Hi. I’m Amanda. I’m mumma to 2-year old Joshua (we call him Joshie), wife to Gareth and cat mumma to Poppy. We live in Papakura, New Zealand. It’s almost as far South in Auckland as you can get and still call it Auckland. We’re surrounded by native bush, kereru (wood pigeons) and tuis.
I’m writing this to share my biggest challenge in becoming a mother. How my sense of self was changed, and how returning to work challenged me to assess what was really important to me. Maybe it’ll inspire you to think about your own situation?
Pre baby, my life revolved around my work. Achieving things at work; being financially independent; basking in the accolades of a job well done. I was proud of my professional capability. I thought that, when the baby came, I’d take some ‘time-out’ from work. Perhaps make some new mum friends and go on coffee dates. But I’d return to work eventually. The baby would go to day-care. I’d pick up where I left off. Easy as. I rather naively thought that my life would continue as normal, but with a little person in tow. Mums reading this are having a knowing chuckle right now.
I was incredibly underprepared for the social isolation and sleep deprivation that came from new motherhood. For the crying that would constrict my heart. The depth of frustration from not being in control, and entrapment from being unable to escape it. For the raw protectiveness. The feeling that a part of me was walking around outside of my body. The immense pride in what I had created. Watching him grow and marvelling. Holding him close and breathing him in. I simultaneously felt the terror and the love. I walked the paths of it being the hardest thing I’d ever done, and the best.
But who was I now? My identity had changed. Everything I was before became secondary. My world no longer revolved around me and my work, but around this little person. While I was on maternity leave this was a challenging question to grapple with. But it became more pronounced when I returned to work.
I went back to work when Joshie was a year old. There was nothing obviously wrong with how I was treated. I had part-time hours and flexibility when he was sick. But I experienced things, considered ‘normal’ parts of work and being a working parent, that didn’t feel right. I was struggling with how my priorities had changed. I was trying to perform, to meet expectations and prove that I was just as good as my colleagues, as I was pre-baby, amongst sleep deprivation and the revolving door of daycare illnesses. I was attempting to balance what needed to be done at work, as well as spending time with my family, quality time with my husband and son, running a household, my own wellness, but I was doing them all inadequately. I felt like I was drowning under a perfect storm of unrealistic expectations, unhelpful systems and constant failure.
But one of the most useful things I did, shortly before starting back at work, was meeting regularly with a coach. We worked through how to have difficult conversations about my role at work and family responsibilities; to ask for what I needed and set boundaries. We identified what my strengths were, and worked on leveraging those. And each time we met we got closer to uncovering, and tuning my focus towards, what was really important to me and my family. We focused on steps forward, out of the storm.
The outcome. After 5 months of being back at work and unable to reconcile being the mother I needed to be with the worker I wanted to be I resigned to pursue my PhD and build my own business. I am aware that my ability to do this is privileged. But I want to help others where I can.
My experience became my inspiration for my PhD topic; Motherhood and Leadership. My research focus is evolving, but I’m traversing the raw, visceral, unpredictable and very human worlds of motherhood, contrasted with the imagery of ideal workers as all-in / all-committed to work and leadership as a charismatic, predictable, controlled man.
And I’m drawing on my 15+ years experience coaching managers and leaders towards high performance, to offer the same sort of coaching that I found so powerful on my own journey to other mothers navigating this world of work and life.
Post originally published July 2019 on CareerMum https://www.careermum.co.nz/amanda-sterling-biggest-challenge-in-becoming-a-mother/