Sunday 21 July 2019

Ask Allison: 'I'm giving up my career to spend more time with my young family, but I'm worried about losing my identity'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

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Allison Keating

Q I am about to finish a career that has meant a lot to me. I have made the decision for a number of reasons, the main being to spend more time with my young family. However, I am worried about the effect it will have on my mental health. I tend to get anxious when I don't have too much to do and I am also worried about losing my identity and power. Can you give me some advice on how to handle the transition?

Allison: I'd love to know more about your reasons for making this decision. You've mentioned that you want to spend more time with your young family and this is wonderful as long as it feels good for you.

Maternal mental health comes down to one key thing: what works for you. There is no 'one size fits all' but social pressure can make it feel so.

All-or-nothing thinking is rarely helpful and this is certainly true when 'mother' judgments influence how people feel about their personal life and family choices. As you or others place you in the 'mother category', labelled full-time or part-time, here's a little home truth: when you are a mum, it is full-time.

How you work the time out depends on so many factors that may not always be ideal or how you'd like them to be. The mother struggle is hard enough without your own judgement or that of others.

If we explore your core roles, it might help identify any transitioning worries you are experiencing.

Let's start with a few questions about your work identity:

1. How would you describe your work identity?

2. Who were you at work?

3. What did that mean to you?

4. What strengths did your role allow you to pursue within your career?

5. How do you feel your colleagues saw you?

6. Did this make you feel proud, accomplished and/or empowered?

7. What did you feel valued for, at work?

8. Did your work give you a sense of meaning and purpose?

As you answer these questions, note the emotions that come to the fore.

Are any of these skills transferable to the home? People management and negotiating skills may come in handy as you swap office politics for family dynamics.

Now answer the questions above from your mum identity.

As you identify any gaps, are there ways to bridge the difference?

Revisiting the idea of black and white thinking, is there any way to accommodate working and being a mum? There may be many skills that you can't transition to the home; do you have to stop completely? It's merely a question as I don't know the specifics of your life.

I love the concept of #flexappeal from @Mother_pukka, which looks at real ways to achieve the holy grail of the work-life balance. As a life-work balance fan, this is the only reason I'm throwing this question at you.

Why does it have to be all or nothing? Psychological flexibility and allowing yourself to figure out creatively what works best for you and your family is a really worthwhile endeavour.

Your apprehension about it affecting your mental health underpins everything. You know you, first and foremost, so tune into your concerns and list them out.

I'm not advocating busying yourself as the antidote but what I am hearing is a fear about your value if your sole role is being at home full-time.

Perhaps motherhood is an inside job and this is why it can be a very hard transition to make, when effort was previously seen and rewarded.

For all the many wonderful parts of being at home full-time this is a loophole where you can get lost into the invisibility of the work, which can be unseen and unappreciated.

'Home' work demands a lot, it also gives a lot, but it can be thankless. Many mothers do feel they lose their identity and confidence when they are always tending to and thinking of others first.

So the question is, what brings you value? Leave judgement aside as you ponder that important question. Finding what brings you meaning and purpose is the answer that you seek.

Answer that, and you can cultivate a life that flourishes, grows, adapts and allows room to grow and change again. Change is a constant and it's good to change constantly.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

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