An incredulous “You have a baby?” is something I hear at least once a week at my new company. Being back at work has taught me a lot about how to handle preconceived notions about working mums, and how to get (and stay) ahead in your career. When I was pregnant I honestly couldn’t imagine choosing between having a fulfilling career and a happy and healthy family: so I decided not to. I knew other women had succeeded in overcoming the challenges of being a working mum, and I wanted to have the same balance in my own life. If you have a baby on the way and are thinking, “I don’t know how I’m going to do it all,” these tips are written to encourage you. They are things I did and believe in doing, and have given me a more comfortable start to my journey as a working mum. I’m learning new things every single day on the job – so the list is sure to keep growing.
Forget the Out-of-office Reply
Don’t disappear during your maternity leave. Tell team members what you’d specifically like to stay in the loop about and ask to be copied on all relevant emails. My maternity leave wasn’t exactly a wonderful experience, so having work-related things in my inbox to read from the ‘real world’ really helped me feel sane. Casual Google hangout calls with team members also lifted my spirits and gave me a much-needed update on the status of ongoing jobs. The goal is to make sure your boss, and relevant co-workers know that you still care (a lot) about your job. You’re not on a three-month “holiday”, you aren’t traveling the world, and you’re most certainly not going to resign from the job you are so committed to.
Be a Breadwinner
The financial contribution you make to your family, matters a lot. The fact that you work, also makes a huge difference to your husband’s career choices. With the security of your salary, your husband has more freedom to take risks; with greater gains for the both of you. With less pressure on my husband as the sole breadwinner, he has experienced greater confidence and peace. When discussing a promotion or increment with your boss stating things clearly like, “I need more money,” will demonstrate that you take your job every seriously.
Let Dad Do More Than Diapers
If I ever write a “Secrets to Success” type of book, my husband will be main thing I mention. I’ve come to believe through observation that dads make all the difference when it comes to parenting. Their approach is very often better than a mother’s. T.Rex sees his dad more often that he sees me, and I think he benefits from having such an engaged father. I envy how much fun my husband seems to have with T.Rex and how spontaneous and good he is with our son. A highly involved dad is something you absolutely need to have but it takes stepping back and letting dad play a much larger-than-traditional role in childcare. So hold back on criticising his parenting style and let him try his own way. In fact, the more I’ve held back on my opinion and being ‘right’ I’ve seen how a fresh perspective on parenting is truly invaluable, to me, and to our son who already has an incredible relationship with his dad.
Pay for Your Peace of Mind
Even if you have to spend half of what you make in a month on good childcare, it will have its returns. If you stay in the game now, you’ll be able to make much more by the time the kids are in school – so it makes more sense financially, than quitting now and struggling to get back in later, for less money. Pay for the best you can afford right now, even if that means a live-in helper and a part-time family chef. Remember that grandmothers (the best!) aren’t to be written off as free childcare, and should be rewarded whenever possible too.
It’s hard. I never make it home in time to put T.Rex to sleep. I am however up every morning at the crack of dawn to spend time with him, just us. Some days I want quit (or call in sick), but then I think of the woman my son will marry someday, and the message I want to impart to him about her when they have kids of their own: She can be an amazing mum and help you and your family with a career of her own. And that you, T.Rex, are responsible for making it all possible.
Michelle Lim-Chua is a banana born in New York City, who fell in love with a boy from Melaka and became a mama of one.