Going back to work with a baby brings with it a number of challenges. What is it like when you start a new job straight away, in which you really want to go full throttle? We spoke to Carolin, the new Customer Experience Manager at ooia, about the change in identity to a working mother. We share their insights, advice and inspirational observations around the realization that parenthood shouldn't be an exclusion criterion, but can make employees even more valuable to a company.
Hello dear Carolin, thank you for talking to us today! You became a mother 20 months ago and your little daughter is now almost 2 years old. When did you decide it was time to go back to work?
That was a process. Three months after giving birth I thought I would never be able to work again. That was a very intensive time, in which every thought was for my daughter and she determined our everyday life. Only 7 months after the birth did I have the capacity to think about other things and to think about my professional future. Basically, I always knew that I wanted to get back into the working world at a very early age because I really enjoy working. I have also had the privilege of being able to decide for myself when is the right time to go back to work without having to worry about money. So, 9 months after Elodie was born, I got back into the professional world.
You didn't just start back in a job 9 months after the birth, but in a new position at a completely new company?
Yes, that was really a nice coincidence. I was walking with my neighbor at the time when she asked me if I would go back to my old job position as Senior Operations Manager. I was certain that I would go back to my previous job unless a position at ooia, the period underwear start-up, became available. And as luck would have it, just this month, Ooia was looking for a Senior Customer Experience Manager.
Why did you want to work at ooia?
I've been following ooia on Instagram for a long time. There, the two founders, Kati and Kristine, talk very openly about their working philosophy. They promise a high degree of flexibility and, above all, trust in their employees. That was very important to me because I was still very much tied to my daughter's rhythm, especially when I was starting out at ooia. But most importantly, knowing that both Kristine and Kati know from personal experience what it means to be a working mother gave me the confidence to apply for this position. You know there are times when you have to hold virtual work meetings with a child on your lap, and especially for the first few months, you have to be home by 3 p.m. to breastfeed my daughter on time. This understanding was shown to me from the start. My wish to start the job as a part-time employee for the first 3 months could also be implemented without any problems.
What ideas/fears did you have in relation to what would await you in the world of work with a child?
It bothered me a lot that Elodie didn't accept the bottle as I had been exclusively breastfeeding her until then. My thoughts often revolve around the question of whether I am a good mother, even though I work instead of being available all the time. I wondered if I was being selfish for putting wanting to work before caring for my child.
Over time I learned that of course Elodie is fine when I'm not at home and that she enjoys spending time alone with her dad or grandma. That she learns from an early age to be independent. And I can be a better mother because working makes me happy. Of course, this often means that now that I'm working full-time, I sometimes work in the evenings to spend more time with her during the day.
How does ooia see the compatibility of family life and work and does it stand behind its own employees in this regard?
Right from the start I was able to put all my cards on the table. I was able to speak very openly with Kristine about the general conditions of our cooperation as well as my and her priorities. She knew right from the start how old my daughter was and that when I started work I was still breastfeeding quite extensively. Above all, because Kristine is a mother of 2 children herself, she automatically has more understanding for the unexpected surprises of the first daycare winter and the often too short nights as a mother.
My husband and I sat down and calculated how many hours I could work at ooia in the beginning and when I could start the job full-time. I was lucky that my husband Tobi was able to take care of our daughter from the start. He took 7 weeks vacation after the birth and then 2 months parental leave when I started the job at ooia.
How was the transition to working as a mother? What helps you to master both in your day-to-day work?
Tobi and I get together once a week and organize the week. We discuss important appointments, when who has to go to the office and whether grandma will look after Elodie when we don't have time. This planning was an important support, especially during the Corona period, when you never knew what the next day would bring. We learned over time that it helps us to create different scenarios of how a day might go, in order to be able to react quickly to the changing events and thus avoid stress. So there was a scenario for when Elodie goes to kindergarten and when Elodie cannot go to kindergarten due to a Corona case.
We get a lot of support from our family and also have a babysitter who comes once a week. Sometimes a mum friend of mine even comes over with her children and plays with the children while I have a meeting - this support is worth its weight in gold and without it many things would not be possible!
That's why it was important to us to get Elodie used to people other than us early on. Luckily that worked out very well as our families are very involved in Elodie's upbringing. In addition, there are many small things that make our everyday life so much easier. We have our groceries delivered instead of going shopping. I exercise from home instead of going to a gym. I try to avoid unnecessary stress because I don't always have a lot of time to myself.
How do you rate work in general now that you have a child, how has your way of working changed?
I've definitely become more resistant to stress (laughs). I'm much more relaxed about some things that I would have given much more thought to before. I'm fine when my family is fine at home. Then a lot has already been accomplished.
What was the last time you were disappointed in yourself?
Not disappointed, but I had a lot of moments during the daycare closures due to the Corona Pandemic that I struggled with. I've always felt the need to take care of my child, to keep them occupied while I work. Then the feeling of helplessness comes over very quickly, since one cannot give one's full attention to either the work or the upbringing of the child. This "mom guilt" came up for me the last time I gave Elodie one of her favorite things to play with, knowing that she would play for a long time just before I logged into an important meeting. I would like to let Elodie decide for herself what to play with and when.
Sometimes I think too much and question the decisions I have made. In such situations, thinking about what I would say to a good friend helps me to question my own standards and reassess the situation.
What would you like for additional support?
In my opinion, the daycare centers were very much on their own, especially during the Corona period. You or your parents were left with important decisions that should actually be made by the health authorities. It was up to the parents to decide whether to take their child to the day-care center with the request to leave them at home if possible, as there was a shortage of educators. I've wrestled with myself a number of times about getting my daughter into daycare, even though I'm privileged to work from home and don't need to put my child in daycare because of my job. It would have made a lot easier if politicians had created a clear line under which conditions you can bring your child back to kindergarten and if there had generally been more emphasis on supporting daycare centers and parents
How do you manage to create new boundaries for your work-life balance?
By setting them and then keeping them. For example, it's very important to me to have my evening ritual with Elodie because that's the time I can focus on her completely. During this time I am not available for my team. On many days I switch my screen to black and white from 9 p.m. to make unconsciously reaching for my cell phone less attractive. So I try to separate professional life from private life. It doesn't always work, of course, but mostly quite well!
Do you have any advice for moms or parents on how to develop their self-care skills, including when returning to work?
For us it was very important to be a couple. My partner and I have each other's backs. Where it is possible to take the liberty and simply do nothing for 20 minutes. This is a privilege that unfortunately not every family has. It also helped me a lot to know that the decision to work less again if it doesn't work out is in my hands and that my family would support me in any decisions. I go for a walk every day, either with Elodie or alone. It helps me to clear my head and recharge my batteries. When my head is buzzing from all the online meetings, I meditate for 10 minutes. Even though yoga has fallen short since Elodie was born, I try to fit it into my week from home using apps.
Thank you Carolin for sharing a little about your life as a working mother! I wish you and your family all the best!