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The 5 stages of career grief for a working mother

1
My story looks like the feminist dream. High achiever with a challenging and fulfilling media career in Manchester and then London. Start a family. Get promoted during each of my pregnancies with supportive husband as full time dad. Works brilliantly for a while (yay I can focus on work without (as much) guilt or logistics hassle!), until it doesn’t (one very lonely and increasingly depressed husband).

It’s not an easy gig for dads trying to blaze this trail, and any thoughts of my own unhappiness are always quickly overridden with a deep sense

SelfishMother.com
2
of responsibility to keep going. During the second pregnancy the wheels come off. It wasn’t pretty, and it went something like this.

Denial – Problem? What problem? It’ll get better, it always does. If we can just get through the next couple of weeks/months/years.

Anger – Why can’t I make this work? I can ALWAYS make it work.

Bargaining – I’ll create new better habits, a new me! I’ll look after myself, be more present, stop looking at emails late at night, get home earlier. I will be even more efficient!

Depression – I can’t live

SelfishMother.com
3
like this anymore. I feel like I’m failing and letting down the people I love. I’m ill ALL THE TIME.

Maternity leave #2 begins and with it a significant period of reflection, reading, talking, reconnecting with my values and priorities, processing a traumatic first birth experience, relationship counselling, becoming a mother for the second time and helping my husband start a small coffee business, before arriving, finally, at…

Acceptance – Time to rethink what success looks like for this stage in my life and make some big changes. I feel

SelfishMother.com
4
like a boil has been lanced.

Building a career and family at the same time is tough whatever your circumstances, but we scored a few own goals along the way. On the upside, I also learned a few things:

1) Living a quieter life helped with energy levels for a while but it wasn’t long before the demands of work started encroaching on this space, as it always does in an always-on world.

2) Relocate with careful consideration. Isolation, a longer commute, and more hours outside the home were the unintended consequences for us. Network and

SelfishMother.com
5
community are not a ‘nice to have’, they mitigate the loneliness that comes from ‘losing’ your previous life.

3) One at work / one at home was great for our son and solved a lot of logistical challenges, but it was harder with dad as the stay at home parent without the same supportive mums’ network, and with me continuing to bear most of the ‘mental load’.

4) Taking an extended break is often what’s needed to look at life with complete honesty and clarity, creating the impetus to change role or company, where you live, or even

SelfishMother.com
6
deciding to get off the hamster wheel altogether and do your own thing (getting a grip on outgoings and relationship with ‘status’ can help create these kinds of options).

5) Communication is everything. Relationships can easily slide into the transactional when all you seem to talk about is who’s turn it is to put the bins out, or work goes crazy (again) but you’ve burned all your partner’s goodwill, or you’re hit with a big health issue or personal crisis. That stuff can sink a relationship if you’re not regularly connecting and

SelfishMother.com
7
appreciating each other.

6) Businesses could do more to help. Creating high value part time and job share roles, flexible ways of working adopted from the top down, life stage interviews and support. This shouldn’t be a working mums ‘privilege’. To see genuine transformation this needs to be for everyone. Only then will we move beyond working mothers being put on the ‘mummy track’, dropping out altogether or both sexes pretending their family responsibilities don’t exist.

It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re in the thick of it.

SelfishMother.com
8
The more we share our stories of not coping the better we will all be for it. My next chapter takes us back up north to a great network of friends and my husband’s family, a bit wiser, a bit humbler, and with a healthier work/life balance.
SelfishMother.com
Natalie MF

By

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- 16 Feb 19

My story looks like the feminist dream. High achiever with a challenging and fulfilling media career in Manchester and then London. Start a family. Get promoted during each of my pregnancies with supportive husband as full time dad. Works brilliantly for a while (yay I can focus on work without (as much) guilt or logistics hassle!), until it doesn’t (one very lonely and increasingly depressed husband).

It’s not an easy gig for dads trying to blaze this trail, and any thoughts of my own unhappiness are always quickly overridden with a deep sense of responsibility to keep going. During the second pregnancy the wheels come off. It wasn’t pretty, and it went something like this.

Denial – Problem? What problem? It’ll get better, it always does. If we can just get through the next couple of weeks/months/years.

Anger – Why can’t I make this work? I can ALWAYS make it work.

Bargaining – I’ll create new better habits, a new me! I’ll look after myself, be more present, stop looking at emails late at night, get home earlier. I will be even more efficient!

Depression – I can’t live like this anymore. I feel like I’m failing and letting down the people I love. I’m ill ALL THE TIME.

Maternity leave #2 begins and with it a significant period of reflection, reading, talking, reconnecting with my values and priorities, processing a traumatic first birth experience, relationship counselling, becoming a mother for the second time and helping my husband start a small coffee business, before arriving, finally, at…

Acceptance – Time to rethink what success looks like for this stage in my life and make some big changes. I feel like a boil has been lanced.

Building a career and family at the same time is tough whatever your circumstances, but we scored a few own goals along the way. On the upside, I also learned a few things:

1) Living a quieter life helped with energy levels for a while but it wasn’t long before the demands of work started encroaching on this space, as it always does in an always-on world.

2) Relocate with careful consideration. Isolation, a longer commute, and more hours outside the home were the unintended consequences for us. Network and community are not a ‘nice to have’, they mitigate the loneliness that comes from ‘losing’ your previous life.

3) One at work / one at home was great for our son and solved a lot of logistical challenges, but it was harder with dad as the stay at home parent without the same supportive mums’ network, and with me continuing to bear most of the ‘mental load’.

4) Taking an extended break is often what’s needed to look at life with complete honesty and clarity, creating the impetus to change role or company, where you live, or even deciding to get off the hamster wheel altogether and do your own thing (getting a grip on outgoings and relationship with ‘status’ can help create these kinds of options).

5) Communication is everything. Relationships can easily slide into the transactional when all you seem to talk about is who’s turn it is to put the bins out, or work goes crazy (again) but you’ve burned all your partner’s goodwill, or you’re hit with a big health issue or personal crisis. That stuff can sink a relationship if you’re not regularly connecting and appreciating each other.

6) Businesses could do more to help. Creating high value part time and job share roles, flexible ways of working adopted from the top down, life stage interviews and support. This shouldn’t be a working mums ‘privilege’. To see genuine transformation this needs to be for everyone. Only then will we move beyond working mothers being put on the ‘mummy track’, dropping out altogether or both sexes pretending their family responsibilities don’t exist.

It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re in the thick of it. The more we share our stories of not coping the better we will all be for it. My next chapter takes us back up north to a great network of friends and my husband’s family, a bit wiser, a bit humbler, and with a healthier work/life balance.

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