When I first had Isla, I was hugely fortunate because I got to spend nine months at home with my baby. Yeah, there was a lot of milky sick and stinky nappies involved, and not a lot of sleep was had by anyone, but getting to spend all that time with this brand-new little person was such a gift that none of that mattered. But time’s most beautiful and horrible trait is passing, and all-too-soon, I became that mythical creature that everyone writes about but no-one seems to really understand; I became a Working Mum.
Instead of snuggling with my little baby who was just starting to explore the world at the time, I had to remind myself of every Excel formula I ever learnt (quite a few), buy a work wardrobe (because my pre-baby clothes still don’t fit, 2 years later…), and start meal-prepping enough food to get me through the work day. It was, without a doubt, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Fast forward to today, I’ve been a working mum for over 18 months and have taken on a secondment and increased my working hours as part of it. It’s been an absolute roller-coaster, but it’s also made me grow so much both as a mum and as a professional. Finally, I think that I can get my experiences and feelings into somewhat coherent words.
So, just in time for Mothers’ Day in the UK (if you’re German, this is two months early – soz), this is for the working mums. If you’re a working mum struggling with guilt, this post is for you. If you’re a new mum and you’re struggling with the thought of going back to work, this is for you. If you’re looking for a job while holding a 6-month-old, if you’re facing an imminent return to work, if you’ve been back in the office for a week and just don’t know how you’re supposed to cope with missing all the remaining weekdays of your baby’s childhood, this is for you. If you’re a judgemental twat who likes to make mothers feel bad about their decision to work or not work, this post is also for you.
1. You won’t escape the guilt, but you don’t have to indulge it
There are few people in the world who feel more permanent guilt than a working mum. Yeah, you feel guilty about leaving your child to go to work, but that’s just the beginning. You feel guilty about the (usually bumpy) transition into nursery. You feel guilty when said nursery tell you that your child reached a milestone and you realise you weren’t there to see it. You also feel guilty when your child is ill and OF COURSE you have to stay with them and look after them, but you feel like you’ve let everyone at work down with an unplanned day off. Then you feel guilty that you would even think that because obviously your baby comes first. That’s a lot of guilt. The thing is, you won’t really be able to escape it. But that doesn’t mean you have to add to that guilt by beating yourself up. If you’re feeling guilty, remind yourself that you’re doing something that’s really hard, and that you’re doing it to the absolute best of your abilities. Don’t engage with any negative self-talk. That brings me to…
2. Acknowledge that what you’re doing is really hard
When I was working AND doing my MA AND trying to cope with a toddler that just wouldn’t sleep, I was really struggling at work. I felt like I was too tired to do anything well, too busy to rest, and just letting everyone down left, right and centre. My boss at the time said something that really resonated with me: “You have to remember that what you’re doing is really, really hard”. Sometimes, reminding yourself that what you’re doing isn’t a walk in the park puts everything back in perspective a bit.
3. You are not being selfish, and you are allowed to enjoy your work
When I returned to work, there wasn’t much question about why. In our individual circumstances, I just could not afford to not work. Being a stay-at-home mum was not an option that I could have chosen. But even if you are able to make a choice, and you still chose to work, don’t let anyone accuse you of being selfish. Being a working mum helps to pay the bills, of course, but it does so much more. For me, my work signifies achievement and opportunity. It is a marker of how hard I have worked to get to where I am, and a reminder of how far I have yet to go. It symbolises how many possibilities are ahead for me and for my family. It represents an opportunity to be a role model for my daughter, and to show her that, in her future, having a family and having a career are both possible, should that be what she wants. Working, and enjoying your work, does not make you selfish – it makes up a part of who you are.
4. The grass is always greener
Up to this point, this post hasn’t talked much about mums who stay at home with their children, but let’s take a moment to understand and appreciate what they do every single day: a stay-at-home mum might get up early to give herself a few moments to herself before her day starts. When her baby wakes up, she has a full-on day ahead: get them fed and dressed for the day. Think of ways to entertain them that are both fun and educational. Manage the household alongside looking after the baby. If she has any errands to run, she does this with the child (or children) in tow – most of us know that this works better some days than others. Her full day consists of putting her child first, and herself last, all with little to no support or interaction with peers. Staying at home with your children might look like a fun life and is doubtlessly the right decision for many people, but easy it ain’t. Instead of wishing you were doing something that you’re not, ask yourself these questions: am I doing what I need to do for my family? Am I doing what makes me happy? If the answer to these is yes, then full steam ahead.
5. You will be just fine
Like I said at the very beginning of this post, my experience of being a working mum has been a roller-coaster, but we’re all still standing. We’ve overcome plenty of challenges, and we’ll certainly have more ahead, but we’re managing, and we’re loving our life as a little family. And if we can, then so can you <3.