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An open letter to mums who are thinking of returning to (paid) work

An open letter to mums who are thinking of returning to (paid) work

Let’s be abundantly clear about something. Being a parent is hard. The physical demands of keeping a small person alive and breathing and the responsibility of nurturing and taking care of their emotional needs feels like A LOT, because it is A LOT.  As lovely as it is it is also relentless. I was never quite prepared for the feeling that my time was no longer mine and even when I did return to work, the mental load proper, full blown exhausting.

In fact my level of unpreparedness with all things parenting continues to astonish me and I fear for my son’s teenage years such is my ignorance.

So to return to work after a period of time away, whether that time has been for a few months or many years, it comes with some complex emotions. Regardless of the motivation to return to work, be it financial or the need to have a two way conversation that isn’t in a sing song voice, it’s your decision and the reasons don’t matter, even still, there’s plenty to consider and feelings to entangle. As a recruiter, I work with women who want to return to work but are overwhelmed by what this looks like, and underwhelmed by the way society responds to this. So I decided I needed to write something about this, information you can either take or leave, because goodness knows if there is one thing parents don’t need is another parent telling them what to do. This is not a ‘what to do’  kind of post but a manifesto of some kind.

1. Working mums need to stop apologising. The first thing I notice about women when they start looking for work and start back in the workforce is that they default to apology mode. Stop apologising for asking what the hours of work will be, stop apologising for what you need to ask for to make it work for you and for your family, and most definitely stop apologising for having a gap in your resume.

2. Here’s the thing. Almost everyone, at some point, will have a gap in their resume. I’m not especially a fan of the term ‘resume gap’ even though I’ve used it myself. I’ve only used in in the context to say that a gap in your resume is not something you have to justify. It’s a bit like a thigh gap, it has no meaning and has no value to who you are as a person. Anyway, technically you haven’t really had a gap. If you think you have then you are doing yourself a disservice by under-estimating what you’ve been doing whilst you have been at home. By definition, gap means ‘an empty space or interval’, 'a break or opening.’ Raising children, housework, the mental load, school volunteering responsibilities, and coming up with a book week costume that isn’t half-arsed, well, I think we can all agree that there is nothing 'gappy' about those things.

3. Don’t dismiss your time as being ‘just a mum'. Parenting requires us to draw on an immeasurable amount of energy, efficiency and emotional intelligence, so to diminish that to ‘just’ devalues that effort. I have only the one child and holy heck, there is so much effort.

4. Understand and embrace the power of the transferrable skill set. A competent recruiter and a decent employer will get this. Negotiating with tiny dictators all day, in corporate speak we call that conflict resolution. Interacting with other school mums, coordinating play dates and tuckshop roster swaps, well that’s what is commonly referred to as stakeholder engagement. Parenting requires the ability to make decisions, time manage, and problem solve and coordinate the needs of others all day long. Diary management for a CEO is probably a heck of a lot easier than managing a toddler’s nap schedule. Your ability to do that in a workplace will be a peaceful walk in the park by comparison.

5. I have written about this before but the number of working women I meet who suddenly feel that becoming a mother made them incompetent in the workplace is astonishing. Working mothers should never underestimate the power they have to get shit done because they know they are working on limited time and less time means less time for bullshit. Being a mother does not impact on your ability to be a worthy employee, if anything, it should elevate it.

6. If a recruiter, employer, manager or colleague makes you feel guilty for putting your family responsibilities first, then call them out on this bullshit. Also, don’t think you have to disguise your parenting status so as to protect your career reputation. The pandemic has somewhat shed light on this, and attitudes are improving. The lines between working and parenting are blurred and sticky.

So if you are reading this and it rings true then know this. I have worked with some bloody amazing candidates who have returned to paid work, they have so much to offer, the only downside is that many simply don’t see this in themselves.

This article was first published on and has been republished here with permission.

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