A big thank you to Sarah at Arthurwears for allowing me to repost her wonderful advice about colic and reflux, clearly a common and exhausting issue. This week I’m joined by Fourdownmumtogo to talk about the work/life balance and returning to work after having children.
Parenting is all about the challenges, well it is if you are me. I sometimes wonder if there are parents out there, fantastical beings like unicorns or leprechauns, who actually breeze through the whole process of rearing more human beings without falling down any potholes along the way. If they do exist I have already decided that I don’t like them very much, as they would only show me up for the shoddy mummy that I am.
For me the baby years were nothing but a process of lurching from one crisis to the next. With son number one it was the heart wrenching, soul-destroying guilt at being unable to breastfeed. The shame of whipping out a bottle when everyone else was smugly latching their babies to their boobs was excruciating.
A bout of PND followed and I was wrapped in a fug of miserable self-doubt for many months. Simple tasks like showering or making conversation that consisted of more than a series of grunts interspersed with unstoppable tears, became Herculean. Nine long months later it passed, only to rear its head with varying degrees of severity when I had sons number two, three and four.
Bringing me onto my next big challenge, which was the arrival of twin boys, when my elder sons were just three and five. Now, as you may have gathered, I would not describe myself as a natural at mothering, so coping with four aged five and under was a big ask. I think my oldest two were brought up entirely by the television for the next two years, while I tried to remain vaguely sane and presentable whilst juggling baby twins.
Next up was the tricky business of educating our brood. How we have agonized over nursery, primary and secondary. There was the year of tears during which son number one was tutored and tested to gain a place at a local selective school.
It felt like winning the lottery when he got in, securing a place for all four boys, so at least that meant I could put all that non-verbal reasoning torture behind us for good.
But my latest challenge is proving to be one of the most testing yet – going back to work. While I have been a working from home mummy for most of the 12 years since I had my first child, the whole concept of office life had become alien to me. I don’t even mean that metaphorically, the idea of desks, computers and meetings really were as foreign as little green men in flying saucers.
Sadly life decided it was time that I dusted off my long lost social skills and attempted to walk in heels once again, by ripping the financial carpet from beneath our family. At the end of last year my husband’s ailing business finally breathed its last, leaving us with a ginormous mortgage on a new house bought in more optimistic times and not a penny to pay it.
So what’s a girl to do, but get a job? I had made a few half hearted attempts to find part time work in the past, but my, seemingly unreasonable, desire to actually take home some money to show for my work after paying for tax and childcare, had thus far barred this route for me. It is so perplexing that in the age of the internet, space travel and mobile phones employers still haven’t moved any closer to the idea of flexible, part-time or home working than they were back in Scrooge & Marley’s day.
I know so many highly educated, ridiculously capable women who are stuck at home with watching their careers wither and die, just because they would like to balance their career with spending at least some time with their children.
Hopping off this particular hobbyhorse of mine, I return to the rather pressing matter in hand. Once I decided to sacrifice all thoughts of work/life balance a job materialised almost overnight. It seemed as if one second my biggest outing was to the school gate and back, and the next I was buying myself a season ticket and working out the fasted route to the office. I felt woefully ill prepared.
As a good friend bluntly pointed to me when I announced that I had been offered a job: ‘Well you’d better get a new wardrobe then’. Clearly my uniform of fashion by George at Asda twinned with saggy Uggs would not be acceptable in the corporate jungle.
But it wasn’t just my clothes that were not up to the job. I soon realized that office politics was just as cutthroat as ever and I was severely out of practice. As a mum and a freelancer I had learned that the only word anyone wanted to hear was yes. Whether it was an editor with a writing commission or a child in need of a biscuit, the right answer was always yes, followed by asking how fast I should get it to them.
This approach was not so useful at work. Saying yes led me to staying late every night and feeling as if I were drowning in work. I soon learned that this mother had to toughen up. My proudest moment so far was to stand up to one colleague who was moaning that she had had to stay till 10pm the night before and didn’t see what I was complaining about.
I retorted: ‘Well it’s your choice if you want to put your work above your life, but I won’t do that’. Well that shut her up and left me dancing a jig of victory, albeit inside my head.
Though I know I still have some way to go before I really nail this latest challenge as, despite my bravery in the office, I was still brought to hot, snotty tears when my six-year old baby boy snuggled into me this weekend and said ‘Mummy I miss you every minute of every day when you are at work’.
*If you would like to contribute to the My Mountain series with a piece about your own biggest parenting challenge please email email@example.com*