Power suits and quadruple espressos…

…move aside. Ambitious women have a new ally: other women. I don’t mean the ones who snipe behind your back or make you feel bad for having the wrong shoes. I mean the ones who’ve become fairly senior and are now making damn sure that there’s not only a ladder for us lot to climb, but they’re pouring concrete and building a solid staircase.

Take my manager (well she’s sort of my manager, sort of not, I can’t get the hang of our ridiculous management structure) she’s currently spearheading a new programme to address the needs of mums returning to work after maternity leave. She sees that we have a million and one things to cope with, and that it’s not easy and that we need support.

You might think “Ah whatever, everyone’s got something to deal with” or “This is positive discrimination gone too far”…maybe even “This is simple proof that there is no place for women in any decent workforce, oh Hilda dear my shirts need starching, and would it kill you to have my dinner ready at 6:15 rather than 6:25???” To be honest many of my colleagues seem slightly bewildered that anything in my life has changed at all. I think they see it a bit like getting a lodger. Ok your junk room has to turn into a bedroom and you give them a shelf in the fridge, but after that they just do their own thing. Oh how wrong they are.

The fact is that apart from cataclysmic (and hopefully rare) events like plagues, war and famine, or huge serious health problems, raising a baby is the only thing that will change your life this drastically. And like all things of this enormity, no one will understand unless they’ve been there themselves. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true. And given that truth, women are other women’s greatest ally.

Only another mum would understand when you say that going to the toilet when you like and on your own is exciting. Only they would laugh knowingly when you say you’re sooooo excited to be wearing a normal bra. And only they would know just how hard it is turning your mind one second to a technical analysis and the next to making sure you sing Wind The Bobbin Up just right with all the correct actions.

I’m lucky and excited to have a manager who is pushing to get us working mums the support we need. Now it behoves the rest of us to keep up the momentum and pull each other up as we go.

And, I might add, the same is true for mums who have their kids to look after full time.

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Reflections on year one

When I woke up (was woken up) prematurely this morning we went through our usual wake up routine of “I’ll pour the milk, you go and get her”. I took her downstairs and I checked my phone and looked at an app which reminded me that exactly one year ago my husband and I had a huge argument about responsibility and how hard it is looking after a baby. I remember that argument well; I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours for 2 months, my boobs were full and sore, our house was a chaotic mess of baby and boxes (we’d recently moved in) and my daughter wouldn’t stop crying. I can even remember thinking that there was no way that our marriage would last……well I am happy to say that it’s a little over a year since our tiny bundle of joy entered the world and we are still very much together, and very happy. Other things which have surprised me:

1. I have discovered a new kind of tiredness. Bad news- the tiredness never ends; you just learn to cope with it. Actually, you just find a new kind of tiredness.

2. Babies fart. I didn’t realise this (I know I’m stupid) and it came as a big shock when she did her first blow off. I have also regressed and joined my daughter in finding farts funny again.

3. I don’t feel guilty about going to work. I know some mothers do, but I dont. I adore my girl and I wish that I could spend more time with her, but I’ve got used to sending her to nursery and get a huge rush every day when I pick her up. It’s wonderful knowing that she has had a great day of playing and learning with people who are more experienced in child development than me, and I enjoy my dual role of pen pusher and mother again. I even don’t mind that my daughter has a girl crush on one of the nursery nurses – Zaneta that’s you- because I know that Mummy is number 1.

4. Work is better. I work because I have to. When I went back, I went back to the same job. It’s satisfying and rewarding to me, and I make more of an effort than I did before- mainly because I want to, whereas before I felt that it was just sort of expected. However, as I explained to my manager just before my mid year appraisal I don’t really care anymore, which makes my decision making more rational. Or something like that.

5. I am not heartbroken when my baby cries. I find it quite annoying sometimes. It’s heart breaking when she is hurt or in pain, and I want to make it all better for her, but when it’s a case of “I want the remote control” or something like that, it’s irritating.

6. I am superwoman. I don’t think that my husband realised this when he married me, and I certainly didn’t reveal my powers to him until I gave birth. I have the power to reproduce. The power to comfort a screaming baby. The power to put a baby to sleep. The power to maintain a clean(ish) house, a full time job, a full-up husband, and a baby that is still alive after 13 months of being assigned to us.

7. How amazing she is. I thought that would die down a bit, but every time I look at her she has a new expression, or does something that I didn’t know she could do, or when she responds to something I didn’t think she’d understand, I get a huge rush of love and just want to pick her up and cuddle and kiss her. This happens practically on a second by second basis.

I love my new life. It’s totally weird and different, and there is plenty I would change, but I love it. Thank you my little miracle baby.

Going back to work….

