You may remember my post earlier in the year about returning to work after maternity leave, and how I may have had a little meltdown about it? That was written 6 months ago, so you might be wondering how things are now. I have to be honest – it still hard, but that’s ok.
After reading Mrs Lighty’s brilliant post about how her return to work has been triumphant, it really got me reflecting on how I feel now about my return to work. Mrs Lighty went back to work about 4 months before me, and I remember how worried she was about it all. I really felt for her, but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t truly understand how she felt because I myself was so confident and content about my return to work.
I knew before I was even pregnant that I would be returning to work full time. I was (am) the higher earner of the family, so we couldn’t afford for me to cut my hours at work. Even with the extortionate bill we have for childcare, it still doesn’t justify me cutting my days down. But it was fine, I knew this and I wasn’t bothered. I vowed to take a whole year off on maternity, we organised childcare when Alfie was just 3 months old so we didn’t have to worry about it, and I thoroughly enjoyed my maternity leave. I went back to work full of hope, optimism and looking forward to those regular hot teas and hour long lunch breaks.
What I didn’t account for was how much I would miss Alfie. Being with him pretty much 24/7 since the moment he was born – as well as carrying him for 10 months before that – had formed such a bond, that it was heartbreaking sending him off to nursery every day. He was fine – in fact, he was loving nursery! They do so much, and teach him so much that I couldn’t, I have no doubt that educationally, he is better off than being at home with me. But emotionally I wonder if I’m messing him up by not being there for him. His nursery workers are fab and I know that they give him cuddles if he’s upset, and speak to him with amazement when he’s discovered something knew, and laugh with him when he’s happy, and cajole him when he’s tired and grumpy. But I can’t help but feel this should be the job of his mother. And it hurts that I can’t do it.
I recently overheard a conversation on the train that I think really got to me. A group of ladies were discussing a work colleague and their home arrangements – it turns out the mum worked full time and the dad stayed at home and looked after the kids. They were discussing this with interest and I was intrigued to know what they thought so I was listening in. It is an arrangement that as a family Craig and I might consider in the future, if it works out better financially. I was slightly horrified by some of their comments – “it’s not natural”, “it’s weird”, “I couldn’t do it”, “she’s not really a mother is she, is she only sees her kids two days a week”. The last comment particularly struck a cord with me. I have to note, none of these women have children themselves, so they were just judging by their own thoughts and attitudes, and we all know how your opinions change once you have your own kids. I really wanted to butt in and say that they were being harsh, and that sometimes you have no choice in the matter and as a family, you just have to do what works for you. Dads are no less capable at looking after their own kids than mums are! I would be a lot happier at work if I knew Craig was at home with Alfie – I’d probably still be jealous and wish I was at home, but I think that’s natural. I know Craig was jealous of me when I was on maternity leave! Maybe this is why I struggle with working full time too – the stigma that is still attached to women who work, especially those who do it full time. Don’t get me wrong, I get a lot of praise for it, but I always wonder if deep down people think it’s wrong.
There are pros to working full time. I appreciate my weekends a lot more, and make more of an effort to actually DO stuff together. I also know that the main reason I work full time is so we can buy a house. Currently we are renting, but it is our dream to buy our own little house, somewhere we can grow as a family and call our own. Me working full times means that will happen sooner rather than later – if I was part time, we’d most probably be renting forever.
It’s not even that I hate my job. It’s not my dream job, and I don’t LOVE it, but I get paid well for a job that isn’t particularly taxing. I’m busy but not overloaded, and when I leave the office at 5pm, I leave my work and don’t take it home with me. I work for a lovely company, and with some great people. I have fun, but get on with my job. I do the best I can while I am there, but forget about it when I leave. I don’t have to worry about work at the weekends, or during the holidays, or in the evenings. It’s not my job that is the problem, but the problem is my job. Confused?! Me too!
The problem is with working full time. I hate working 5 days a week. Ideally, I’d work 3 days a week. Hell, I’d even settle for 4 days a week. Anything to not be “full time” and have more time to spend with my little man and watch him grow up.
But as I said, it’s still hard, but it’s ok. It’s ok because I admit that it’s not ok. I don’t bottle it up, and pretend that I love being at work, and I’m completely fine with leaving Alfie. If people ask me how I do it, and how I feel, I’m honest. I tell them it’s shit, I hate it, but it’s life and I’m doing what needs to be done to secure a future for me and my family. It makes me feel a bit better that he is young, so won’t remember these days when I left him. It makes me feel a bit better that if I work all the hours I can now, I might be able to work less when it matters, when he is at school and needs help with his homework, and I need to attend sports day, and parents evenings, and school plays. When he wants to have his friends round for tea, and needs his mum to talk to when he’s had a bad day at school, or a fight with his friend. That’s when I think it’s important for me to be around, that’s what I focus on, but it doesn’t make this time now any less shit.
I often see new mums who are about to go back to work ask for advice. They want reassurance that it’s going to be ok, that things work out, that returning to work isn’t shit. And for many people it isn’t. Many working mums, do find their happy medium between work and home life. And I’m so, so happy for these mums. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t worry and stress and have to work hard to make these things happen for them. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t struggled to find that work/life balance, it doesn’t mean it’s been any easier for them than it has for me. It just means they’ve found their happy place while I’m still searching for mine. I know it will come. I know it will get better. It’s just taking a bit longer than I anticipated.
The reason I wrote this is to reassure those mums who have returned to work but are finding it tough, that yes it is tough. And it’s ok to admit that you’re finding it tough. You don’t have to pretend you’re super woman. You don’t have to pretend you enjoy that hot cup of tea if actually you’d rather be at home with your baby longing for a hot cup of tea. You don’t have to pretend that you enjoy that hour on the train to read your book when really you’d rather be at home feeding your baby breakfast, wishing you had a spare hour to read your book. I’m not saying that being a stay at home mum isn’t hard – there were times when I was on maternity leave that I really struggled. But I know I personally struggle more being at work.
I’m sure that it does get better. It isn’t as hard now as it was 6 months ago. Although I’ve said it hasn’t got better, I mean it hasn’t yet got to the point where I’m ok with working full time. To be honest, I don’t think I ever will. But it’s ok. I’m honest with myself about it, I’m tired, I lack motivation, I can’t focus, but it’s ok because doing all this is hard. And I don’t know when it’s going to get better. I know that it will, but it may not get better for a very long time. I may feel like this forever, until I win the lottery and give up my job!
It just goes to show though, that however you feel before you return to work, you don’t know how things will change when you actually go there. I was completely fine about returning to work, yet still haven’t found my happy place. Some people however are quite worried about returning, yet quite quickly find their happy place! As much as I do like my job, maybe that is the problem. Maybe I need a change. A change of scenery. A different challenge. A new perspective. Or maybe I’ll leave a job that I’m good at and am content with, for a job that leaves me a nervous wreck! I don’t know. This isn’t a post where I have all the answers – or any answers in fact. Being a working mum, for me, at this point in time, is shit. I would love to be one of those mums who adores their job and finds it really easy to work and have a family and not feel (much) guilt about it.
Unfortunately I’m not. But that’s ok.