Stressed about going back to Work after Raising Children? The Importance of Keeping a Healthy Mind for a Fulfilling Professional and Personal Life

It can be daunting to acknowledge our limitations and worries when we juggle a career with raising children. It can be daunting even when we are stay-at-home mothers who haven’t contemplated a career move as yet. But if we want to move forward and explore the right work-life balance that we’re looking for, the first step lies in understanding our needs, aspirations and dreams. The pressures of raising a family and the changing perception of gender roles can leave us feeling guilty, conflicted and frustrated. The ebb and flow of personal ambition often ends up clashing with our responsibilities as mothers and, as a result, we are often saddled with double guilt. We feel guilty when we are at work because we are afraid of neglecting our children and not being there for them when they need us. On the other hand, we are vulnerable to frustration and resentment because we feel that our talents, qualifications and experience are being wasted as we grapple with sleeping schedules, vaccination appointments and nappy changes.

Women’s lives seem to take a U-turn somewhere along the way after having children. Although parenthood affects fathers too, the extent of the impact is felt much more by women than by men. They feel the stress of having to straddle two worlds and juggle different responsibilities. Looking after young children or babies and completing household chores are no mean tasks; they can be relentless, tiring and may even feel thankless on some days. A typical mother’s mind seems to be split into two halves and they always seem to be at variance with each other.

Having children is one of the most momentous life transitions that women undergo. You evolve as a person and your approach to life, parenting, relationships and career undergoes significant changes. Very often, something of our past persona as a teenager or twenty-something remains but other emotions and thoughts begin to weigh in. The crucial responsibility of raising a human being and becoming a caregiver forces us to examine our goals, lives and dreams. The framework of our lives undergoes a paradigm shift and the process of fitting into the new mental setting takes time and patience.

Stress

Fortunately, the evolution of remote technology, computers, the Internet and Smartphones, etc. has made it easier for mothers to use their skills and develop their career interests. By making commuting and physical presence redundant, mothers are able to eye career progression and earning potential with enthusiasm. It’s definitely doable and you can actually enjoy the best of both worlds without experiencing guilt or resentment.  However, the first step towards achieving harmony and balance in our lives is to develop a healthy mind. Very often, it is not the actual events or challenges, but our reactions to them that create stress and tension. Therefore, exploring the inner recesses of your mind helps you understand yourself and what you want. When we understand our beliefs, fears and motivation, we are able to navigate life transition points successfully.

Being a mother and raising children is a tough call. Many people actually feel that being a stay-at-home mother is more challenging than going out to work. But there are empowering ways to incorporate the use of technology, a healthy mindset and positive habits in ways that help you lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life – a life where you are able to be happier and more content with yourself.

Every one of us is unique and the way we think, plan or react to situations is different. This article contains reasons for stress and strategies to overcome challenges and develop a healthy and positive mindset. You can read through the ideas described here and adopt those that resonate with you.

Mental Stress Issues and Strategies to Overcome them with the Right Mindset

Guilt

Most of us feel guilty about wanting to go back to work when our children are very small. We worry about neglecting them and not being able to attend to their needs. But the truth is that right from a young age, children can be trained in a healthy and positive manner to eat, sleep and play according to a convenient schedule. It may not be possible to always follow the schedule but it will definitely make life easier. We are always wondering if we are doing enough, interacting enough or caring enough about our children, spouses/partners, parents; we feel guilty on several counts. We also experience guilt about missing work and feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied. When these feelings crowd in on our minds, we immediately have a tendency to feel guilty. In fact, it would be fair to say that guilt becomes a constant, unwelcome companion in our waking and sleeping thoughts.

What are the most common things that mothers feel guilty about?

  • Not playing enough with your babies or toddlers: Most mothers feel extremely guilty about not playing enough with their babies or not wanting to play a lot. You may be counting down the minutes until you can do something else or may not be completely present in the playtime activity. While it’s a lovely thing to romp, jump and play with your child, this is an activity that consumes high levels of mental and physical energy. Similarly, not all of us may be particularly adept at crafts or music or dance to keep them occupied. After a sleepless night with a cranky toddler, it can be difficult to play cheerfully when you feel exhausted and irritable.
  • Losing tempers, snapping, losing patience and shouting at times: If it happens too often, it means that you are stressed, exhausted or sleepy or all three.
  • Allowing children to watch too much TV: Again, this may happen on certain days. If you feel too tired to play with them, there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting on the TV for them (and you) to get some breathing space.
  • Enjoying yourself with friends after leaving your children and feeling guilty about your downtime: All of us need a break from the house and its related worries and concerns for some time. We need to feel refreshed after chatting about different topics (something different from nappy changing, baby foods and baby-talk in general).

