Category Archives: Your motherhood identity
Developing a realistic and positive identity as a mother.
Your own or your family’s health can be a big driver for women in deciding to return to paid work or not. Everyone’s situations are so unique, but if you, your partner, or one of your children has a chronic health problem, weigh up carefully the pros and cons or you returning to paid work. Again, look into what kind of support may be available to you from local support groups and the government. If in doubt, your GP or Well Child Provider may be able to give you advice on this too.
Guilt, attachment, love, abandonment, strangers, trust, Wow, these are pretty full-on words aren’t they? My fingers are twiddling nervously and my heart is beating that little bit faster, just from hearing them. Am I a bad mother because I go to work in an office on some days? Am I a bad employee because I don’t work late as a matter of course, wanting to get home to my family? Am I hands down, a terrible person because I am not all things to all people all at the same time? No! No! and No!
Whatever options you are considering for paid work, at home time, care for your children, there will be people who are diametrically opposed to it (i.e. their way is the best and only way!). It’s realistic to assume that if you go out into the paid workforce, there will be people who think you are an uncaring money-driven corporate slave. Then again, if you stay home full-time, others will think you are a lady of leisure who is living off both the government and your husband’s hard earned money. It’s hard not to care about what others think, but try try try to shrug it off and be motivated by what is important to you and yours. If you are going to spend hours at work, staring at photos of your baby and crying in the toilets, maybe it’s just not for you. If you are going to burn with resentment staying at home full-time feeling like a drudge, consider going back into the paid workforce.
Guilt is surely the lifelong companion of parents all over New Zealand. If your own choices are unacceptable to you, then change them! But if it’s only unacceptable to other people, forget them!
Changing your mind
A final note – don’t be afraid to change your mind. If you go back to work and hate it, you can always quit. If you have decided to stay home and then your dream job comes up, you can always take it. Parenting is all about change and flexibility – nothing is absolute. Give any new situation a few weeks to iron out the kinks, but if after that it’s still just not right for you, change it.
You may be worried about losing the intellectual stimulation of your professional world. It’s true that the constant cycle of feeding, changing, settling, combined with the endless quantities of dirty washing and mashed pumpkin can be somewhat mind numbing! For many women, the buzz of being in an adult workplace and challenging their intellect can add real balance to their role as a mum.
I found that once I had the basics of caring for my first child sorted on a day to day basis, I started craving ‘something more’. It wasn’t that I didn’t absolutely LOVE my time at home with her, and I adored my days at home, mucking in, reading Hairy Maclary over and over, and expressing my delight at the gift of a loved but grubby soft toy thrust into my hands. But I also love the rush of the workplace challenge and the satisfaction of a happy client. The solution that I found was to do a small amount of part-time work while she slept. That way I didn’t feel like I was compromising my time with her, but I got that brain-buzz.
If you are thinking of staying home full-time, but worried about how you might get this extra intellectual stimulation, consider getting involved in a voluntary organisation. They always love new volunteers and there are often some meaty leadership roles or projects that you can really get your teeth into. A bit of part-time study could be the answer too and many mums take up something that is relevant to their new role – childbirth education, early childhood development, teachers college, to name just a few.
You’re at the point where you’re weighing the decision about whether to be a mother who works in the home, or to undertake some form of paid work. The next few posts will look at some things to consider in making your decision…
a) I love my job.
b) I’m on the brink of promotion.
c) I’m passionate about my company.
d) I’m proud of what I do.
e) All of the above.
Okay, so this is not a magazine quiz that’s going to assign you an easy stereotype of motherhood (are you the “domestic goddess”, the “harried housewife”, the “part-time parent”, or perhaps just the “confused cogitator”). But if any of the above options apply to you, you may be feeling torn about spending time at home with your baby. It is okay to love your job and want to go back to it. It’s also okay to hate your job and be glad you get to stay home and never go back! If you want a bit of both worlds, the professional and familial, have a think about how flexibility might work for you.
There are a whole raft of options open to mums (and dads) these days in terms of workplace flexibility. If you think it will work for you, sit down and talk to your boss about options – flexible hours, part-time hours, working from home… Currently in New Zealand, your workplace is legally obliged to at least consider a request for flexibility on a return from parental leave, although this is no gurantee that it will be agreed to. As a starter, check in with your manager or HR (in a larger organisation). It can help your case immensely if you can show your value to the organisation and the benefit to the company (starting with the fact that they get to retain your knowledge and skills in house). There are heaps of international studies that have shown the financial benefit to employers of retaining staff after parental leave so educate your employer and hopefully they’ll come to the party!
As a family with young children, you may be eligible for some government assistance. In recent years, New Zealand governments have been more willing to support families so take a look at the Work and Income site and see if you are eligible for a tax credit or ongoing income supplement. Bear in mind, that with election year, this can bring changes to government assistance.
