Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Am I being selfish by wanting to work?

For the last few years, I have been running workshops for women considering returning to work after a lengthy career break. As I listen to the voices around the table I hear the same worries & doubts drowning out the excitement and anticipation. Lack of confidence, guilt and other mental barriers can stop us even exploring ideas and options to see if they are practical. This emotionally-charged word selfish often pops up in the conversation & seems to strike a chord with many of the women in the room.

What makes us talk about going back to work as selfish?  The underlying fear here is that work will negatively impact the family: children, partner and/or elderly parents. It’s unsurprising that this seems to be such a common view. Working women tend to either be portrayed in the media as completely frazzled ‘jugglers’ or as superwomen with an army of helpers.

Most people instinctively believe that happy mothers are better mothers; if a woman isn’t feeling fulfilled at home, being a full-time parent may not be the best thing for her children either. The reassuring news from psychology research is that studies show that work & family don’t have to be in conflict. Satisfying work can have a ‘positive spillover’ effect on family life. This is supported by evidence that work can invigorate us, like healthy exercise. Provided we feel competent and satisfied at work, our positive mood and satisfaction can create a happier home life. Women in a recent study who were more energetic at home said it was because work gave them an energy boost.

I have talked to many women returners over the last few years and I have found that they’re often surprised and relieved by the positive effects of combining work and family.  Janet* a mother of four took on a new role after a seven year break:
“Having a purpose makes me happier, more energetic and more fulfilled. I now enjoy being with my children more and look forward to the holidays with them rather than slightly dreading it.”

Susan* a mother of two returned to her previous employer after a ten year break:
“I thought working was going to run me into the ground but I now have more energy for the family than as a full-time mother.  I feel back to being me. Life is busy but I’d rather be busy than bored.”

So next time you’re worrying about being selfish, try looking at things in a different way. It is possible for work and family to enhance each other: for you to be a happier person and for your family to benefit.

*Names and some details have been altered for confidentiality

Posted by Julianne

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