I thought I’d leap in and write a blog post about going back to work and putting my daughter in nursery following the great posts of my gorilla mums friends.  It’s so hard knowing what to do and each solution has to be the right one for you and your family.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted and that’s precisely because I just haven’t had any spare time and when I do have a brief moment of opportunity I try to use it sleeping!

For me and my husband there really was no option.  I had to go back to work and I had to go back full time – we both did.  For us, when I became pregnant, the most sensible thing to do was to sell our cute flat and buy somewhere that could happily accommodate a baby, so we moved and bought a house.  That increases the mortgage, the outgoings, paying for the baby etc….  Anyway enough of the justification.

We were incredibly lucky to have found a nursery that we were happy with when I was just 5 months pregnant because (a) the place for her didn’t become available for over a year later and (b) I knew it was an excellent place and just the kind of care I wanted for her because my nephews had gone there before they moved to Singapore. 

She’s there 4 days a week; I look after once per fortnight on  the remaining day (I work full time but work compressed hours) and my parents or my husband looks after her once per fortnight.  It’s exhausting but it’s the best solution for us and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best things we’ve done for her.

I had a melt down about a month before my maternity leave ended and ranted to my friends about how unfair it was that my baby wasn’t ready to be separated from me and that I was an awful mother, but in fact I think the reverse is true.  It’s me who wasn’t ready to be separated and actually I think I’m turning out to be a pretty reasonable mummy – and our daughter is turning out to be a happy, feisty and well developed little girl.

The days are most certainly long – she’s waking up at 5.30am and since I mentally don’t switch off properly until about 10.30pm that usually adds up to a very tired woman pretending she doesn’t have bags under her eyes and trying to pull off the impression of a diligent and capable senior policy manager.  I am without fail on the 7.38 train every day, have 20 minutes for lunch, and around 4 policy/personnel meetings per day. Yet my 8.25am – 4.30pm working day (with top ups in the evening) is not the longest part. The longest part of my day is undoubtedly the walk from the station to the nursery – it takes 15 minutes but as I turn the corner to the road where it’s located I break into something of a frantic walk (I must look like a mad chicken on speed and dressed in a suit) and reach my hand out to knock on the door long before it is able to make contact with it.  I’m not kidding – I’ve tripped a couple of times.  And there I am, excited and giddy as a schoolgirl and with arms outstretched, at 5.40pm  to cuddle my girl.  The walk home is fun – she’s excited to see me too and we have a play at home for about 30 minutes before she’s ridiculously tired and it’s bed and bath time. We don’t see her much during the week but those 30 minutes are magical and those bedtime cuddles are the best in the world.

Weekends are precious.  It’s not just us who love her and want to see her, and we have the usual household stuff to do and people we want to see too, so packing everything us and having family time is difficult – there’s no two ways about it.  And I miss seeing my friends and their babies too, and having a tidy and ordered house, and spare cash to spend on this and that.

I tell you what though, I wouldn’t change it.  Yes, of course I would love to see more of my beautiful daughter and yes, I could definitely do without all of the stressed that I’ve just described above. The Fridays I’ve had off with her are brilliant.  But to be honest I enjoy work and, for me, I want to work and see that as part of being a positive female role model for my daughter (nb I know there are lots of positive female role models).  I’m mentally stimulated, I have friends at work that I can whinge to, and I believe I’m more rounded and fulfilled for being there.  But – crucially – the most important benefits are my daughter’s.  She absolutely loves nursery – she’s very very happy there.  Yes she is excited to see me when I pick her up, but I’ve also seen how happy she is when she thinks I’m not there too.  She spends her time there being cuddled, playing, copying the older children and having regular sleep and healthy food.  She’s learned to stand, crawl and cruise far more quickly than we expected her to; she’s communicating more confidently; and she’s learning far more social skills than she would have done if I had been caring for her full time.  She’s not as dependant on me or my husband and is generally much more tolerant of new people, she sleeps without a fuss (usually) and eats like a trooper.  She goes for regular walks, feeds ducks, learns about flowers and trees… the list goes on.  I know I did some of this with her before when it was just us, but rather than seeing nursery as a childcare solution I now see it as an investment.

My heart breaks every time I leave her.  I spend all day at work wanting to see her and missing her.  I think about her all the time and, frankly, just don’t care very much about things at work that used to stress me out.  . As I type this she is being cuddled to sleep by her daddy and it’s images like that which come to mind and almost make me cry when some idiot is being annoying about a deadline at work. Every day, the best part of my day is seeing her. I adore my girl and the best part of my day is seeing her.  I applaud those women who stay at home to look after their little ones.  Their reasons are as valid as mine and if being a mother has taught me anything it’s that one size does not fit all – mothers and their babies are all different.  But for us, this is the best way.

GUEST BLOG: Going back to work after having kids

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…