Around 18 months ago I saw a job ad with the following particularly appealing features:
3 days a week
15 minutes from home
I had to get this job. I hadn’t returned to work after having my twins – managing a long commute alongside three small children was never going to work, financially or otherwise – and I had been sure it would take me a while to find anything worth applying for. But, just a few months later, here was this too-good-not-to-apply-for job. So I did apply, and I got it.
In so many ways it is perfect and I know I am very lucky to have found something that fits my current life so well. So why did I find myself fighting the tears this morning as I got ready to go back after a week off for half term? Everything has its pros and cons, and one of the downsides to working term time only is the feeling of dread you get towards the end of the holidays. I have always said that going to work is, in many ways (and depending on your job of course) easier than being at home with small children and I stand by this. However, combining the two is a struggle and ensuring that you are on top of everything is sometimes overwhelming.
The working parent routine is full of challenges – here are some of the main ones:
Rushing your children out of the house
I am fairly short-tempered most mornings, but catch me on a work day morning and I am a monster. I hate being like this. Going to work makes no difference to the time I am woken by my boys, but during the holidays there isn’t the pressure to get downstairs, dressed and out of the door. For 2 year olds it is difficult to comprehend why it is that on some days you’re allowed to lounge around in your bed for an hour with a pile of books because mummy would quite like to doze for a bit longer, whilst on others she is telling you you must get downstairs immediately. Then before you know it your coat is on and you’re out the door, before you’ve even had a chance to empty out your crate of cars. So unfair.
I hate the rush, I hate the tears, I hate the fact that we probably wake half of the street up with the noise we make as we all come tumbling out of the front door.
I hate work day mornings.
Denying your children breakfast at home
It breaks my heart when my small boys look at me with hopeful eyes and say ‘Is it breakfast at home today, mummy?‘ They are lucky boys I know – my hours mean that they only have breakfast out two days a week, but I dread those two days. Breakfast at home seems such a simple request, but just isn’t possible when you have to be out by 7.15. So on those days, it’s a cup of milk and a banana at home, and then breakfast at nursery. Sorry boys.
The need to look presentable
This is particularly difficult after a week or more of needing to make very little effort. My children are conscious of the fact that I look different on a work day, frequently asking questions like ‘mummy, why have you got nice hair?’ when I look vaguely presentable. This week I don’t have the energy to make the effort; instead I would really quite like to be tying back my uncombed hair and wearing my ripped jeans. Not fashionably ripped obviously, just ripped from too much kneeling.
The need to remain alert
I used to envy my husband going to work after a bad night with a baby. At least it’s a change of scene – spending a whole day with the baby/babies who kept you awake most of the night can be hideous. Particularly if the baby/babies spend most of the day crying because they’re tired out from having been up all night. I stand by that, but what you can do at home is lounge about in your dressing gown and slippers with uncombed hair if you wish. Not so easy at work. Remaining alert and appearing competent when all you want to do is curl up under your desk is one of the working parent’s biggest challenges. Not to mention if you have a job in which alertness is extremely necessary: thankfully I am not a doctor.
Seeing the worst of your children
Yes unfortunately your children will get through a day of being beautifully behaved at nursery or with the childminder, and descend into meltdown mode the moment they get home. The tiredness, the relief of seeing you again, it all comes out in snotty tears and tantrums. Unfortunately, you see your children for the worst hours of the day and then have to wrestle them into bed.
Life is one big rush
Getting everyone to the right place at the right time is a logistical nightmare. At various points I have forgotten to leave work in time to pick up my children from the childminder’s and school, and forgotten where I’m supposed to be going mid-journey. Life is so full of who is supposed to be where and when that keeping up with the rest of life’s admin frequently feels impossible.
Of course going to work has its advantages – the coffee that’s hot without needing to be microwaved, for example. But there is also the fact that you are doing something with your time that isn’t breaking up fights or clearing up the mess from breakfast. It gives you something else to talk to your partner about and, if you’re lucky, you might even earn something …..although if you’re normal, your salary might just about cover childcare fees. But there is at least the promise of some extra income when children are at school. And seeing your children become confident with other people and learn to be adaptable is a wonderful thing.
But the grass is always greener on the other side and, ideal though my job is, this week I would rather be at home in my dressing gown with my microwaved coffee supervising fights over Chuggington trains.