A tale of three mums

This is Mum #1.

Business woman having boring call in office

Mum #1 has a job, but not what she would call a career. Mum #1’s job fits conveniently around her role as a mum. Mum #1 doesn’t mind her job, but it is probably not the job she would be doing if she did not have children. Mum #1 knows she is lucky to have a job that fits her current life; but at the same time Mum #1 spends a lot of her time feeling a bit embarrassed and like she has to justify herself.

No, I’m not sure it is what I want to do forever but it works around my life at the moment‘.  / ‘It’s so handy working close to home.’ / ‘I really like being able to do most of the school runs.

Mum #1 trots out these lines on a regular basis.

Mum #1’s job may be convenient and flexible but it is largely unchallenging. Mum #1 sometimes thinks about the path her life might have taken had she made some different decisions along the way. She thinks about the mums who have what she thinks of as proper jobs. Jobs that they would be doing whether or not they had gone on to have children. Mums who have a professional-looking headshot and mini-biography on an organisation’s website. Mums who attend important meetings. Mums who have a job-title which doesn’t require an explanation. Mum #1 frequently wonders what her life would be like if she had one of these jobs, but at the same time she knows that she likes picking her children up from school.

Mum #2 has a job with a proper name, the job she aimed for from being 15 years old. She puts her children to bed and then logs on to do a few more hours work Very busy business woman (2)
in the evening. Mum #2 knows that this is what is expected of her – she knows that no allowances will be made for her just because of her other role as a mum. There are plenty of others out there who would jump at the chance to do her job, so she needs to be at the very top of her game. Mum #2 feels guilty asking for a couple of hours here or there to attend her little one’s school assembly, and promises she’ll work later that evening to make up for it. Sometimes she can’t bring herself to ask for a couple of hours off; so she asks a friend to take photos for her instead.

As well as work, Mum #2’s head is full of before and after school childcare arrangements, and of the need to plan childcare for the next school holiday.

As soon she walks through the door in the evening, Mum #2’s children are hanging off her legs and wiping their noses on her favourite jacket.

Mum #2 spends a lot of time feeling like she has to justify herself to all the people who ask her why she has made the decisions she has.

I work because I like to set a positive example for my child/children.‘ / ‘We need my salary to pay the mortgage.‘ / ‘Things change so quickly in my field of work – I wouldn’t be able to get back into it again if I took time out.’

People ask her how she finds it being back at work. How she manages to do it all. Why she made the decision to return to her very demanding job. People don’t ask these questions of her husband. People don’t ask him why he decided to continue in the job he’d worked so hard for. People only tend to ask a man this question if the man decided to take a step back from work post-children. Mum #2 has noticed this.

Mum #2 loves having a job that is stimulating and challenging. She loves being with people who don’t only think of her as a mum. But sometimes, just sometimes, Mum #2 feels like she’s had enough of juggling all these balls. She feels like she’s had enough of trying to be everything to everyone. Of trying to give her all at work and at home. Of answering questions about why she does it and how she copes. Of attempting to make important phone calls from home while a sick child coughs and splutters and just wants to curl up for a cuddle. She thinks about Mum #3, who is always around if her children are sick and doesn’t need to frantically make alternative arrangements.

Mum #3 had a career and generally a very busy life Mother With Child Girl Draw And Paint Together
before she became a mum; but now she spends her days kneeling on the floor playing snap or building towers out of wooden bricks or pushing a swing, or doing finger paintings. Mum #3 didn’t go back to work after she had children – her hours were long and unpredictable, and her other half works shifts. She couldn’t quite see a way to make it work. Mum #3 always told herself that maybe she would go back to work once her children started school; but then her children did start school and Mum #3 wondered what job she could find that factored in a 9-3 school day and a 6 week summer holiday. Mum #3 still can’t quite see how to make it work and has lost confidence; even though she knows she is competent and qualified and was very good at what she did.

Mum #3 loves being able to pick her children up from school, and being at all the assemblies, and taking photos for her lovely friends who can’t make it to the assemblies, and going into school to read with the children, and doing library duty. But at the same time Mum #3 misses her old life. She misses spending time with people who know her as someone other than X’s mum. She misses using her brain for something other than deciding what to cook for tea, or remembering when the reading books need changing.

Mum #3 also spends a lot of time feeling embarrassed and like she has to justify herself. ‘Yes I do miss my old job but I can’t seem to find anything that fits around my children.’ / ‘My partner works shifts and my hours were really long so it just wouldn’t have worked.’ / ‘Yes, I know it’s a shame I’m not using my degree’.

Mum #3 sometimes gets tired of justifying herself, and of comparing herself to other mums.

So does Mum #2.

And Mum #1.

These aren’t all the mums, of course they aren’t – there are all sorts of variants out there. And of course there are the mums who are happy with the choices they’ve made…..mums who would never have dreamt of going down a different route – the confident-in-the-choices-they’ve-made mums.

But if you’re anything like me, you probably veer between feeling like you’ve made the right decisions one minute, and feeling like you should be doing everything differently the next. And whatever sort of mum you are (I am Mum #1, btw), you will often feel like you have to explain your choices to strangers.

boys on log

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That thing called mummy guilt

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.

3 boys