basis.

It allows you to take back control and feel confident to act on your woman’s intuition.

Because whilst transitioning back to work can feel worrying it’s also an exciting time that many women are looking forward to.

If nurtured and acknowledged during this change, with the right external support at their disposal, women can excel, and the retention rates will only increase.

*Melanie Ramachandran is founder of The Instinctive Coach and an ICF-certified coach with over 15 years of leadership experience in both London and Sydney.

This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au

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