In 2017, shortly before their sons were born, both Claire and Lucy attended pre-natal classes with their spouses through Bump & Baby Club,
the leading independent provider of antenatal classes in London. Here they developed friendships with other working mothers. As everybody’s babies grew, the late-night whatsapp chats between them changed from conversations about feeding, burping and swaddling towards going back to work. Many of the parents shared the same conundrums:
- Did they want to work flexibly or go back full time?
- Could they transition slowly?
- Would they be discriminated against or be pushed out for being parents, perhaps not able to offer the same unilateral focus to their work as they had previously?
- And what about the exhaustion, the logistics and the guilt?
Not a single person felt entirely confident about this next step. Some felt unsupported by their employers. Some were really excited about going back but were worried about the endless logistics.
It didn’t take long for Claire to realise she wanted to use her coaching and culture background to support these women, and the organisations they work for. She wanted the programme to help shift the culture more widely, to lead to higher quality conversations between employee and employer, conversations about how things could be better in the workplace (and at home) for both parties. Looking to partner with other coaches and trusted friends, people with complimentary skills and a different slant on things, she founded The Juggling Act with Lucy Fry and Chris White in May 2018.
Juggling Act Research
So, they knew work re-entry was proving challenging for them, their friends and their family members with children, but they wanted to know more. What were women really facing? What were their greatest challenges? To gain further insight and ensure The Juggling Act was targeting the real issues for women returning to work they ran a survey and received over 100 responses from all over the English-speaking world. Peoples’ challenges varied to some degree, but the key themes included:
It was a struggle to to find a new routine. The heartache of leaving my child when they are poorly, irritable, tired, all of the above. I feel bad leaving work late as I feel I need to rush home and collect my kid.
I want to be good at my job and good as a parent but I don’t have the time for both. I have to do a lot of work outside of work and I can’t. I don’t want to start working again at 9pm after I’ve eaten dinner because my child wouldn’t go to bed at 7pm.Survey respondent
- Feelings of guilt: about leaving kids, about working too much, about not working enough. There was guilt about enjoying work and guilt about not enjoying it.
- Knocked confidence, low confidence, no confidence
- Endless context-switching: from sometimes joyful, sometimes mind-numbing parenting to running meetings, writing papers, making presentations.
Guilt over leaving my baby is always in the back of my mind. I love my career but as there have been so many issues returning to work I feel it even more I think. I also think it’s getting in to a new routine – I really miss maternity leave… I had a strong group of mummy friends that I saw four times a week.
It’s weird not having that support network there in the same way. Regarding work specifically, I find the lack of hand over and communication about expectations really frustrating.
- Fatigue! The tiredness, so much tiredness.
- Many cases of women juggling everything at home and pursuing a career with not enough support from their partner, and those single mothers with no partner to support at all.
- Bungled returns to work, with little to no prep or consideration from employers – and those who had not prepared or considered their own return to their organisation.
- Not enough time to think or consider what they would need for themselves to make a success of their return to work
- Struggles with boundaries, especially saying no.
I asked for part time hours, which I got, but my role never actually changed, so I ended up doing a full time job with part time hours/salary.
The Juggling Act is a coaching and consultancy service that facilitates better communication and collaboration between employers and parents returning to work. It is a programme of coaching and workshops that provides the time and space, challenge and support to work through what matters most to women returning to work, amidst the circus that is their lives.