WHEN IS A WORKING MOTHER NOT A WORKING MOTHER?
I’ve often heard mums discuss how guilty they feel going to work and leaving their babies behind in the care of others. I don’t remember feeling this guilt when I worked. After my first baby, I took a full year’s maternity leave from my job in communications. It was a blissful year, the best. I took to motherhood like a duck to water which by all accounts was unexpected. I didn’t particularly want to go back to my role, I had grown to resent my job and the little opportunity for progression that was available to me but I DID want to get back to work.
Wanting to go back to work but not wanting to leave your baby is a bit tricky though. So, off to nursery my daughter went and for the first few weeks (6 weeks!! She took 6 long weeks to settle!) it was emotional and tearful when leaving her but once we were in the swing of things, I enjoyed getting out the house with another purpose in the morning. I felt good about the juggle and my employers were as flexible as they could be. I felt like I was part of a gang of #workingmums #mumboss #mumhustle *tick as applicable*.
Two years later, there I was pregnant again and ready to finish up for a second stint of maternity. By this point, I still hadn’t progressed any further in my role and I felt like I was becoming de-skilled and still resentful of it. My life circumstances also changed massively by the time my second daughter was born. My husband’s job had started taking him away from home much more often, we moved to a new house – a fixer upper, childcare and help from family reduced and, well, juggling 2 little ones and a dog, often on my own was much harder than I imagined.
I thought about things long and hard, went over in my mind alternative work arrangements should I go back but ultimately when I added everything up in terms of how I felt about my job, the difficulties with childcare, doing a house up and flying solo most weeks, then I knew it was time to hand my notice in. I had been with my company for 10 years, it really was a bittersweet decision to make.
Leaving employment has honestly been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve worked since I left school so it’s odd not to have the security of a job behind me and although I am in a lucky position to not work (and am so grateful to have this option), I don’t feel entirely comfortable with it. Although I’m happy to be with my baby for longer considering she might be my last, I still feel embarrassed admitting to people I don’t work. I’ve even lied about it when asked recently! Because, of course, I do work! Harder than ever before. There is no break time for a stay at home mum, no quiet lunch at your desk, a hot drink that is actually warm when you drink it, or a natter to colleagues about last night’s celebrity big brother (disclaimer: I don’t actually watch it, honest!). I feel guilty for not working. For not being the optimum role model for my daughters, that online and the media and sometimes friends and family, tell me I should be. Why all this pressure, when we are raising small miracles?
Most of all, I feel ashamed telling other working mums that I don’t work. I’m no longer part of the gang of #workingmums and no one wants to hear about your ‘day in the life’ on social media. I feel a real pressure, mostly from online, that I should be hustling, juggling and proving to the world that women can do it all. I even read an article recently describing how children of working mothers do better in life than those whose mothers stayed at home! Guilt trip or what? I’ve had friends and family members mock my current status as a SAHM, ‘oh you’re just a mummy now’, talk to me like I have plenty time on my hands or insinuate we must be loaded. I feel like I constantly have to justify the decision I’ve made, even to myself. Maybe mostly to myself.
But the reality is, I am a mother now, it’s changed me in ways I never knew it would. It is the single most significant thing that has ever happened or ever will happen to me. My children and family unit are my world and my top priority so if I can’t fit my work life comfortably around their needs then it really is a no brainer. However, as much as I love being able to devote my time to my kids in these early years I do still have the desire and need (for my own sanity) to work. But this time, I plan on it being for myself, on my terms, family flexible and in my own time, when I’m ready and when my family is ready.