Before I became pregnant with Robyn, I had always thought that I would go back to work full-time, put my child in nursery, and be able to progress with my career as I had planned. But soon after I became pregnant and my research into said-childcare began, I discovered the ridiculous costs that would go into sending my child into the care of people I did not know and who would eventually spend more time with her on a weekly basis than I would… and I had a slight panic attack.
‘How will my one year away from work affect my career progression? Do I want to go back full-time? Can we afford childcare?’ These were only some of the questions running through my mind before going on maternity leave… and then something I decided to put on the back-burner once Robyn was born, as I had a few other pressing things to think about (like a new baby that I had absolutely no idea how to take care of!).
About six months into my maternity leave, I began to think about what I really wanted. I had launched into a home based business which was doing really well for mums that I knew, but I struggled to keep this going for myself. I originally began this venture to give myself the option of staying home with Robyn, and it really appealed to me. I wouldn’t have to pay for childcare, I would be around for all the major events in her life, and I wouldn’t have to worry about a commute into London.
Unfortunately, our financial situation dictated that I went back to work, and this led to a frantic search for childcare. The cost of child-minders and nurseries in my area is astronomical, and would not have been worth me going back to work. Fortunately, my mum-in-law who lived only 15 minutes away, was happy to take care of Robyn, and at a much lower cost than any other childcare option. It was a win-win situation – Robyn would get to spend time with her nan, and we could save money on childcare while also supporting my husband’s retired mum.
My first month of work was a struggle, both emotionally and mentally. Robyn was not used to being away from me so when I would drop her off, she would burst into tears, reaching for me… and the guilt I felt was almost unbearable. However, I needed to put that feeling to the side so I could get back into the swing of work things… and while some things I was able to pick up easily again, other things at work took a bit of a learning curve to get back into. I do not know if it was the fact that I was away for a year or if my mind was just preoccupied by other priorities, but there were certain aspects of work that were more difficult to grasp than they used to be. This then led to the feeling of insecurity, of whether I was still actually good at my job and whether I did deserve to be there… And after a day of work like that, I would then return home to my child who spent the entire day crying for me. Oh the guilt.
It was that constant battle – trying to be a great employee while at the same time trying to be a fantastic mum. And if I succeeded at one, it was at the expense of the other. How exhausting… It is true that mums do go through a lot of guilt going back to work. We feel guilty putting anything else above the priority of our families, but at the same time, we try to be the best at work, but feel guilty when we have to leave right at 5pm to pick up our child.
The first few months (well, really the first year) back at work was a struggle. My team had increased in size so I was supporting double the amount of people and work than before, the pace of work was much faster, the amount expected of me was much more and I was not meeting expectations… and to top it off, I was struggling with a toddler who was having problems sleeping through the night, trying to get housework and a social life and time with my family all squished into three days…
My struggles at work definitely impacted my home life. I would come home in a terrible mood, and I hated the way I was with my husband and daughter. I was not liking this person I was becoming…
But eventually, Robyn settled in with my mum-in-law, her sleeping habits became regular (or else I became accustomed to interrupted sleep), work began to get better… and life began to have a bit of balance.
Would I ever give up work to be a stay-at-home mum? I see so many of my mum friends who love staying at home and are so grateful that they are able to, and I am happy for them. For me, personally, I do like having a job to go to where I can use my brain and have time dedicated to thinking about things other than, ‘What activity should I do with Robyn today? How can I keep her occupied? Why isn’t she eating today? Why is she having such a tantrum today? Can I get five minutes to myself?’
I feel that I have achieved (or on the way to achieving) that balance of work and life. I am now at a new job working closer to home and for only three days a week. I have a job where I do feel appreciated and acknowledged and challenged. I am so much less stressed than at my previous job, and even my husband has noticed how much of a good mood I am in nowadays. I get Mondays and Fridays with Robyn AND the weekends, and I get to indulge her in things like JingleBops and Baby Bear Ballet as well as playdates (which I truly enjoy and cherish), and still get time to clean the house (obviously this is never going to be 100% perfect but it’s the effort that counts!) and see other friends.
I almost feel bad saying I need time away from Robyn, but all of us parents do think it. We do need some time away from our children in order to recharge ourselves and our sanity. We were adults and individuals before we had children, and it is important to be able to keep hold of at least part of that. And now, because I do have that time away from Robyn, each moment I do spend with her is that much more special. I pick her up from her nan’s and we cuddle on the couch at home for a half hour before I bathe her and put her to bed, and she tells me about her day (as an almost three-year-old can do).
And I do feel grateful that I can have the best of both…