This is Mum #1.
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
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
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.