Mothers usually have a tendency to feel guilty even about not feeling guilty!

Every day, we question our choices and doubt our decisions. Read on for useful tips that help you take the first steps towards developing a healthy mind:

Accept that certain trade-offs are inevitable

Juggling motherhood, a career, work-at-home job or hobby will invariably involve compromises and adjustments. Reminding yourself of why you made those choices will help stave off guilt feelings. If you are obliged to outsource your child’s birthday party, remind yourself of the reasons that make such choices (satisfaction, fulfilment, money) important to you. Choosing to work from home or go out to work may be a better all-around choice for yourself as well as for your family.

Try to eradicate the word ‘should’ from your mental vocabulary

There are very few ‘should’ rules with regard to parenting. Every mother and every child is different and every family is unique in its interaction and requirements. The important thing is that regardless of outward demonstration, your children know that you love them and this is more than enough emotional security for them. Modern parenting involves many clichéd ‘should-do’ tasks. For example, coming to every school game and throwing lavish birthday parties for your child.

While these are personal choices (and nothing wrong with them either), what is important is that you do not have to feel guilty about not being able to keep up with it. Chatting with your children during dinner is as satisfying and meaningful than reading them a bedtime story. If you’re too tired to read to them, accept it and go to sleep instead. You will feel refreshed and rested and you will be much better company for them.

The bar on what is perceived as being a great parent has been steadily moving up and most of us feel inadequate when we unconsciously compare ourselves to these superficial standards.

Many of us mums tend to feel guilty that our friends, neighbours and relatives do a set of typical activities with their children that we do not necessarily want to do. Social media is a culpable platform through which parenting-police keep advocating rules and morals for parenting. We may even feel mentally pressurised to follow popular norms of parenting. While children are central to our lives, they need not be the be-all and end-all of our world; in fact, they will grow up into well-rounded, emotionally secure individuals in the absence of over-attention. You may wish to replace the word ‘should’ with ‘could’ – this allows you to make decisions that work best for you and your family. The first key step towards a healthy outlook is to eliminate self-inflicted guilt.

Accept that there are different ways to parent a child and live your life

Parenting is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept. Each of us has to deal with different circumstances and preferences and each of us has a different personality. Avoid getting negatively impacted by critical and scornful remarks or guilt-mongering. Many mothers who work at offices or from home work doubly hard at raising their children. So we should actively look out for friends who encourage our efforts instead of putting us down. Eventually, it’s not about what others think, it’s about your family and yourself and about what you want for yourself.

Do not allow your children to send you on guilt trips

An important sign of a healthy mind is to disallow your children from sending you on guilt trips. A very important way to do this is by letting them do for themselves what they can do. Research into child psychology indicates that children can be great manipulators, especially if they are aware that you are vulnerable to guilt. Parenting does not involve doing everything for your children. It’s a good idea to explain that you have responsibilities, commitments and interests in addition to them. This will help them understand you as an individual in your own right rather than as a person who exists only to pander to their whims and needs. A healthy mind will help you develop into a loving mother who raised resourceful and resilient children.

Shuffling task lists and never seeming to be able to complete it

It can be exhausting and frustrating to never be able to complete a task list for the day because some unexpected baby or toddler emergency always seems to shift the hierarchies. If some task is left undone, avoid getting frustrated over it. Do not set up unrealistic expectations of how much you can achieve in a day. Keep the list short and when you complete the tasks, you can add some on.

Not all of us can afford to pay for child care and additional support after having children. Sometimes, the pay packet that you earn will be adequate only to pay for regular childcare. Staying at home to raise a child is not an option – it’s the best thing to do under the circumstances.

Baby nap time is seldom the time for our own rest because that is the time you may need to do the dishes and laundry or prepare for dinner. Just when you settle down with a snack for a little me-time, the child wakes up and starts calling for you. To many, the responsibilities that we handle as mothers may seem simple and trivial because we are ‘at home’. Nothing could be further from the truth. While we may smile or joke with others (if you get the time), we know exactly how exhausted and spent we feel. This is why it’s important to nourish our minds and bodies. A healthy mindset helps us cope with challenges and difficulties of parenting in a positive manner. It also helps develop skills that prove useful if you decide to take up a career or work-at-home job in the near future.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Mind

  • Develop self-awareness: Perform an honest self-assessment of your beliefs, fears and goals, both personal and professional. Ask yourself (most of us can be confused about what makes us tick) what you want to achieve in your life. This could include training for a new work-at-home career or pursuing a hobby seriously or going back to work full-time. Examine your motives and expectations in a clear and transparent manner. Once you understand yourself, accept your objectives, attitudes and fears without judgement. Once you become a mother, you may not wish to go back to a high-powered, high-stress job that you were doing before. Reset your expectations with regard to your life and career; this exercise will help you take stock of everything that is important to you.

