Before going on parental leave, we don’t often think through some of the different scenarios that could play out when we return. Lucy* ended up dealing with a difficult situation where she couldn’t return to her old role and ended up reporting to her maternity leave replacement. Here is Lucy’s story on what it was like and how her career goals have changed since she has become a mum.
I’ve worked in Human Resources all my life and really like what I do. I had been in leadership and management roles since 2009/2010 and enjoyed leading teams. My role changed 18 months before commencing parental leave with my first child, due to a company merger. I had 12 months off and on my return, I wanted part-time work, but was told my role was required on a full-time basis.
Instead they offered me a new role, which was the level below my old one, but was part-time. What made the situation even harder though was that the person who replaced me was hired on a permanent basis. In some ways, I felt like they had been banking on me not returning to my full-time role, before they even knew my intentions. It made me feel that they clearly wanted this new person in the role, hence why they hired her permanently and not on a fixed term maternity leave replacement contract.
Because of this and also because I felt fighting for my old position as a part-time role would be an uphill battle, I decided not to challenge my employer. I’d be under additional scrutiny to make it work, adding extra stress to managing work with a young child at home. I accepted the lower position (thankfully on the same salary) so I could balance my work and family.
So, I now found myself reporting to the person who replaced me on parental leave and my previous direct reports were now my peers. That was really tough.
Initially, I was concerned about how people would view me not going back into my manager role. What would this say about my ability to perform? Would it look like I had been demoted? Would people assume I didn’t care about my job anymore? I didn’t know my manager as she was hired after I commenced parental leave so I was anxious about how she would treat me. I didn’t even know if they had told her that she was in my old role? I was also concerned about my ability to be able to step back from managing the team, after doing it for over seven years.
In the end, the worry was all in my head. The business didn’t seem to treat me any differently and seemed grateful for the chance to work with me in a more available role. I was glad to be back in the workforce with a purpose and found I was really focused on getting the work done in limited days.
It’s hard when you have to take a backwards step in order to return to work. Sometimes I felt like I was grieving my career and became resentful towards my workplace and my baby (for a short time). I also felt trapped in that I thought I didn’t have any recourse. Full-time work wasn’t an option, so if I didn’t accept the lower role I would have been forced to look externally.
I also knew I wanted to have another baby so felt guilty about starting a new role and having to take parental leave so soon. Plus, my workplace had a 12-month clawback, which essentially means there is a financial implication for me if I left because I would have had to repay the company paid parental leave. This was not something I wanted to do.
My advice to anyone in the same situation is that who you were and what was important to you before you had a family is likely to have now changed. So, what you want out of your work may have changed also and that’s okay. Decide what are your non-negotiables. For me, it was not working full-time. Decide what you will need to do to make your solution work so that you can be in a positive state of mind before you return. I decided I was just going to do my job and not take the burden of work home to my family. This gave me a chance to look at the positives of my new situation rather than focus on what I was missing out on.
A senior woman once said to me, “It is possible for women to have it all, but not all of the time,” so while we have to make sacrifices along the way to have both a career and family, this is because we are prioritising different things. I’m in a good place now and excited about what the next chapter of my career will look like. One thing is for sure, I am clear about what I want and what the role needs to look like, in order to make it work for me and my family.
*Due to sensitivity of this article, the writer has requested to remain confidential. Lucy is not writer’s real name.