Mother (Almost Never) Knows Best: The Working Mother... Is It Working?

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Working Mother... Is It Working?

When I was on maternity leave with my daughter, I lasted seven months before I had to go back to work. I told myself that this was because I had a qualification that needed completed in a timely manner and that I owed it to my daughter to be a strong role model by being a mother with a fulfilling career. To be honest, I had found maternity leave hard and lonely. I couldn’t wait to get back to the adult world where coffee is drunk while it is hot, toileting is an independent activity, conversations are rooted in gossip rather than babble and Makaton signage (thank you Mr Tumble) and lunch is consumed without being at the risk of informal highlights. In my ignorant baby free days I had imagined maternity leave to be a montage of long lunches, cooing, box sets and cake but in reality it turned out to be cheese toasties, screaming, snippets of CBeebies (did we ever meet Topsy and Tim’s younger subling?) and soggy rusks. I will admit that I am not particularly outgoing and really struggled to make any new mummy friends, despite sporting a prize winning smile to all potential chums at the weigh in sessions. So all in all it was quite an isolating time and as devoted as I was to my cherub, her conversational skills were somewhat lacking. At this point work seemed an attractive alternative so an agreement was made and the husband stepped his work down while I returned full time. In for a penny, in for a pound.  

As I got myself showered, dressed (huzzah!) and made my way to the door for the return to adult life I could feel my cape billowing behind me. I adjusted my mask, placed my hands on my hips and stared into the distance. I had this. Charlotte, my darling, it is true, you can have it all.

It didn’t take long to realise that I was miserable. I felt like I was missing everything and as hard as it had been at times during maternity leave, the fear of missing out (as the young ones will tell you) is crippling. With Charlotte having her childcare split between my husband, my mother and a local nursery she started seeking others reassurance in times of trouble and had started interacting with those around her so much more than when I had been at the helm. I believe this is due to developmental stages and not my questionable parenting.

We formed a new plan. The husband would step his work back up and I would take over his childcare duties. My employer allowed me to step down to three days a week (the part-time Holy Grail) and we were off, sailing off into the new normal.

What I hadn’t been prepared for was the guilt. The guilt of forsaking my daughter for the workplace was not a new sensation and I struggle to believe that there is a single working mother out there who has not felt it at some point in time. No, the guilt that I wasn’t prepared for was the one I felt towards my employer. I went from an employee who could be relied upon to pick up the slack, work late into the night and come into the office at weekends, to a part time, nine to fiver who would intermittently call in sick; not because I was unwell but because my child was lurgy filled and banished from nursery (anyone who argues that this is a ‘work from home’ situation has clearly never had a sick child.) They had employed one very capable, focussed person and had them supplanted with a part-timer whose heart was no longer in it.

It wasn’t a new realisation to me that my current job was rather dull and far from my ideal occupation but the original plan had been to use it as a stepping stone into, what would undoubtedly be, a glittering career (based around what, no one was quite sure.) Now I find myself a mother, working part time for an understanding employer albeit in a cripplingly tedious industry. I am no longer an attractive prospect in the job market and yet am not ready to step up to full time working and miss out on my children’s pre-school years. Does this mean that I must accept my fate for the next four years, bide my time and just plod on? For this, I have no answer… yet.  

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