parent opinion

"I've worked with a lot of mums. Today, I feel regret and shame for how I treated them."

Before I had children, I thought I understood the whole parenting thing.

First, you give birth. Then you never sleep again. You get sick of your mothers’ group (and your children) so you decide to go back to work. Finally, you show your colleagues lots of baby photos and avoid going out for post-work drinks because you’re no longer fun.

Then I had children.

We ask perfectly imperfect mums on the emotional struggles that come with parenting. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

I realised within minutes of becoming a father, that on top of everything listed above (because let’s be honest, those things are 100 per cent true),  working mums were going through so much more than I ever realised – mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I instantly felt sick. I had flashbacks to late-night texts where I expected a speedy reply. Meetings where I called out employees for spacing out. Reviews where I questioned their dedication.

At the time, it all felt so justified. It was my job as a manager and passionate colleague to push my team to achieve excellence. It was my responsibility to treat each employee – parent or not – as equals.

But on the other hand, no. Raising humans is really really difficult. Add work to the mix and it’s, well, virtually impossible.

When I transitioned back to work myself, I couldn’t shake the shame I felt for my unintentionally insulting actions. If I was struggling with the change in schedule, identify shift, and new responsibilities before and after work, then working mums must be drowning.

I couldn’t relate to what it was like to push through a client meeting with the pressure to pump, or the constant ticking over of thoughts in my head relating to my baby.

Some mums struggle with postpartum depression or depletion after the birth of their child. In fact, one in seven Aussie women are affected. This means that on top of dealing with competitive colleagues and combative clients, many working mums are fighting back sadness and anxiety. Feelings of inadequacy. Failure. Emptiness.

No one should be expected to sit at their desk and struggle in silence, while the rest of the office moves forward as if nothing is happening.

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Sadly, that’s what I did. I treated these women as equal to my other childless employees. But they weren’t. They aren’t.

Working mums should not be expected to rock back into work full-time and juggle the work-life balance without flexibility, understanding, and sympathy from their managers and colleagues.

I believe we need to implement mandated training that brings everyone up-to-speed on what it’s really like to come back to work after giving birth. And we need to do it now.

So, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I didn’t understand. I’m sorry I wasn’t more flexible. I’m sorry I didn’t think to suggest that you transition back to work more slowly or throw less on your plate. I’m sorry I didn’t respect your time outside of work more. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you how you were coping a few weeks or months or even years later. I’m sorry I didn’t read further into “I’m doing okay” when I now know you needed more compassion from me. I’m sorry I judged you for leaving early, missing group outings, and bailing out on late-night work parties.

I am, without a hint of exaggeration, mortified at how little I knew and how much more I now know I could have done. I can’t take back what I did (or didn’t do), but I can promise that I will never do it again.

Can you relate to Sean’s apology? Tell us in a comment below?

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