The working wo-mum by Fiona Morse
When you go on maternity leave it feels like it’s an infinite stretch of time. One year. A whole 365 days to become and learn how to be a parent. When you talk about a year in terms of anything else it seems like a lifetime but in maternity leave time it appears a year takes on its own sense of speed and duration. In short I am approaching the end of my year, and it has gone faster than I would have liked. I’ve had to begin conversations about returning to work, discuss start dates and shift patterns, think about training I’m now out of date with and, perhaps worse of all, think about if I can fit back into my uniform. I suspect that in the corner of my mind these thoughts have been bubbling away, simmering until the pot boils and they get ready to spill over. My main fear is that now we are reaching the point of taking that pot off the boil I’m a little more than apprehensive. I’m not sure I’m ready to serve up that pot yet, and perhaps what’s more daunting is I’m not sure that the ingredients I put in at the start are what I expect to find on serving. Are you all still following me?
Pre babies I’m happy to admit I was the most career driven person you could find. I wanted to succeed and to be honest I wanted to do so at any cost. I was quite happy to work all hours, to come in extremely early and stay ridiculously late. I was happy to work through breaks and skip mealtimes in order to ensure I got to where I wanted to be. I’d never really felt a great desire to have a baby (or babies as it transpires) and marrying it to my ambition before they arrived was a difficult internal battle. I’d go so far as to say I now feel terribly guilty for worrying about how my career might suffer if I had kids. I remember being introduced to a senior employee at work as “The most ambitious person I used to know before she became pregnant” and feeling so conflicted that because I’d now chosen to have a child it suddenly meant my ambition had gone off the boil, or even become extinguished. That suddenly I had been written off as the one “to watch.” Actually I’m not sure now that I was ever the one to watch but when you’re so dogged in your determination to succeed it’s hard not to fall foul of your own ego. I think it would be fair to say I am still ambitious but it’s quieter, more subtle perhaps, although I don’t underestimate my desire to succeed. It’s just that lately I think that what I judge as a success might be in different areas of my life and even I wasn’t expecting that.
A lot of my friends, and the insta mums I follow are due to return to work, or have in fact already gone back. They’ve either finished their year or chosen to take a shorter period of time, and I suspect it’s at the forefront of my mind because I have shared my pre-birth, birth and post-birth journey into motherhood with them. It’s undoubtedly a significant topic of discussion amongst us all, in the run up to and within the first few days of starting back in employment. It also seems to be a subject which divides women into a number of camps. I read one insta mum’s comments (who I absolutely adore following) about how going back to work full time for her was most definitely the right thing to do. Not only did she feel her child was going to get the best care whilst she was in work but in terms of the percentage of hours within the week, her child was going to be away from her for a very small portion of them. She was unapologetic and defiant in her views on returning to a full time job she loved. I totally agreed with her and found myself doing a mini fist pump in support of her thoughts.
Having said that one of my friends had her daughter two weeks before I had the twins and has chosen to reduce her hours before starting back after nine months off. I fully understand that too, because in our line of work it is an all-or-nothing job. It’s not one you can dip in and out of, or take flexi-time in and although many of us work a full week in three or four days/nights they are completely exhausting and all consuming hours. I appreciate the gut-wrenching feeling of knowing someone else will put your children to bed, or be there when they wake up and finding it a difficult pill to swallow. Furthermore I totally understand now how women make the quite difficult decision to be a SAHM. It isn’t just about the financial implications of soaring childcare cost if you decide to return to work but also about the time you lose away from your children that drives that choice. I’ll be honest, I thought these women were the weaker ones by choosing an “easy option” such was my ignorance pre twins. Actually that path is phenomenally brave because not only are you more than likely accepting a reduction in household income (which in this day and age is a monumental decision), and often taking a career break but being a SAHM can also be quite isolating and lonely. Whatever path you choose – and of course there may be other paths I haven’t discussed here – it comes with a whole heap of emotions, most predominantly guilt and a fear that you might not be doing the right thing.
In general the truth is that the vast majority of children don’t suffer from having a working mother. I didn’t nor did my brother or my husband. Both of our mothers worked either full or part time and we all have an incredibly strong work ethic. Furthermore my daughters will be very lucky to have their daddy to look after them on days when I have to go to work because he also has a shift based job. So while I might not be able to be there during my working days, I feel slightly better knowing that they will still have a parent with them for the majority of the time. It’s just that I can’t help but hear that little voice in my mind saying it isn’t me doing all those things. That feeling is a pretty tough one to carry around with you.
There’s been quite a push in recent weeks and months for businesses, particularly large international organisations to recognise the outdated 9am-5pm, five days a week work pattern that seems to have been hung around our necks since time immemoria. The “Flex Appeal” rally in Trafalgar Square last month saw a drive for companies to recognise that the best way to get optimum performance from their employees was to work with them on helping to find a significantly better work-life balance. It’s purpose is to ensure there’s less stress about finding/financing/maintaining childcare and freeing up more quality time for women (and men) to devote to their jobs by allowing them a greater flexibility in working hours. The truthful reality is that it’s still us girls trying to spin all the work-life plates in unison. Will it work? I don’t know if companies, particularly big businesses are entirely ready for it but I admire the urge to get a dialogue going around these issues.
The very truth of the matter is that I, undoubtedly like many women who have come before and will after me, find myself at a career crossroads with very little clear direction. I am still partially the Me pre-babies and I still want to be a success. I am still driven and ambitious. I am still determined to achieve my goals. I just don’t know how to manage that drive without missing out on being a mum? I don’t know if being top of the tree is what I crave anymore, and if it is what I really don’t know is how to achieve that without sacrificing the time I have to be a parent.
If this rings true for any of you mums reading this, or the dads who might be sharing work duties, or have taken on the role of SAHD I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. As for me I guess it’s time to start deciding on which tree I want to climb. And trying on that uniform. Wish me luck!