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) have a free budget advisory service which is excellent. They can work with you to find out what your income and expenses are, whether there’s a gap, where you’d like to be, and how a new baby are going to impact your life financially. They can help you with lots of ideas on how to trim your expenses.
The Department of Labour has information about your parental leave entitlements, which in many cases will include payment for a little over the first three months of your baby’s life.
Talk to your bank about options for your mortgage and banking, including how to meet debt repayments while you have a young family.
When talking to mothers who have decided to go back to paid work, it seems that the biggest factor for most modern families is money. Paying that mortgage, servicing credit card debt, or just keeping some spare for the unexpected expense can be a real struggle. It is a huge change for most families going from two incomes to one. But you’d be surprised at what you can live on. If you are considering returning to work out of financial necessity, but don’t otherwise want to, see if you can downsize your outgoings in some of these ways:
- Downsize the big items – pay less rent or mortgage by shifting to a cheaper area or smaller place. Stretch your mortgage back out to 25 or 30 years to lower weekly repayments. Get a smaller, more fuel efficient car.
- Reduce expenditure on ‘luxuries’. This will be an individual thing, but for us it meant CDs and DVDs, going out to dinner, and expensive clothes. That’s not to say we don’t occasionally splash out – just not on a regular basis.
- Use the car less and car pool if you can (most capsules can be strapped into another car). Petrol and running costs for cars is constantly increasing, so taking public transport or walking can help reduce costs (good exercise too!).
- Take a good look at your expenditure on food. Now, we’re not suggesting eating less! But many of us these days spend a lot of our grocery money on convenience foods. Whether it’s pasta sauce, tortillas, or baby food, the pre-made packaged foods are priced at a premium. There are some really good ‘from scratch’ recipe books out there (I love the “Destitute Gourmet” series) that give good advice on how to cut your grocery bill and still provide your family with yummy, nutritious food. Meal planning can help a lot too!
- Buy second hand. Kids clothes, furniture, books, you name it, there’s a second hand market out there. Try online auction websites, local Plunket jumble sales, or just ask around if anyone is selling stuff. Some of my daughter’s favourite toys have been at bargain prices at a local bring and buy sale for around 10% of the original price – you can’t beat that! End of season sales are great if you buy ahead for next year too.
And finally, make sure you take into account the costs of going back to paid work – childcare, transport, clothes etc – when you are weighing up what you will bring home at the end of the day.
Next post considers what kind of assistance you may be entitled to as a family and where to get assistance with budgeting.
Over and over you will hear people talking about “returning to work”. What do they think motherhood is, a walk in the park? We would liken it to more of a rollercoaster ride with huge highs and lows, a bit of screaming, some whooping, white knuckles, and a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. But that aside, motherhood is joy but it is also WORK. When someone asks if you are returning to work, it subtly suggests that you might be spending your days as an at-home mum draped on the couch watching soaps on tv. (And even if there is a bit of that while bubs is napping, hey, everyone else gets a lunch break right?).
So parents don’t re-enter the paid workforce simply because they have nothing better to do. It is almost always a carefully weighed and sometimes painfully made decision with so many factors taken into consideration. If you are undecided, or feel that you only have one option but it’s not a choice you would make voluntarily, ponder on some of these things, and see how you feel at the end of it. At the end of the day, you’ll make a choice that’s driven by the desire to do the best thing for your family, and no-one else can tell you what that is, including us.
The ideas that follow in the coming posts are not meant to direct you towards going back to paid work or staying at home full-time. In fact, we both returned to paid positions while our first babies were under one, but managed to juggle this part-time and have our husbands both spending time at home during the working week. We’ve also both been through the carefully thought through decision to spend more time at home, for less money. So the ideas in the coming posts are really meant to get your thinking about what your family’s priorities are and then embrace those and make it work for you.
It’s so easy with a newborn for YOU to fall to the bottom of the list. Time is at a premium and so is energy. But sometimes if you can just do something nice for youself, it will give you a little zap of energy and remind you how fabulous you really are…
So here are some quick and easy pamper ideas:
Take a long bubble bath… (you can always take baby in with you, or even better pass him to Dad and soak in peace and quiet).
Have a foot bath – soak your feet in a basin of warm water. If you have some put a few drops of essential oil in. Bonus – you can do this while feeding! Double bonus – if your partner is around hit them up for a foot massage. Of course they may be face down on the couch snoring…
Buy or get out from the library a good book you’ve been dying to read. Great for those midnight feeds!
Paint your toenails. They are far enough away that you won’t be able to see any mistakes and instead you can just enjoy how pretty they look.
Take baby for a walk in the buggy – if she falls asleep treat yourself to a hot choc at the nearest cafe.
