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Working mums – 10 most important questions to ask before maternity leave

Dive into the complex journey of transitioning from worker to working parent with insights from the WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby) study.

Work forms a big part of our lives – for many of us it can be a source of identity, financial independence, purpose, ambition and routine. Not to mention the friendship and social connections that a workplace can offer. And it’s because of this, that the transition from worker to working parent, can be difficult to navigate.

Suddenly, you’ve gone from spending your entire adult life thinking about what’s best for yourself and your career, to needing to think about what’s right for a family, too. 

For mums in particular – still as the assumed primary caregiver – the impact of parenthood on personal and professional identity can be huge.

How does the transition to parenthood impact mums?

Sadly, the UK is not set up to enable all parents to manage a career and care for a family. Crippling childcare costs – at the second most expensive in the world – inflexible working practices and outdated cultures force many women, in particular, to sacrifice their careers to care for children.

In fact, women are around seven times more likely than men to be out of the labour market due to caring commitments – according to analysis by the TUC – with women in their 30s the hardest hit.

For those mums who do return to work after having a baby, many are forced to choose a lower-paying role, a ‘lesser’ organisation or limit their career development to fit the needs of their family, according to a study* in partnership with Hult International Business School (Ashridge).

The study also revealed that many mums find it challenging to balance the identity of a working mum and a parent. Despite understanding the importance of bringing one’s whole self to work, some mums conceal parts of their identity in the workplace for fear of being judged by co-workers and managers as “less than” – for example, “less capable” or “less committed”.

As part of the interviews that formed the WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby) study, one mum said: “There’s a perception that I’ve gone from being someone who really cared and was good at work to someone who doesn’t care. And that’s really not true. I love my job.” 

Important questions to ask yourself before taking maternity leave

Helen Sachdev, working parent coach and director of WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby) said: “Becoming a parent is one of life’s biggest transitions. Many women who enter motherhood feel they lose parts of their identity when they become a parent – not only will this impact their confidence, but this can come with big emotions like sadness, grief, and a longing for a past self. In one fell swoop, your primary identity becomes ‘mum’ and your personal and professional identities can take a back seat. 

“The sad reality is that the UK is not set up to ensure all working parents can continue with their careers when they become parents, and more often than not, it’s women who pay the price. Not only are there the obvious challenges that parenthood brings – such as access to and the cost of childcare, juggling work and children, and establishing new work- life routines – but mums also experience many difficult emotions and negative societal preconceptions too. This can leave mums feeling lost, judged by their peers and unsure of how to navigate life as a working mum.”

From coaching hundreds of parents, WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby) has identified the ten most valuable questions mums should consider when making the transition from worker to working parent. These important questions are designed to promote reflection on personal and professional identity, values, finances and how families might balance the demands of work and home life.

Sachdev encourages mums to answer the questions before going on maternity leave, and then again around six months after their baby’s arrival. 

“Take the time to reflect and honestly answer these 10 questions before the baby arrives. Not only will it help you to make more informed decisions about the practical aspects of balancing family life and a career – if you wish to continue working – it will also act as an important reminder of the identity you had before becoming a mother, which can be particularly helpful if you feel like you’re losing your sense of self,” says Sachdev.

1/ What drives me personally?

2/ What does my career mean to me?

3/ Is work a big part of who I am, and do I want it to continue this way? 

4/ Thinking about getting ready to leave the workplace for maternity leave, what does a ‘good ending’ look like to me? 

5/ What connection (if any) do I want to maintain with work whilst on maternity leave, and does my manager know this? 

6/ What support is available to me as a working parent – financial and caring? How do I access this support?

7/ What are the financial implications of parenthood for my family as a unit? How do we want to balance the short- medium- and long-term impact?

8/ Who will be the primary carer for my child/ children and what will the balance of caregiving be? How will I share parenting and home responsibilities, who with, and what conversations do I need to have to make this happen?

9/ How would I feel about missing work on account of taking time off to look after my child? And vice versa?

10/ What type of role model do I want to be for my child?

Sachdev said: “I’ve coached many women for who the reality of life as a working parent is often very different to the idyllic vision society sells us. Becoming a mother often strips women of their identity. It’s really important to know you can be a good mum, and a human with your own needs, goals and aspirations. 

“There is still a huge stigma around taking time away from work, especially to care for children. We’re here to tell you this is a completely ill-founded belief – maternity leave can give you a deeper and richer understanding of who you are and what you want from life, and shouldn’t have to negatively impact your career long term.”

*WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby),

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