Updated: Jul 14
Confidence is the most consistent theme in my coaching work and for mums returning to work, it strikes a particularly resonant chord. It seems that for so many of us, our confidence takes a holiday while we’re on maternity leave, leaving us feeling anxious and even a shadow of our former self. This is an ideal time for a little personal development around confidence, to overcome this huge hurdle with more ease.
And these feelings come into the spotlight particularly as we think about going back to work. As Annabel shared with me:
I felt anxious to go back as I’d lost my confidence. I also had a feeling it would take me a while to get back up to speed and I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with work demands alongside the extra responsibilities I now had at home
During the transition back to work after maternity leave, we seem to scrutinise ourselves with far greater intensity than ever before. And perhaps it’s no surprise; it’s a time of emerging conflict between our new role as parent and our work routines of the past; the push and pull of desire and priority, the juggle of two highly significant pillars in our lives. Vicki describes her experience:
I felt nervous returning to work – mainly a loss of confidence – but I was also excited to be getting some of my identity back and to be having adult conversations that weren’t about babies!
As women and mothers, we are under constant scrutiny and I’ve found it can be hard to stay true to myself, all too easily my confidence can be knocked. It takes energy and effort and can feel overwhelming. Yet, for our own happiness and wellbeing it’s one of the most important things to do. So here are some lovely ways to untangle the complexity of this time, boost your confidence and help you feel great about being a mum who has a thriving career. Here are three of my favourites!
1. Get clear on what’s important to you
I’ve found that when you’re clear about your values and you lead your life by them, magic happens. When you know what’s important to you, you’ll feel more in control, less judged and most definitely happier. Making personal, values-based decisions feels empowering and it’ll give you greater confidence to choose the right path for you, helping you to achieve even more.
If you’ve not worked with values before, here’s a short exercise to get you started.
First ask yourself these questions:
What makes you really happy?
When did you feel fully alive?
What gives you energy?
What inspires anger in you?
Write down your answers (or perhaps record yourself speaking) and when you read it or listen back, notice if there are patterns or themes. Circle words that trigger a feeling in you and then ask yourself:
What is emerging about what’s important in my life?
Choose 4 or 5 words that resonate with you most. Go deeper, by defining what these really mean to you. Mine are freedom, family, connection and vitality. What are yours?
With your values defined, begin to notice how they are showing up in your daily life. Notice what choices you’re making and whether they align with your values and when you’re not, perhaps give it a go – make a different choice and see how it makes you feel.
2. Tell yourself how brilliant you are, daily
Before you became a mum, you were probably a highly successful professional.
And you are still a highly successful professional. And you’re also the best mum.
Read that last sentence again and absorb it. In the sleep-deprived haze of early motherhood, it can be all too easy to forget and yet when many mums return to work, we realise we really are still good at our jobs. Natalie shared:
I remember feeling the relief that I was still good at my job and it was nice reconnecting with colleagues and clients again.
And so I invite you now to take a moment to remember how awesome you are.
Think back through your life and recognise your skills and strengths. And then perhaps ask your partner or a friend, a colleague what they think. Then pull it all together to create a list of your very own, unique set of superpowers.
And then add the following, because these are true for every mother: brave, resilient, highly adaptable, a master negotiator.
Put this list somewhere you can see it every day to help you build your muscle memory of the value you bring to your family and your work.
3. Create your own positive internal narrative
When I fell pregnant, I was quickly overwhelmed by the volume of advice that flooded in. It came from every angle; the well-meaning relatives to the total random strangers. And the algorithms of technology bombarded my feeds with the high expectations of a mother. All this layering on top of my own ideas about the perfect mother I was going to be.
And then as you begin to think about work again, you may receive messages, stereotypes or beliefs from others that women become less career-focused and less ambitious after children; that flexible working doesn’t work or isn’t an option. Or that, by the way, who are you to think you can have it all? The overt and subliminal messages seep in from all around and slowly chip away at our confidence.
And so, it’s time to take control of the narrative; to stop and notice what you’re absorbing and to decide what you believe is true and create the right narrative for you. You can ask yourself:
What stories am I telling myself about being a working mum?
What unhelpful limits am I putting on myself?
What is true here?
What would I like to say to myself instead?
Once you know what you believe and what you want, you can begin to create that world. I love to use power statements, or affirmations, to help me with this. And so I offer these to you, or you can create your own:
I am enough as I am
I have a voice that is worth being heard
I give myself permission to go after what I want
Finally, remember that confidence is an ability that can be acquired and improved over time. It’s malleable, never fixed. If you’re feeling like your confidence is lower than you’d like, be confident, at least, that it will come back again.
About the author
Alice Darbyshire is on a mission to enable more women to enjoy a thriving career alongside motherhood; a mission born from her experiences working in HR and seeing too many amazingly talented friends and colleagues feel compromised because they couldn't see or negotiate another way. She's brought together her expertise as a senior HR leader, NLP coach and mum of two to create ways to support both women and businesses. For mums, she offers 121 coaching and runs an online coaching programme - Return to work with confidence and in businesses, she's involved with range of things from creating family friendly cultures to teaching managers how to manage maternity transitions. She's also a volunteer on the Pregnant Then Screwed helpline, supporting women who are faced with pregnancy or maternity discrimination.
If you like these tools, you may enjoy doing more work with Alice. She is offering £50 off her Return to work with confidence course – an online programme for mums on maternity or adoption leave who are beginning to think about their return to work - for all subscribers of The Nourish App. Here’s what others have said about it:
I didn’t realise how much I needed this course until I did it. It really helped me to adjust my mindset from mum to working professional and it took so much of the anxiety and stress out of my return to work – Arzu
This course was a fantastic gift to myself! I really enjoyed carving out time to think about my strengths and what success means to me. It’s made me feel a lot more positive – dare I say excited – about returning to work - Andrea