Becoming a Working Mother (Again)

It’s decided, it’s set. Next week, after an unpredicted break of 16 months, I’ll be headed back into the workforce. Back to the (hopefully, for the next while at least) 9-5 grind. After more than a year out of the game, I’ll be ditching my comfy hoodie and walking shoes and donning my more appropriate work clothes, dropping E at creche and contributing to society. I’m headed back to being a working mother. It’s a good change.

My absence from work was for health reasons, ones which took far longer to resolve than I had previously hoped or thought. Chronic back pain is a bit of a beast in that way, functioning normally can mean two very different things from day to day. It’s taken this long to both get to a stage where I am healthy enough to work but also that my workplace has been able to work with me on solutions to problems which can aggravate it. I’ve been very lucky in how understanding my employers have been – these kind of situations can be very stressful, from a financial and mental standpoint, and I’ve been lucky to have reassurances when needed that my job is safe and that their priority is to ensure I’m able to do what I need to do before they bring me back in.

The last 16 months have been interesting. I’ve come to realise just how much of a value I put on being someone who works, someone who can support herself and her family. I’ve gained one hell of a lot of respect for stay at home parents and those who work in childcare – toddlers are hard work to entertain and look after all day every day.

As well as physical rehabilitation for my injury, I’ve also had to mentally rehabilitate myself from this “need to work” attitude. I spent days, weeks, months feeling guilty for feeling “unable” for the stay-at-home full time parent life. I berated myself (sometimes vocally, moreso mentally) for needing to put my child into childcare a few days a week for the sake of balance. This, despite his absolute love for the place, the amazing people who work as his carers, the visibly improved social skills and language skills he’s been learning surrounded by other children. In my mind, I told myself these are days I was missing, these days I would never get back, that this should be something I’m making the most of. However, for the sake of preservation of my sanity, and for basic health and safety reasons (you try mixing a very active toddler, lots of back pain and medication where you’re not allowed to operate machinery…) it was a necessary step, and one which really did work for us.

You saw nothing…

Recently I downloaded the audiobook of Shonda Rhimes’ inspirational book “The Year Of Yes”. As a glass ceiling shattering woman known for her incredible work in television, she’s a woman who knows a thing or two about being a working mother. Her quotes about making it all work and having the balance really did speak to me, and I’d recommend any parent feeling guilt about going out to work and leaving their babies to listen to it.

In her Dartmouth Commencement Speech in 2014, which she speaks about at length in the book, she addressed the issue of “having it all” – as well as saying she couldn’t do any of it without her children’s nanny, she also stopped the question short by saying that she doesn’t manage to balance it. Declaring it a great balancing act, she admitted that if she’s doing really well in one area of her life, she’s almost certainly failing in another. It’s work meetings OR school concerts, parent teacher conferences OR important days on set. “That is the tradeoff.”, she says, “That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who’s also a powerful working mother. You never feel 100 percent OK. You never get your sea legs. You’re always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing.”

This is definitely something I related to a lot when I was back between my maternity leave and my recent absence – kept updated by my son’s grandmother sending photos of him doing different things, I ultimately felt like I was missing out – but in working reduced hours and not taking the overtime, I was also not doing myself any favours from the career end. It’s a tough balance and I’m hoping that this time around, I’ll find some solutions a little more easily.

My feelings on needing to be something outside of the home, outside of a mother, are also echoed in her words. “I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land, and it is named after their mother. In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothersĀ own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work – and I am a better mother for it.”

I may not be heading up a major corporation, or Thursday nights, and there is no Lisa Land out there just yet. It’s not that I’m even going out to do my passion. I am, however, doing something that IĀ need to do for me, and that’s something that I’m now not ashamed to say. While I would love to be someone who flourished at home with my child, that person simply isn’t me, not at this stage of my life anyway – I need something else, some escape, a purpose outside of being a mother – and in doing that, it will make me a better mother and a much nicer person to be around when I am home.

E has been in creche full time for the last few weeks, in anticipation of my return to work. The bump from 3 to 5 days a week has been taken in his stride, he runs in every morning. While he’s happy to see me at collection time, he’s full of chat about the kids he played with all day. His language skills are really coming on, and I can definitely use the word social butterfly to describe him. I feel that the time we do get to spend together is much better for both of us. It’s not that he’s less of a challenge, the toddler in him is still rampant. It’s just easier to sit back and let it happen when I’ve not had the same three fights with him since 6am.

So, what next? I think it’s time to start batch cooking in earnest, I’ll be hitting up Bumbles of Rice for some tips as far as that’s concerned. The wealth of knowledge from Office Mum’s Women in The Workplace series will also be of help! There may be one or two much-needed shopping excursions for some new work clothes – all completely necessary for the process, of course. There’ll be rejigging and hectic mornings and needing to become a lot more organised. There’ll be days where childcare poses an issue. Days where we have to juggle to see who can take the day off because it’s fallen through, or he’s not well. I think once we manage to get into a routine though, this will be good.

I’m headed back to work after sixteen months of a front row seat to my son’s toddler years. Bring it on.

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8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Good luck with the return!!It’s something I’ll be considering once I get my dissertation done. Being a sahm is bloody hard and very tough on ones mental well-being!!

  2. We have managed a pretty good balance with our toddler and our two working schedules and it’s helped immensely that I ended up spending a lot more time at home with hir than we had originally planned because whew! You are not kidding that it’s a lot of work chasing toddlers all day! Today was my day at home with the unstoppable JuggerBaby and while I loved nearly every minute of it, I was thoroughly wiped out by the end of it. (like you I have chronic pain and so very much empathize with the day to day uncertainty of how you’ll feel)

    It’s wonderful you’re able to return now, I wish you the best return to work possible!

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