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Planning for motherhood as a career woman

By Ololade Adesanya, Head of Internal Audit, Sanlam UK

 

I’ve always wanted children, so after getting married it became a priority for my husband and I to start planning for a family.  Like most couples, we started to think about the life adjustments we would need to make, and how having a family might impact our finances. 
 
Irrespective of personal circumstances, most women with an active career are likely to have fears and concerns, which could range from the impact a maternity break could have on career progression, to the fear of not being brave enough, or financially equipped, to return to work.  Therefore, once you decide that you want to be a mother, planning is important to ensure you’re able to make the best decisions for you, so that you don’t find yourself backed into a corner.  It’s important to start that planning well in advance, rather than waiting until you are pregnant. Here are some of the things you may want to consider:

Choosing a supportive employer

Some employers are more generous than others when it comes to supporting working mothers.  Maternity pay differs widely, with some offering additional support to help new mums back to work.  The good news is that employment law now offers maternity for up to a year, and you will receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) as a minimum. But there are employers that go well beyond that. The key things to look out for include:

  • The possibility of working part-time or requesting other flexible arrangements;
  • The maternity pay package;
  • The presence of in-house support initiatives, such as return to work schemes, mentoring schemes, mothers’ network, etc.; 
  • Any initiatives that aim to improve conditions for women. As an example, the Women’s Network at Sanlam is mandated to help shape the employment policy to support women and working mothers.  One of the changes they have been instrumental in implementing is improving maternity and paternity leave benefits;
  • Your partner’s employer’s attitude to paternity leave, and working fathers. Of course – it doesn’t have to all come down to you. Talk to your partner in advance, and agree his role in childcare. The sooner he makes his employer aware of his intentions the better, such as helping with drop-off and/ or pick-up, and taking paternity leave.

If you’re planning to have a family at some point in the future, it’s important to be aware of your employer’s policy, and to feel empowered to move to another employer if your current one doesn’t offer the incentives you need. 

Financial planning

Childcare cost is one of the biggest costs you’ll incur if you decide to go back to work after becoming a parent.  Research shows that Britain has amongst the highest childcare costs in the world, with couples having to spend up to a third of their income on childcare.  This equates to over £15,000 a year per child in London and £11,000 a year outside of London.
 
You don’t want these costs to become a barrier to you returning to work.  Many women find themselves unable to justify the fees, especially if they have more than one child.  While being a full-time mum is very rewarding, it’s not for everyone, and you don’t want to be forced into abandoning your career if you are not mentally prepared to do so.  If you are passionate about your career, I recommend you start putting money aside sooner rather than later.  If both you and your partner can put money aside, all the better. Advance financial planning will not only help you to afford to take time off during your maternity leave (and beyond if you desire), but will also contribute towards childcare costs when you go back to work. 
 
On average, most career women start work around the age of 23, and start having children from 33 years old, which means it’s possible to have accumulated 10 years of savings before you start a family.  It’s worth speaking to a financial planner, such as Sanlam, so that they can help you put the best future-proof plan in place.

Social support

A strong social network can be crucial to get you through the changes that will inevitably occur when you enter motherhood - especially any uncertainties around how your pregnancy and returning to work will affect your career.  Some employers, such as Sanlam, have a Women’s Network. Having a mentor who has gone through the same process, and still managed to progress up the ladder can make a real difference, and certainly helps to boost your confidence and your faith in the process.
 
If your employer doesn’t have one of these, then perhaps you could be the person who initiates change and requests management buy-in to set one up? Alternatively, look for a support group outside of work. There are many community support groups around for working mothers – look in your local library or community centre.  Also, having a network of friends in similar stages of their lives/ career can provide you with a shoulder to lean on as you share your worries and support each other through overcoming them.  This is the principle behind Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” which has proved to be very successful in supporting career women through the challenges of motherhood.

Maintain a healthy working lifestyle

Research shows that the rate of miscarriage for working women is higher than for other women.  Whilst there is no conclusive theory to explain the reasons behind this, it is common knowledge that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can go a long way to ensuring a successful pregnancy and healthy baby.  Medical practitioners have also often reiterated that a healthy life style can reduce the risks of delivery by caesarean section.  It’s very easy to fall into the trap of putting work first and not looking after yourself by exercising regularly, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy posture, despite the need to sit for long periods of time during the day (I am equally guilty).  It can be very difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a busy schedule which is likely to get even busier when children come into the mix.  It’s really important to build health considerations into your career lifestyle, and have a work-life balance.  This might also be a key factor to consider when choosing an employer.

Conclusion

The truth is that it’s difficult to fully plan for the unexpected, particularly because actual experience differs from mother to mother, and you never know how you’ll truly feel until the time comes.  Hopefully this article helps you think about some of the things you should consider and plan for, before taking such a life-changing step. 

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