I always imagined I’d love being a stay-at-home-mum. My friends and I used to joke about all the coffee mornings we’d have watching This Morning, eating doughnuts and generally chilling out (Just…wow. Sometimes I really could smack Old Me). Although I’ve always enjoyed working, and I’m pretty good at it, I’ve never been what you’d describe as a career girl. I assumed once I became a mum I would find my forte in life and never look back. I figured I would eventually go back to work part time but it would be because we needed the money, not because I actually wanted to return.
My expectations of motherhood differed a great deal from the reality. Even after I recovered from postnatal depression, I realised that I often felt lonely, isolated and that my confidence had taken a serious hit. I had gone from feeling competent and useful at work to feeling structureless and dissatisfied at home. In the workplace, you have appraisals to let you know how you’re getting on but there’s nobody to praise you or give your constructive feedback on your role as a mum. If you’re lucky, at work you clock off at 5pm and get a hour’s break at lunch but for mothers there are no breaks. Being a mum can be relentless, frustrating and sometimes tedious. And you’re not getting paid. It broke my heart a little to admit it but, I needed something more.
On the flip side, I knew I couldn’t bear to leave my son for five days a week. He drives me wild at times but I know I need to be there to be driven wild for at least half the week! Being a parent is an utterly unique experience and I didn’t want to miss too much. So I began the hunt for the often elusive part time work. I feel incredibly blessed to be in a line of work where this is an option and I fortunately found a three-day-a-week role (which has since evolved to two days) fairly swiftly.
There are countless reasons why this balance works for me but here are my top six:
Nursery Benefits My Son
I simply can’t measure how much Caterpillar has gained from going to nursery two days a week. From creative play and social skills to early word and number work, I honestly believe he has learnt so, so much from his childcare providers. He has formed connections and had experiences he simply wouldn’t have got at home with me. In addition, as he has been going since he was nine months old so it really helped to side-step the separation anxiety issues.
As mentioned above, I’m someone who needs balance and variety in my life. Those two days at work help to freshen me up for Caterpillar, so that I’m able to be a more creative, more patient and generally happier mum on those precious days that I do spend with him. Being away from my mummy life for two days a week helps me to appreciate how lucky I am the rest of the time.
I’m not sure if this is a plight of all mums or just me but I struggle with my confidence as a mum almost constantly. I’ve gotten better at just trusting my instincts and going with the flow as Caterpillar has grown up but I still often question if I’m parenting well enough. Is he eating healthily enough? Am I being strict enough or am I being too strict? Is he watching too much TV? And so on. At work, there’s none of that doubt and guilt. I’m given tasks that I feel confident in achieving, I carry them out and I’m able to ask for useful feedback on said tasks. This work confidence gives me the boost I need to tackle the endless parenting questions. In addition, going to an office job forces you to make a little more effort with your physical appearance which also helps build your personal confidence.
I definitely didn’t anticipate how lonely parenting can be. I think this is why I love baby groups and classes so much, because it simply gets me out of the house and interacting with other adults (even if all we do end up talking about is our kids, ironically enough). Now Caterpillar is three and can have proper conversations it’s a lot easier, but being alone at home during those early days can be really emotionally challenging for a lot of us. Going to work means I get two whole days surrounded only by adults where we can chew the fat over everything from reality TV to politics. This is like brain food for mums in my opinion.
My journey to work is an hour and a half each way which I know would fill a lot of people with dread but not me. That is 6 hours each week of completely uninterrupted time to myself – I read, write, listen to music, sleep or simply enjoy the kind of peace that just doesn’t exist in a home with a toddler. It allows me to indulge in lots of self-care which is great for your emotional wellbeing.
Keeps Experience Fresh
We all have to go back to work eventually, even if it isn’t until our children are leaving school, and I can’t help thinking that the longer you have away from the workplace the trickier the transition back into it may be. Even after a year away, it was a difficult adjustment for a short while. By keeping my toe in the pool, my CV remains current and I can easily stay on top of current business trends and systems.
I recognise that working part time is simply not possible for everyone – whether that be due to financial or career reasons – and I feel extremely lucky to be able to keep my life so well balanced in this way. I’m in complete and utter awe of stay-at-home-mums – how they manage to do the hardest job on this planet without a single day off and still keep hold of their sanity impresses me no end. I feel lucky and blessed to have the best of both worlds.
This post was originally written for The Huffington Post – you can read the rest of my posts for them here.