I handed in my MBA final paper when my second child was nearing 7 months. Friends, extended family, life coaches, potential employers and even complete strangers (in those times I’ve shared my experiences) have all asked me how I managed it. Taking care of a small baby while researching and writing a 20,000-word paper could only be accomplished by a serious multi-tasker at best, let alone a sleep-deprived one with a baby born seven weeks ahead of time and whose unexpected arrival threw all my intended scheduling out the window.
Prior to this manic period of my life I was a full-time working mum of a 2 year old and any thought of completing an MBA on the limited time I had over weekends was ruled out. Now that I was on maternity leave again, and the daily 9-5 part of the juggling act had dropped, I was determined to finish.
Looking back now, I’m not sure how I did manage the fine art of juggling middle of the night feeds and nappy changing with turning on my brain during the day – when most new mums are advised to nap - to write about a subject matter in which I had no practitioner knowledge.
But coming out of that experience I can wholeheartedly say that I’m a much more efficient operator...and then some. I’ve developed hardcore skills in how to prioritise and how to compartmentalise my working day so that I can fit as much into a set period of time that I came to identify as windows of opportunity in which I can switch off from the baby and focus solely on my work. Completing that MBA at that particular moment in my life has been such a major personal achievement that I am now so much more confident that I can accomplish any challenge you throw at me. Climb Everest? Pah! Easy in comparison!
Armed with this newfound confidence, I embraced myself for what would be my next mission…finding a fulfilling job after extended maternity leave. Oh how I’ve discovered that completing the MBA with a baby in tow wasn’t the difficult part. Not at all.
The advancement of a woman’s work after she’s had a family and the subsequent slowdown in her career is much discussed. Anecdotally I’ve heard of women within my own network who have been demoted, lost their responsibilities, been side-lined for promotions and of course, who have lost their jobs altogether following a stint of maternity leave. Those who do have a satisfying role to return to are often left questioning whether the return is actually materially beneficial given the astronomical costs of childcare. My personal circumstance saw that I actively took extended maternity leave following my second baby. Suffice to say my transition back to work after my first maternity leave was demoralising, so it was a conscious decision of mine to resign if I were to have another baby. It is no wonder so many women cite a complete confidence shutdown after maternity leave.
Questions swirl around in my head constantly about how I should approach the next phase of my career: in effect, reconciling my achievements with the MBA versus having taken extended time off my career. Whilst on the one hand I am a now an MBA and have aforementioned kick-arse skills, on the other I am plagued by a constant worry that employers will pidgeon-hole me as another working mother and that I will be inadvertently be penalised for taking time off. Does flexible working pay off and will I have the same advancement opportunities as someone who doesn’t work as flexibly? Surely leaving at 5pm on the dot everyday would be viewed as being not committed to the job? Would I limit my networking options if I prefer to rush home for my daughters’ bedtime than mingling over drinks after dark? Will working for free (effectively, after childcare costs) pay off if it means keeping my CV up to date?
I know I’m probably in a lucky minority where my husband holds a secure job so that I’m allowed to ask myself these questions. But this doesn’t stop the questioning. Should I just accept that despite it being 2017, one just can’t have it all? No matter which angle I look at the situation...will I become another statistic that I’ve been so keen to avoid?
With thanks to our guest contributor.