For ages now, in the Western world, the words unnatural mother have referred to any woman who has chosen to follow a career as well as have children. As if it’s just not natural to have desires beyond caring for her children, as if her children were not fulfillment enough. We rarely hear a man called an unnatural father in the same context unless, of course, he’s an extraterrestrial in a science-fiction movie and unfamiliar with the earthly working world. But then we admire him, laugh and cheer him on, not condemn him. Although things have improved for the 21st-century working mother, she is still expected to be the primary care-taker of the children.

These days, working women who chose to have children are confronted with pressure on all sides. To begin with, she is adapting to her new role as mother which incredibly beautiful and incredibly demanding. She wants to do everything just right, to be a perfect mother.

But when is the right time to return to work? Do I want to go back to work at all? Full time? Part time? These are the questions nagging at a young mother and it seems everyone around her has contradicting needs and expectations. Her top priority is her child, of course, she doesn’t want to place it in daycare too soon. Then there are family and friends who simply cannot understand a young mother’s wish to return to her profession at a relatively early date. On the other side, employers often exercise pressure, intimating the position a woman has worked so hard to attain may not withstand one or two years’ absence. She feels forced to make a decision. She also wonders if she can pick up where she left off before she had her baby, or if her field of expertise has forged ahead without her, if new developments will make her re-entry more complicated than she had first imagined? Besides, A new mother with her first child is not necessarily willing or able to work fulltime, which could easily be another stumbling block in her career.

It doesn’t take much fantasy to imagine the precarious balancing act  working mothers perform. The have to find a solution to an impossible puzzle. They are expected to be caring mothers, doing the best for their children, while at the same time, if they want to advance their careers, work just as hard and well as if they were childless. When, heaven forbid they chose not to go back to work, they are criticized for both their lack of ambition and their willingness to let their partners hold up the financial end. Apparently, they can’t please anyone.

If you take a look at the statistics, half of all German mothers chose not to take on the double burden of family and job in order to dedicate themselves to family work. We intentionally call this work as being a mother is a highly demanding job! It should be common knowledge by now that home and childcare are work and not kerfuffle, as the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder once disparagingly put it. Still, only five percent of mothers who stay at home are content with the situation.  These women are also known as opting-out mothers, well-educated women who drop their career to be fulltime mothers when their first child is born.  But this single-income model is the privilege of high earners. Most families rely on both incomes, so for them, the in-compatibility of paid and care work is a seemingly unsolvable dilemma.

Besides, the small percentage of women satisfied with their home and childcare role leads us to assume that many mothers would be happy to work, but there are a variety of factors that make it impossible. One of these is the lack of public childcare facilities, with Germany lagging far behind most European countries. […]

It becomes evident that if German businesses hope to avoid a brain drain of their well-educated working mothers, they are going to have to fill the gaps left by the state’s failure to provide sufficient childcare. With the prevalent shortage of skilled workers, who can afford to frivolously turn away fifty percent of their most competent employees? But although it plays a role, we believe self-interest should not be the primary motivation. That companies support a mother’s career advancement should be a matter of course, a given. […] It is like any transitional process in which structures, processes and systems are continually adapted to outer influences that affect us. So clearly, when the outer influence is an employee becoming a mother, not only does the mother have to adapt, so does her workplace.

As in all transitional processes, you need the proper attitude. And a bit of empathy never hurts! After all, sometimes it takes just a small effort to reduce the stress level in mothers with young children and facilitate her reentry following her parental leave.

Stress is plays an important role in this context when you consider that  the stress level in working mothers with one child is 18 percent higher than in their childless female colleagues. […] And the stress level  rises to 40 percent when she has two children, according to a study carried out by the University of Manchester and the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex. The study also revealed that neither home office nor flextime relieved the stress level. The double burden remains, since in addition to her hours at the office or at home, a mother always has a second fulltime job – her child or children. The only employment model the study found that effectively reduces the stress level in working mothers with small children is part-time work.


An excerpt from the book “Leadership is More – 27 Questions We Too Can Answer” written by Gianni, Jan & Marcello Liscia, 2022