Spending at least 50% of your time feeling guilty about something child-related is one of those special mum skills isn’t it? And it’s one thing I’m pretty good at.
But up until recently, I didn’t feel particularly guilty about going to work. I felt guilty about not feeling guilty, but the actual going-to-work bit was ok. That was probably because my littlest boys trotted off quite happily to the childminder or to nursery – they didn’t seem to mind who was looking after them as long as they were being fed. And, as everyone reminded me, they had each other. Of course it helped that my job was just about the most child-friendly job I was ever likely to find – close to home, part-time and term-time only – so surely this was a win-win for everyone.
It didn’t occur to me until recently that there might be a downside to working term-time only. But there is a downside, and it’s a big one. Which is that your children get into this lovely new mummy-at-home routine. They get used to not being rushed out of the door. They don’t realise that this is only temporary – why would they? And then all of a sudden, for no reason that’s apparent to them, just when they’ve got used to the lovely new mummy-at-home routine, you’re telling them it’s time to go back to the old routine. The one that involves them leaving the house and spending the day somewhere else.
I had no idea of the heartache that would follow when holiday time was over. I had no idea how two little boys asking if it’s a ‘breakfast at home day’ would tug at my heartstrings. I had no idea my eyes would be full of tears as I struggled to get two little boys into their car seats. I had no idea how hard it would be to peel my boys off my legs and say bye bye.
It gets harder and harder after every holiday, and this time I have hated it.
The eldest boy never experienced a school holiday until he started school – my last job wasn’t term-time only, so he went to nursery year round. In September I was concerned at how he would cope with going back to school after his first ever 6 week summer holiday, but he was totally unfazed. This boy – shy, sensitive, and much much less outgoing than his brothers – has a quiet strength and determination that I don’t think I expected from him. As long as he knows what to expect he copes incredibly well with changes.
The 3 year olds – loud, sociable and boisterous – show every ounce of anger, frustration and upset they are feeling. They are not at all happy with this ‘back-to-nursery-after-half-term’ scenario, and they are definitely letting me know about it.
Remember back when your baby was about 9 months old and all of a sudden s/he started crying every time you left the room? That heartbreaking thing called Separation Anxiety, guaranteed to make you feel guilty for making yourself a drink, or going to the loo. Every time you disappeared from view, your child had no idea whether you were ever coming back – understandably quite traumatic for a little person.
I don’t remember the twins suffering from Separation Anxiety to quite the extent that the first boy did, but now they’re suffering from a 3 year old’s version of it. It’s not Separation Anxiety because they know that I’m coming back. Instead it’s a desperate need to follow mummy everywhere and hang off her legs in case she tries to go to work again. I never imagined there could be anything worse than Separation Anxiety, but now there are small boys half my size who follow me around and attempt to climb up me and can tell me just how sad they’re feeling. So now, as well as feeling guilty for going to work, I feel guilty for cooking the dinner or for attempting to do anything that isn’t being crushed by a pair of 3 year olds.
I know that if I wasn’t feeling guilty about going to work then I’d be feeling guilty about not going to work. Or about something else, like trying to make a cuppa. Because that’s how mummy guilt works isn’t it.
And having small boys hanging off your legs only makes it worse.