The M Word: Confidence
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
I’ve been thinking a lot of late (I say “a lot”, but it’s mainly just within that spare five minutes I have at 4am) about women and confidence. We have plenty of ads telling us how worth it we are, but that doesn’t always translate into everyday life. Many times in my professional life, my lack of confidence has meant I sat by whilst others took credit for my work or ideas, didn’t speak up, or let myself be walked over. And judging by statistics, I’m not alone. But women in the workplace, the pay gap and gender imbalance is for another day, because the whole train of thought got me thinking about motherhood and confidence, which is another ball game altogether. Motherhood is a time in a woman’s life where she deserves to feel confident; finally, this is 100% our domain and no one can undermine or take that away from us. Ha! If only! If I’ve learned nothing else from this parenting lark, it’s that having a family can be as competitive and undermining as the work place – if you let it. But there are other areas in which our self-esteem can plummet.
When you have children, you develop a new kind of confidence (along with all the other essential keeping-kids-alive skills) - admittedly not overnight. With the arrival of a first baby comes a unique terror that is unrivalled elsewhere in life. But the confidence that comes with slowly finding your stride in motherhood is a lovely thing, but it can come with an unwitting trade-off of losing confidence elsewhere. It might be socially or professionally, and of course it won’t happen to every mum but it can be insidious and damaging if it’s not acknowledged.
It hit me last year when I was talking to a friend about wanting to get back to work. She was a toweringly confident PR director, loved her job, but has now been a stay at home mum for four years with her three children. She told me how she’d love to get back to work, or set up something that suited her chaotic home life, but she then dismissed herself by adding a “but I think I must be too lazy”. I was horrified. She’s one of the least lazy people I know, but it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve heard many women dismiss themselves this way. They think they should be able to do it all – have their kids, run a home, take on the mental load (which refers to the never-ending domestic job of having to be permanently one step ahead of your family’s needs) and still find time to either get back to work or create a new career around their family life.
Sometimes, for many reasons, it’s just not feasible; or a woman would genuinely – shock! horror! – rather stay at home with her kids, but if and when it is, many women find they’ve lost their mojo and are terrified they won’t fit in a workplace the way they used to, or are afraid of trying something new and failing. Even going out to a partner’s work dinner or an event with old colleagues can make you feel like you don’t belong there anymore.
We have to remind ourselves – and each other - that we have effectively retrained in a much more significant role, and in record time. Hell, once you have kids, you become a semi-qualified GP, a chef, a chauffeur, a school tutor, a make-and-do expert, a counsellor, and at least one little person’s favourite human on the planet. That’s no mean feat. And trust me – not going back to work or becoming some kind of trail-blazing entrepreneur does not make you lazy or unambitious. We’ve all been doing something far more important and need to give ourselves the credit we’re due.