Oh yes, this is what Shakespeare (and indeed current celebrities and politicians) should write about. Perhaps the ultimate question of parenthood – do I return to work after maternity leave, or stay at home for a while to be with the smalls. For some mums, circumstances mean this decision is made for us but for those privileged enough to have the choice, it’s still a potentially huge lifestyle change. It’s a BIG question we all face, and not just once. We have to make the decision over and over and over again – after a long tiring day, whenever our little one is ill, when you see a holiday advert on TV, when a former inexperienced colleague is gloating on LinkedIn about their new promotion. The questioning never stops – to work, or not to work?
The benefit of choice
In this day and age we, as mothers, have arguably never had so many options over childcare and work-life balance. Now before you get up in arms, I’m not saying for one minute that it’s perfect or there’s no space for improvement – boy is there room for better maternity leave, benefits, work flexibility, equality in the workplace, flexi hours etc. (Don’t get me started, this could be a whole other blog!) But my current point is this – compared to women in history, we’re pretty lucky. But options inevitably lead to difficult decisions, decisions I think we can all relate to whatever choice we ultimately make.
I’ve done both. With my first child I worked full time with a 9 month old baby and 2 hour round commute. This time, I’ve opted to be a stay-at-home mum for the time-being. So believe me, i can see all sides of the endless debate. So how do we choose? How do we choose between a career, money, time to ourselves and ‘adult life’, or more time with our children, endless Cbeebies, playgroups and no money? Ahhh ladies, I wish I had the answer.
And now, during the global Covid-19 pandemic, making this choice has taken on a whole new dimension. With increasing job uncertainty, childcare concerns, health issues and home-working there are even more aspects to consider. Despite these current extraordinary times, the decision whether to return to work or stay at home with the kids remains a pretty pickle.
Option 1 – Climb Every (Career) Mountain…
Ah yes, the career. What we’ve spent years working towards – exams/training, gaining experience and seeking promotion. Whatever your workplace, whatever your job, we’ve all worked hard to be there. So do we want to give it up? Do we want to surrender our job to someone else, have an empty bank balance and forget those dreamy ambitions? “No way!”
Going back to work after maternity leave is a shock to the system, in quite a good way. I loved the hot drinks, solo toilet trips, chatting aimlessly about Bake Off with colleagues, problem solving, meetings etc. It scared me that hours would go by without me even thinking about the child. “Oops, should have remembered to check she’s had her nap or eaten all her lunch”. But you know what, working felt good. I was doing it for me, but also for my family. The money meant we could plan holidays, save for a rainy day, buy toys and choose new clothes. I was also showing my little girl that you can be a woman and have it all – work, home, family. Some (rare) days I felt like I could do anything – super mum, super colleague, super wife. But to be honest, most days I just managed.
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This is the reality isn’t it – tiredness, brain in overload, constant never ending to-do lists and an aching feeling inside that we’re spread too thin and can’t quite do everything the way we want to. But ladies, you ARE doing it. Working Mums are legen! Working Mums are the backbone of society, they get on with it and manage endless tasks that would daunt anyone else. And I know we all have times when we dream about handing our notice in and spending times with the chubby little person at home. But it’s not always a practical or financial option, and sometimes it’s just not possible. There’s always the in-between option of going freelance, which brings its own set of pros and cons. So comfort yourself that choosing to work doesn’t make you less of a Mum, not in any way, it makes you a superhero.
Option 2 – Climb Every (Soft play) Mountain
Stay-at-home Mum has a kind of stereotype associated with it doesn’t it? But I’ve found since joining the ranks after having my second child that we’re a varied crowd. We’ve done it for many different reasons – childcare is too expensive, partner earns enough, can’t bear to leave the child, can’t leave the child because of a medical reason. The list goes on. Every reason behind each SAHM’s decision is valid, varying and has probably caused many hours of lost sleep. The decision to not seek a second income to support your family is a terrifying one, it’s hugely practical and often boils down to “can we afford the mortgage/rent?” It’s a wonderful thing to be with your tiddlers all day every day, never have to hear of an achievement from someone else and always be there for cuddles. Plus coffee at playgroup is really good, as is some serious chatting about the local school’s Ofsted rating and an upcoming new TV series.
It’s not all Costa socialising but it is a life filled with Mum friends, soft play, playgroups, Cbeebies and yes – loneliness. Because being a SAHM isn’t always wonderful, it’s also bloody hard. You never get a break. Ever. It’s 24/7. The husband thinks you have plenty of free time on your hands to book his dental appointment, go to the post office, clean the entire house, do a food shop and see his parents. And some days, I do have the time. Other days it’s a battle from morning to night that leaves me wanting to move out, and seriously questioning my decision not to split the childcare with qualified providers. Choosing not to work doesn’t make you less of a person, doesn’t devalue you in society or enable a 1950s housewife lifestyle – it’s hard bringing up small children and many couldn’t hack it all day every day (and night). So all you stay-at-home Mums out there, you’re superheroes too.
Take a Trip up the Stairs
To work or not to work? Well, go upstairs now and steal a look at the sleeping face of your precious little ones, and remind yourself it’s all for them. We’re all trying to provide for our children the best life we can – whether we have to work, choose to work or are stay at home mums. There will be days when you’ll want to change your mind, and others when you feel really blessed. Go Mama, you’ve got this!