For myriad reasons, being a working mum has its pressures. Growing up to the soundtrack of second wave feminism implored me that I ‘can have it all’ – an effortless soundbite that contradicts the reality of juggling a job and family, and one that has made me feel real guilt when doing both is anything but effortless.
I find that articles about being a working mum can be chronically one-sided – either pushing you to reach for the stars (with no mention of the tough calls you’re going to be faced with to get there), or simply telling you to expect flexibility now that you’re a mum. I want to talk about my own experiences as a working mum living in Germany and offer some practical advice.
Be honest with yourself (and your employer).
It’s an old cliche, but honesty is the best policy – especially when it comes to being a working mum. Be real with yourself: with a child or children, life is different. Very different.
For one, your kid will get sick a lot in the first year you put them in day care, whether that be with a nanny or in a kindergarten. End of story. Kids are like walking petri dishes; their innocent immune systems simply invite sniffles and scratches. This means that you’re going to be taking them to the doctor a lot, which – in turn – means that you will need a degree of flexibility in your work arrangements if you decide to go back to work very early.
While some of us are lucky enough to have support networks of grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends to pitch in, when your child gets sick, nature pulls at your heartstrings and you simply want to be there to take them to the doctor.
Secondly, I really believe it’s vital to be realistic about the role you can undertake. For a working mum, not all jobs are created equal – and that’s simply a fact. Unless you have outstanding childcare options available, a job with no flexibility in starting and leaving times probably isn’t going to work, at least not in the short-term.
Third, be honest with your employer and don’t underestimate their empathy. The greatest understanding and thoughtfulness I have experienced has come from people who don’t have children.
Flexibility goes two ways
I am grateful to have an employer who is open to flexible working arrangements, and even enables them with the right technology. With technology we can build solid relationships with co-workers, and produce high quality results from anywhere in the world. However, it’s important to be flexible back. Often it means making up some hours at home in the evening or coming in early every now and again. This is not imposed upon me – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Once again, it’s all about being realistic and pragmatic. Ultimately, I work for a business and a business has goals it has to meet. If my daughter is sick and I am out of the office for a week I know that I’m going to have to make up that time. I took on the role with this mindset – my work isn’t going to get done without me.
As a working mum, there will always be an element of proof. Your employer and colleagues – consciously or not – will expect you to prove you can balance family and professional life. In turn, it’s important that your employer recognises your work. My dedication is acknowledged and appreciated. In less than a year I received a promotion and together with my manager I have created goals for my growth and development.
Remember your awesomeness
You want the job, you need the job, you like the job – for whatever reason, you decided to go back to work. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Having a family has an intense biological, physical and psychological impact. Pressure from family, friends and even other mothers can sometimes make you feel like you’re not getting it right. Treat yourself well and be honest (you’re raising a tiny human after all!).
Avoid the platitudes and airbrushed lives found on Instagram and surround yourself with people who understand, including those who are doing it too. I have three close friends I met through prenatal classes who are also working mothers in Berlin. We support each other and offer constructive advice.
Being a working mum has enriched my life. It allows me to maintain my career and identity while helping me really appreciate the quality time I spend with my daughter. Of course, there are times when I feel like I’ve dropped a juggling ball (aka. when I’m exhausted, dirty and angry), but I wouldn’t change it for the world because it makes me happy. And of course a happy mum nurtures happy and healthy children.
Author’s note: All the opinions expressed in this piece are purely my own.
Lillian Martin is the Talent Acquisition Lead for Spotcap and moved to Berlin from Australia. She resides in the East Berlin with her husband and three-year old daughter who loves donuts and smarties.
Originally published July 25 2017 , updated January 22 2020