“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.” Annabel Crabb.
I wanted to share my story of my short-lived return to work after my second baby. And despite recently waving goodbye to a job I really enjoyed, I have accepted that a job is just a job and there is (hopefully) another way to combine working and being a mum. And I know everyone has a different set of circumstances and so this is definitely not a case of one option being better than any other. We all have difficult work life balance choices to make. I’ve done all of them – full-time, part-time, staying at home and they are all really tricky! Here goes…
I’ve been suffering from a classic case of trying to have my cake and eat it. Or trying to be a mum and carry on in the job that I did before I had my two kids.
I went back to work full-time nine months ago after my second stretch of maternity leave. I was looking forward to getting back to the office because in between the newborn snuggles, life at home with a baby and a toddler had been really tough and a bit shitty at times. But the problem is you don’t swap one for the other, you just add your job on top of all the responsibility of looking after two small people – even you spend less physical time with them. And so much had changed for me by having two kids but the job and its responsibilities hadn’t.
I have a two-year age gap and so I wasn’t back at work the first time for very long before I fell pregnant again. I dropped to a four-day week and maternity leave came around again before I knew it.
But second time around, I wanted to get back to what I thought was my long-term work plan as my baby-making days were over.
I generally liked my job, (most of) the people I worked with were great and it paid well enough to make it worthwhile even after extortionate nursery costs for two. I didn’t love the three-hour daily commute, travelling and nights away and being on-call. But I plodded on as I thought I was quite lucky with my lot.
People often said to me: ‘I don’t know how you do it all.’ For a while this spurred me on and I felt like superwoman. But inside I was suffering. And I noticed fewer and fewer mums were doing what I was doing. They’d chosen to stay at home or work part-time or get a different job with less travel or closer to home. I tried not to compare because I know that everyone has a different set of challenges and some have it a lot tougher than me. So I plodded on a bit further.
My routine work day would generally kick off at 6.30am with an hour of me being mad at the kids and irritated that they were either not getting ready themselves or in my way while I tried to get ready. I forgot they were only 1 and 3! And very often it was me who was running late, not them. This was often the only hour I got to spend with them. I’d then shoo them out of the house for the nursery drop off, followed by an hour and a half of generally bad traffic and road rage before putting on my cheery, work face for 9 hours. The road rage me would then come out again as I raced home in time to put them to bed – often wishing I’d just stayed a bit later in the office to avoid the bedtime battles and tantrums. I’d slump on the sofa, work phone in-hand checking emails before rolling into bed for another disturbed night. This is not how I envisaged how my ‘real-life’ would be and I felt entirely overwhelmed.
I had a lightbulb moment when one morning in the usual 7am shoutfest, Martha calmly said to me: ‘Stop shouting at me, Mummy.’ It was then I looked at myself and realised I wasn’t being very nice. The length of my fuse was directly proportional to how exhausted I felt and I mainly took it out on my husband and kids. I put my brave face on at work and tried to smile through all the annoyances. Like when the prick in accounts pissed me off. Yet my family got my wrath – because I was exhausted from faking being nice to idiots in accounts. It suddenly dawned on me that this was most definitely the wrong way wrong. But sadly, I’d left it a bit late. After the usual teary phone call to my husband after the nursery drop off, he packed me off to see a doctor.
I only came to the realisation that I couldn’t sustain it all after I found myself in the doctor’s surgery being diagnosed with stress and burnout and in danger of tipping into depression. I couldn’t stop crying. I took some time away from work and it was only when I stopped I realised just how unsustainable my pace of life had become. Big changes were needed and so after a lot of thought I quit my job.
I’d like to say that thankfully my work and manager were very understanding and we looked at part-time options but there were just too many hurdles to make it work.
Like many mums, I cannot afford to simply not work but I have been forced into reassessing everything and freeing up some of the childcare costs instantly gives me the freedom to look at work that I can fit around the kids.
I think the pre-school years are by far the hardest as it is when you need to take a step back from full-time work the most but get sucked into the financial implications of childcare before the kids get any free hours or start school. But as I look around me by the time school comes around, it seems it’s too late for many and a lot of mums have made changes to their work life. Some by choice but not all.
I’m glad I tried to return to my job but for now I’m admitting defeat and not trying to carry on my work life as if I didn’t have kids.
Because things have changed. I have changed. I can bark a lot but I have also softened. And so I am no longer going to try the fit the square peg of my old job into the round hole of my new life. I’m going to adapt and let my career change with me.
And hopefully I’ll stop being the shouty Mum that I don’t want to be. If only my daughter would put her bloody shoes on!
Update: I have enrolled on a course with Digital Mums who advocate flexible working for parents with the motto, Work That Works. I’ll be training to become a freelance Social Media Manager and am really ruddy excited about the change!