Assuming this is an option in the first place, we often think of this decision as a black-and-white dichotomy. There is the camp of stay-at-home moms and there is the camp of working moms. Sometimes they are at odds with each other and their opposing choices. In pop-culture, we ‘ve all read about full-on “mommy wars” with the two groups pegged against each other, one vilified, the other exalted, and vice versa.
The reality of course is very gray. What may present itself as a dichotomy is rarely so – our status as a working full-time parent, part-time parent or a stay-at-home parent shifting on a fluid continuum, as our circumstances change and we desire different alternatives at different points in our lives.
But, regardless of whether you view this choice as permanent or not, the decision is often difficult to make because it has multidimensional implications and is riddled with many what ifs. For many women, it is one of the most difficult decisions they will make. Concerns about re-entry, financial considerations, potentially sacrificing years of educational and professional accomplishments are real and must be carefully considered. On the other hand, there are worries about childcare, work-life balance issues, questions of whether “it’s all worth it”, and other stresses that typically arise with managing a personal and professional life in tandem. There is no easy answer.
It was that way for me. About 5 years ago I chose to leave my job to take care of my newborn daughter. I agonized over the choice. In retrospect, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I had stayed – I certainly wouldn’t be writing this piece now! But, back then, I spent weeks, maybe months – a good chunk of my maternity leave - questioning myself and trying to figure out what I should do.
The questions actually started even before I went on leave, and they came from people at work. It was all very hush-hush.
“Will you be coming back?” a few of my colleagues asked quietly over lunch.
I tried to consider what my life would look like if I moved on or stayed in my job with the new baby on-board, but found it hard to imagine this new reality. I wasn’t ready to answer the question.
Besides these brief personal conversations, there were no formal organization-sponsored discussions of what my new reality would look like. The unspoken assumption was that I’d be returning to my job after the leave, and that my schedule and responsibilities would be waiting for me unaltered upon my return. If I wanted to plan ahead and make any adjustments or think through a more radical shift, it was up to me to conceptualize my life beyond this point. The heaviness of the process weighed on me.
Ultimately, the decision is ours. We are in the drivers seat, speeding up, slowing down, going on cruise control, or pulling off on the side of the road to take a break. But isn’t the journey easier when there is someone sitting next to us forewarning us about on-coming traffic?
Many companies are starting to recognize the value of this type of support. As a result of an increasing female brain drain during crucial life points, like maternity transition, employers have begun to focus on retention issues more closely.
Maternity coaching companies, like Talking Talent, a British-based firm, are expanding in the United States, and offering services within organizations, coaching both managers and their female employees going through a maternity transition. They help women assess their options and prepare for the change. They also work with the management team to increase their awareness of the potential challenges of the transition and come up with solution-focused strategies to support their employees.
Would I have benefitted from a work-sponsored confidential dialogue with a coach about my new role as a mother and an employee? Would it have made a difference in my ultimate decision? I don’t know. But I sure would have appreciated speaking to someone openly about my options.
Facing a difficult decision in your near future? Wishing you had resources available to help you navigate the transition? Thanks to the increased attention many companies are starting to pay to the issue of female retention, you now may.