For one in three mums, guilt is the hardest part about returning to work after maternity leave - and the feeling is made worse by critical employers, colleagues and stay-at-home mothers.
Working mothers often feel judged as not doing the right thing by their child or their employer, a CareforKids.com.au survey found. While 40 per cent of respondents said they didn't think their employer's perception of them had changed since they had had children, one in three said they felt less valued. A quarter felt stigmatised by colleagues for not taking their job seriously enough.
Marian Baird, a University of Sydney professor of employment relations, wasn't surprised by the findings, saying there was a persistent negative vibe against working mothers. Her own research had found two common reactions by mothers returning to work.
"One, extreme gratitude for any flexibility at work and/or support from partners - we call this the 'lucky mother' syndrome," she said. "And two, a deep commitment among working mothers, to both their role as mothers and as workers, so that they do put in extra effort at work to prove themselves."
Robert van Stokrom, who runs DFP Recruitment, said there were still "pockets" of employers who didn't understand their obligations or the worth of looking after women returning from maternity leave.
"Employers with those attitudes ... this [feeling] then pervades through the organisation, so that when a peer comes back, colleagues feel the same way."
Mothers still judge each other for their decisions about returning to work. One in five said they felt criticised by stay-at-home mothers, and the same proportion of stay-at-home mothers said they felt stigmatised for their choices. Fifty-five per cent of women said they were less focused on their career after having a baby.
The survey also found that working mothers still shoulder the bulk of childcare responsibilities - 60 per cent of women do most of the drop-offs and pick-ups, with only 35 per cent saying childcare was shared equally with their partners.