Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Working mums

The word 'juggling' is associated with working mothers a lot - juggling childcare and juggling work. It's also about juggling feelings - guilt, worry, inadequacy (at parenting and work). And fear that my childcare plans will come crashing down so that one day in October I will have to phone my boss and say, 'I can't come to work this week because there's no one to look after my daughter. Oh and I've run out of annual leave. Sorry 'bout that.'

Dedication to your job 

I like my job. I enjoy the things I do and I like my colleagues. Since I brought a child into the world, my attitude to my job hasn't really changed.

Recently a colleague asked me to do something five minutes after I should have left the office. It wasn't a big job. In pre-child-land I would have done it. Because if you're dedicated to your job, you're happy to stay a few minutes extra to make sure something gets done right.

But now it's not an option. I can't leave the office more than five minutes after my official finishing time. Not just this once, not ever. Not because we have a deadline or I'm giving a presentation in the morning. Not ever.

I have to get home to feed my child. She's hungry and tired and waiting for me. I have to go right now. She doesn't give a crap about doing a good job on my presentation. She just wants her mum to come home and do a good job at cooking her some fish fingers so she can do a good job of throwing them on the floor.

Guilt and worry

To the colleague who asks me to stay just a little late for something important, I say lots of sorries and a no, and leave, feeling guilty that I didn't do the job and guilty that I'm a few minutes late. It's non-stop guilt, this working mother thing. Guilt that sometimes I'm too tired from work to be a good mum, or guilt that I've been up half the night mothering so I'm too tired to do my job properly.

And I worry that I am away from my toddler for so many hours each day, that I won't be there for her when she falls over and hurts herself or when she's overtired, that when she tells her grandparents or the nursery staff "I want my mummy", that they will have to gently tell her that I will be back later. I worry that I don't play a big enough part in her development, that her care is too fragmented between her relatives and nursery. I worry that she will miss me, or worse, that I will be away so much that she will stop missing me.

I worry that my colleagues won't think I'm committed to my job because when it comes to these moments I choose child over work. But it's not even a choice. Come 5.30 there's no one else to look after her so I have to be there.

Being late

Often I'm late for work. But more often I'm surprised we get there at all. Toddlers don't have a concept of time. Explaining that they really have to put their boots on now because Mummy is going to be late for work and get in trouble with her boss is really ineffective (I do it at least once a week). Walking from the house to the car must be unassisted, stopping to look at twigs and feathers along the way. It's both beautiful and infuriating.

A child rushing to get to nursery on time. Photo by Casch52 via Flickr Creative Commons
Last week when my bundle of joy dragged her feet I hit on the brilliant idea of a race to the car, She sped off, tripped over her own feet and bled all over the pavement. Back to the house for cuddles, antiseptic, plasters and chocolate. Major punctuality and child safety fail.

People tell you to enjoy every moment, to treasure the times when they look amazed at a feather and watch it float to the ground. These people are not looking after a toddler and trying to hold a job down.

Forgetting work

I don't check my work emails from home anymore. If someone asks me to do something for work on a weekend, I'm very likely to forget.

It's not that I don't care. It's not even that I feel differently about my job since my daughter was born. But I'm on child-watch now, and toddlers constantly demand attention. I can't work from home when she's there, If I switch on my laptop and try to do an online grocery shop she'll be clambering on my lap within five minutes, trying to "help". Attempting work is useless.

Before I became a parent my friend, a solicitor, told me that the minute she walks out of the office door she switches into "mummy mode" forgetting all about case files and judges and checking that she has the baby wipes and knows what she's going to cook the kids for tea. I thought I'd never be like that - I could never switch off from my very interesting job so easily and think about such mundane things, but I'm exactly the same. I have to be, because I have to be there on time and the minute I'm there I need to make sure that my daughter is fed, cleaned and watered as she needs to be.


Sorry, but I have to go...

I'm making this working mother thing sound like a nightmare. It's not, it's pretty amazing in lots of ways: having independence, supporting your family financially, doing something rewarding that isn't changing nappies, not having to be 'mummy' all the time, and just having a career. There was never any question that I would go back to work when my daughter was born. I'm not cut out for stay at home parenting (I admire those who are), and I am committed to my job. But I'm more committed to the little girl who is waiting for me to get home.

Being a working mum is really hard, We are contributing to society, paying our taxes, carrying out a service to whichever industry we work in, and we are bringing up the next generation. Perhaps we should shout a little louder about this - to ourselves and our society. And stop apologising.

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