According to a recent study almost 80 percent of parents feel unhappiness after the birth of their first child. This is a staggering number of parents who were once excited, only to realize that after nine months of waiting and effort their bundle of joy wasn't all the stork promised it would be.
The study shares some of the variables that may contribute to the sudden dip in happiness levels. It was stated that both mothers and fathers over 30 years old and those who have been educated for more than twelve years were especially influenced by their state of well being and that gender, was not an indicator.
Although the details of what makes new parents unhappy were not analysed, the Director of the study Myrskylä notes that new parents tend to "...complain about a lack of sleep, relationship stress and a feeling of loss of freedom and control over their lives..."
Myrskylä also notes, "Difficulties when trying to reconcile family life and work also play a role."
This is a noteworthy statement.
Although organizations may not be able to reconcile family life for a new parent, they may be able to facilitate an improved work-life experience.
During my first few months as a new parent I remember experiencing strong feelings of isolation. I'd also just abruptly left my job and my workplace where I had a good sense of my capacity. In my previous role, I received regular feedback and support. In my new role as a parent I felt constantly unsure and most of the feedback I received came with anxious crying that would exponentially increase the more I fumbled my attempts to get it right.
Taking time off to bond with a new baby is critical and I agree that parents should have protected space to connect with their newborns. I am just uncertain that we as corporate leaders get it entirely right.
Let's examine the typical protocol for a maternity leave. The last several months prior to a parental leave is spent prepping someone to take over our job. For many this can feel like someone is taking over our identity. And, our final day consists of packing our stuff into a box and handing in the proverbial key card. For some, this could easily resemble the feeling of being let go.
We can look to many studies that show how work offers us a healthiness we were likely taking for granted. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology looked at more than 1300 mothers across the United States. The study found that working mothers reported fewer symptoms of depression and were more likely to rate their health "excellent" as compared with non-employed mothers.
So the question remains, why do we really have to end our work relationship because of our baby relationship? Isn't their room enough in our hearts for both?
One woman shared her story about leaving her job for the third child and how difficult it was to say goodbye to her team, but even more difficult were the goodbyes she had to make to her patients. As a long-term care nurse she knew that some of those patients might not be there when she returned. She was "heartbroken" to be cut off from the job she loved so much. Just like being at home, her workplace gave her joy and a sense of accomplishment.
The issue seems to link back to the law. Some fear that if we don't make clear; the break between work and home during maternity and parental leave, companies and leaders may take advantage of that grey area. If we allow parents to check in and stay connected to the workplace, does that open the door for unpaid labour? Could it make anyone who wishes to immerse in parenthood fully and completely feel like they couldn't? Would it allow work to creep in to our lives in a negative way?
The answer is: Maybe?
The protections we put in place to ensure the safest workplace is necessary. But, sometimes the black and white, polarized way we look at work and life doesn't allow for the whole person to be present in either place. We are still a parent while we're at work - that doesn't change - so why can't we still connect with our professional self at home?
The truth is, we shouldn't try to separate them. Our brains don't bifurcate between the two spheres very well anyway. All those wires criss-cross constantly and to ask us to shut that down the minute we become a parent for the first time is a near impossible task.
Perhaps we need to analyse why first-time parents are simply not happy. Is it the longing for adult relationships in a typically isolated experience? Is it the desire to feel capable again after questioning whether parenthood will ever be mastered? Is it the stability that comes with a day-to-day routine? Or, do we just need to get used to this new identity for a while and the only way to do that is to immerse ourselves in it?
Work and life is now a space where the lines are becoming increasingly blurred. If the workplace doesn't adjust, we will most certainly see a shift in family planning, less childbirths and more parents struggling to balance both work and life instead of finding flow between the two.
I don't know the answer. Personally, I loved that I had my third child during this time as a startup cofounder.
Was it riskier? Yes.
Was it harder? Yes.
Did I have to go back to work earlier? Yes.
Would I change anything? No.
Why? Because I loved the freedom to choose when I needed to be home and when I needed to be at work. I triaged every moment and it allowed me to be in different intellectual places throughout my day. I always felt stimulated and I was never bored of home or work. I was/am happy.
So, with too many new parents missing out on the joy they should be feeling after the birth of their first child; something needs to change. Why? Because future generations are counting on it.