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

I do love Christmas, but……..

First of all, let me say I LOVE Christmas. I really do. It makes me feel warm and cosy and happy and sparkly and I’ve always made a big fuss of it. But this year I feel like I’m drowning …..already, and it’s only November. Because whenever I look on Facebook there are more and more sparkly images popping up on my newsfeed, helpfully telling me how many Mondays there are left until Christmas, or giving me ideas of things I could be doing with my children to make the festive period even more special. Just in case I find myself with a spare 5 hours and my children suddenly start to show an interest in a) sitting down and b) doing crafts.

Social media seems to have turned Christmas into a whole different beast. And I love social media too, but as Christmas approaches I’m finding it hard to keep up. I think what has happened is this – everyone has their own Christmas traditions, which is lovely. But now, people share their Christmas traditions on Pinterest or Facebook, and suddenly everyone is bombarded with everyone else’s Christmas traditions and feeling like Christmas isn’t Christmas unless they keep up with all the lovely ideas they’ve read about.

Up until last weekend, I hadn’t done a thing for Christmas. I had talked a lot about how we needed to start getting organised, but I hadn’t actually done anything. And all I did over the weekend was attempt to choose one gift while the 3 year olds fought over some robin tree decorations and begged for a ride on the escalator. I had tried to tell my husband that ‘browsing’ with the children wasn’t possible – I think he was starting to see my point.

But while I’m vacantly wondering when I’m going to get the time to do festive preparations of any sort, there are more posts appearing with lots more heartwarming and sparkly ideas for me.

What I’d like to know is how do people possibly have time for EVEN MORE THINGS during what is already the busiest time of the year? This is a genuine question. There are Christmas assemblies, parties at school, parties at playgroup, Christmas fairs, Christmas light switch-ons, catching up with all the people you’ve said ‘let’s catch up before Christmas’ to, as well as attempting to shop for and wrap presents……and surely we all want to leave some time just to sit and eat mince pies too?

But people do seem to have time. I saw a post by someone recently asking Christmas Eve boxhow to go about making a Christmas Eve box. I didn’t even know what a Christmas Eve box was, but here’s one I found on Pinterest (that website which anyone who is feeling slightly overwhelmed by anything at all should definitely avoid).  So yes, if you think your children need even more gifts, then a Christmas Eve box seems to be the way to go.

Another post keeps popping up suggesting that I might like to try this lovely idea: ‘wrap up 25 books and let your children open one every day in the lead up to Christmas.’ Seriously. 25 BOOKS?!? I barely have time to wrap up gifts in time for Christmas Day – who has time to be wrapping up 25 books?

There are personalised letters and videos from Father Christmas, Santa boxes, Santa keys – so many things either from or for Santa. But it’s all adult-led isn’t it? Us telling ourselves (and each other) that we need to keep doing more more and more to make Christmas even more magical for our children.

So I’m having to switch off from the Christmas posts. Not because I’m a Scrooge, but because there are just far too many ideas for me even to contemplate pursuing any of them. I don’t know how many Mondays are left before Christmas, and I’d rather not know. And my children won’t be getting Christmas Eve boxes or books wrapped up for every day of December. There won’t be anything personalised from Santa and I certainly won’t be leaving out a special Santa key. He can just come down the chimney like he normally does, where he will find a mince pie and some apple juice waiting for him.

My boys will be getting a stocking which will contain their main gifts from hubby and me. There will be nothing extravagant because they don’t need anything extravagant, but there will be socks because they always are; probably some chocolate coins, and definitely a satsuma at the bottom (or an apple for the eldest, who doesn’t like satsumas). The eldest boy would also like his own hankie. I’m not even joking.

I will be asking anyone who is kind enough to buy them presents not to go over the top – it is unnecessary and the endless amount of stuff is just too much for small people to process. Plus we have very little available space in our house. There will be Christmas assemblies and parties, trips to the panto and visits to Father Christmas. And my boys will love it all, because they are only 5 and 3 years old. They don’t need all the extra adult-enforced magic – it’s magical enough for them already.

I know lots of people will disagree with me and that’s fine. Possibly people who have always done a Christmas Eve box, or stay-at-home mums who love Pinterest for all the craft inspiration it provides. But if you’re like me and haven’t even started on the basics yet, then that’s fine too. There is a simpler way to do it which will be just as magical for these little ones. And I promise you they won’t be asking you where their Christmas Eve box is.

opening stockings

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

When mum goes to work

Around 18 months ago I saw a job ad with the following particularly appealing features:

3 days a week

Term-time only

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

Sleeping at desk

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.

 

Slippers