Get out a chick flick you’ve been keen to see and watch it – another good one for the middle of the night wake-fests!
Treat yourself to fresh flowers. If the budget won’t stand it buy some seeds (super cheap) and plant them – you’ll be able to pick your own next summer! Or pick some from a friends garden.
Check your emails and say hi to a friend.
Go to bed early.
Light a candle, put on your favourite CD, and put your feet up. If baby is too unsettled to chill on the couch do a little dancing instead!
Spritz a bit of your favourite perfume on.
If you are spending a lot of time in your trackkies or pjs – why not treat yourself to a pretty new pair? You don’t even have to leave the house if you don’t want to – shop online! Try ezibuy.co.nz
Make yourself a cup of tea and watch the sunset. Or sunrise…
What are your favourite “quick fixes” to lift your spirits when you are feeling a bit blah?
If you’re feeling ready to get up and get moving… talk to friends with older children, ask around your coffee groups, keep an eye on community notice boards for ideas on keeping active…
Walking: this is the perfect form of post-pregnancy exercise. You can vary it to meet your fitness levels and it costs NOTHING. Do it with friends or by yourself; walk round neighbourhood streets or walk to visit a sympathetic friend who can offer you a cuppa or glass of water at the halfway point. Lots of local councils are now organising walks for parents and children – give yours a ring to see if they have something similar.
Fitness classes with baby: some local gyms and other community centres offer aerobics or other classes (e.g. pilates, yoga etc) that you can do during the day with your baby. Lots of fun for some babies, although be prepared to leave in the middle if baby won’t settle, and these classes should be open to you feeding and changing half way through. I did my local Buggy Fit class every week and it was a great way to meet local mums as well as feel good about myself.
At home: buy or borrow from your local library an exercise video or DVD. Pop baby on a rug on the ground and exercise away – you might even get the odd giggle from her! This is great because it can be fitted around your schedule and there’s NO need to feel embarrassed about your saggy baggy body and untrendy clothes with baby spit on them!
Pelvic floor exercises: start these as soon as you can after your baby’s birth. And these are the ultimate portable exercise – anytime anywhere and no-one else need know you are doing them. Why bother? Believe me, it’s worth it, you don’t want to be leaking wees every time you sneeze, cough, jump up and down, or pick up your hefty toddler in a year’s time!
- Don’t overdo it and start out slowly.
- Listen to your body and be careful not to place strain on your back and joints. Following pregnancy, your joints are still loose form the increased relaxin (that’s ‘relaxin’ not relaxing J and they will flex further than normal so treat them with care.
- Diastasis recti is when the long muscles from your diaphragm (which sits at the bottom of your ribs) to your lower belly separate like a zip and happens to some women as their pregnant bellies grow. Ewww, how painful does that sound? In fact, it’s not painful, but it is important that you avoid traditional sit-ups until the gap closes (can take about four to eight weeks). To check this, lie on your back with your knees bent up. Place your hand on your tummy just above your belly button. Breathe in, then as you breathe out, gently life your head and shoulders off the floor. As the muscles tighten, you may be able to feel the gap where the muscles have separated. For a gap more than about three fingers stick to pelvic tilts and avoid sits ups. Once it is down to about one finger size, you can resume your normal abdominal work out.
- If you are breastfeeding, take extra care to support your breasts well. Make you’re your bra is well fitting, not super tight though, as tight restrictive clothing can block milk ducts which can bring you a world of trouble (see Chapter 6). High impact activity may be best avoided while you are sporting your tender, full uber-boobs.
Given that after you have a baby, your body is doing all sorts of weird things (breasts, stretch marks, jelly belly, general weight gain), lots of you are keen to get back into or start some kind of regular exercise.
Were you a dedicated gym bunny before pregnancy/baby? A regular swimmer or walker? Or maybe exercise was always an uphill struggle for you? Getting into some light exercise after labour and birth is great, it can ward off constipation, get blood circulating for faster healing, help you sleep better, and improve your frame of mind.
But bear in mind that we are talking light exercise here. It is important to have realistic expectations, whatever your intentions were before. I remember first time round at eight months pregnant expounding on the fact that I was going to go on a walk up the big hill behind my house every day as soon as my daughter was born – “I mean really, there’s no reason not to, is there? It’s only 15 minutes out of my whole day!”. Oh-ho, little did I know that my timetabling plans would soon go out the window (check out our previous post for ideas on how you might spend your day with a newborn).
If your baby was born by caesarean birth, this is going to take you a lot longer so please make sure you take your maternity caregiver’s advice. Walking up and down hills isn’t advisable for the first month or two, so try and scout out some nice flat strolls.
Next post, we have a few ideas on exercising with a young baby…