The more we understand our emotions, moods and thoughts, the better placed we are to respond to situations.

For example, you may not be able to enter the workforce at the same level at which you quit your job. Your job profile may no longer exist and you may have to dust off your CV. But instead of allowing these difficulties to bog you down, choose to enjoy the challenge of overcoming them and examining alternatives.

  • Self-Regulation: This implies that it helps if we think before screaming or shouting. In any situation, our responses (even when they seem erratic and extreme) are ultimately our choices. Practising self-regulation can help us gain control over our impulses and moods.
  • Compassion and empathy: While a crying toddler can leave us feeling exhausted and irritable, there is usually a reason behind the tears and tantrums. Compassion, patience and empathy can help you understand your child and respond to his or her needs better. Remember that our emotions and behavioural responses often determine our child’s behaviour pattern. If we are calm, they will calm down sooner. If we show irritability, they will become more irritable too.
  • Give yourself time and space to develop self-confidence: Most of us sometimes miss the sense of accomplishment that we had when we were working at a job. Raising children can mean having to repeat several jobs, leaving jobs undone and experiencing chaos and disorder on some days. We may have forgotten how to communicate during an interview or with a customer. Give yourself time and space to step into the work zone. Sometimes, if there has been a time gap between quitting work and planning to return to a career, our self-confidence can take a beating and our communication and interaction skills may not be what they used to be. Be easy on yourself when you think of returning to a career.
  • Develop social skills and take interest in other activities outside your home: Even though you are always surrounded by someone or other, you can end up feeling isolated and lonely when you are a stay-at-home parent. If the only ‘trips’ that you make are the ones to the bathroom with crying babies, then it’s time to adopt a fresh approach. Stepping outside the house to participate in other activities helps refresh your mind and expand your mental horizons. It also helps to interact with different people. You could try meeting up with a friend for coffee or pursuing a hobby or volunteering once a week. Your time away from home will help you feel rejuvenated.
  • Give importance to your own needs: Thinking about yourself and respecting your own needs helps you feel more satisfied, calm and fulfilled. Very often, unfilled needs and self-neglect can result in stressful reactions to trivial situations. You are not actually hassled with the situation alone (spilt bowl of cereal or a blocked up toilet), these are actually pent up and unresolved feelings that express themselves.

Volatile and negative emotions will use any situational outlet to release themselves. By looking after your needs, be it social interaction, me-time or gym time, you are actually helping your family because you are better equipped to deal with problems. Hire a babysitter for a couple of hours and plan a cosy dinner with your partner. You could even try going out of town for a night or two after requesting help from your family members.

  • Healthy body, healthy mind: It is a well-known fact that exercise has a positive effect on the mind. Ensure that you take some time out each day for the gym or for fitness. Try going for a brisk walk or jog or attend gym sessions at least three times a week.
30 minutes

Life has become increasingly complex. We want to be good mothers, good at our chosen careers and field of interest and want some space for ourselves too. Families have become smaller and the assistance that used to be provided by extended families is no longer available. Keeping this scenario in mind, it’s very important to reset our expectations of ourselves. It’s simply not humanly possible to be best at everything and maintain internal peace and harmony at the same time. It’s impossible to load the washing machine, play with the children and watch over the stew in the kitchen at the same time while keeping a smile on our faces.

You need to learn to be easier on yourself and accept the fact that some days will be good and some will be not as good. We feel fulfilled and happy when we work towards meeting our own dreams and goals. However much you love your family and children, they cannot live your life for you. One day, your children will grow up and walk away into their own lives (which is only natural). So, the first step towards developing a healthy mind is to eliminate guilt from becoming a nagging companion.

We should never attempt to evaluate or judge ourselves by others’ standards. What’s important is to be connected, happy and loving to each other. The word ‘loving’ means different things to different mothers so go with the definition that suits you the best. Denying your own dreams and sacrificing your ambition is likely to result in frustration and loneliness. Learn to celebrate yourself as a mother, a woman and a human being who deserves love, respect and understanding from your family and children. It wasn’t an easy decision to quit working and have children. It may be easy to change your life around once again. But you are now older, wiser and mentally stronger than you were before.

It’s not necessary to feel depressed if you are unable to reconcile all your tasks, responsibilities and dreams all the time. Each one of us is human so learn to accept yourself as you are and move on. Children who grow up with a mother who respects her own wishes as much theirs become well-balanced and empathetic adults. Children of working mothers learn to become responsible, helpful and mindful of other people. What we really need is to show unconditional love for our children and as well as for ourselves. Developing a healthy mindset is not only the best thing you could do for yourself, but also the best thing that you could do for your children.

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