I realise a title like this is one that evokes strong emotions amongst the lioness mothers for good reasons, so I’m just going to wade right on in and give up my two pence worth up front. They’re both bloody hard. The hardest thing is to realise that, and not get drawn into judgement of the marvellous women on the other camp.
And, in the interest of a rounded view, it’s not all bad either. Both are actually fantastic on their own merits too, so whilst the grass does often look greener over there, it’s also worth sometimes looking down and realising the grass beneath your feet is actually pretty lush too.
Back in the autumn of last year I went through a bit of an epiphany. For one reason or another, life as a stay at home Mum had just become too…well, what is the word… repetitive, boring, depressing..I don’t know, they all don’t tell the entire picture, but I definitely wasn’t finding the environment conducive to living my best life, which in a roundabout way, meant my kids probably weren’t living their best life either.
We’d travelled the road of their pre-school days together, and as the clock ticked on the mouse starting school, I begun to wonder what life would be like when I bumbled around the house five days a week, cleaning, tidying, occasionally blogging about…er (what would I blog about?!) and meeting other mum friends for the occasional brunch.
Granted, to the busy working mum this may seem idyllic, but the truth is that as the girls dependency on me lessened, life as a stay at home mum became lonely, isolating and lacked stimulation and colour for my endlessly busy and creative mind.
Had I not been made redundant after my first daughter I would have never been in this situation at all. Compounded by the fact the timing came just after the birth of my second daughter, a rainbow baby following a traumatic loss. The plan had always been that I’d have popped the girls in nursery and carried on with my career, happily juggling and balancing ‘it all’.
Life does however seem to have a plan for us, and when my job was whipped out from under me, I was happy to snuggle up with my girls, hold them tight and never miss a moment, and be glad that the Monday blues would be gone forever. Or a while anyway.
It didn’t take long to realise that my time as a SAHM wouldn’t be forever, and I quickly transitioned to a place where I knew this would be a chapter, one that was finite and would ultimately close when the time was right for me to return to work. After 14 years in the same company the thought both terrified and excited me, yet I was more than happy to pop it on the back burner, whip out the play dough and forget about it until the time came when ‘I was ready’.
We enjoyed long summers, lazy rainy days and everything in between. I learnt how to make the best of the situation and with a little help from some good supportive friends, we truly made some incredible memories that we’ll treasure always. As Dad Muddling Through would say, it was hard to tell where the girls ended and I began; we were as one.
But life at home with the girls wasn’t all baking and play dates. I set up my own business and spent my time when the kids were napping, in bed or at nursery building my own little empire in the form of this blog. I wondered at times if this was where my future lay? Could I be the next unmumsy Mum? The future honest Mum?
But, as the years rolled by and I stared at a blank page wondering how I could jazz up a review of a non descript kids collectible toy, I wondered if this was a life that would really keep my fires burning.
And so, amidst the haze of a bit of a dark patch, after five years of being a stay at home Mum, I decided I wanted to go back to my old career, in Science.
That decision was huge for me, and even though I gave myself a 9-12 month timeline to make it happen, it was a huge sense of relief to know that my life too would involve leaving the house in smart clothes, having intellectual challenges and, dare I say it, a break from being, hearing, writing about being “Mummy”.
Motherhood has been an all consuming journey for me, like many of us, but in a way tiptoeing tentatively into my career allowed me to realise a part of myself from pre-motherhood. It meant so much more than just getting a job, or bringing in an income; it was about identity, self care and also, being a role model to my daughters, who I’d always worried about seeing me as the primary carer, washer upper, laundry lady and general dogs body.
But there were no regrets. None at all. I’ll always look back on the time I had at home with the kids with an overflowing sense of happiness and love. (Even if it wasn’t always exactly that!). My redundancy was a gift and one I’ll always be grateful for landing on my door at the perfect time.
From my Eureka moment, it took just three months for conversations to trickle into names and emails, and in no time at all, I found myself at an interview for a fantastic job back in my industry. When I accepted the job, a local childminder confirmed her availability for the days I needed and the job allowed me to wait until the start of a new term, so I could apply for extra childcare funding. It truly did feel like it was meant to be.
I’m now three months into being a working Mum again. I’m doing three days a week and we have navigated the murky waters of our first holiday childcare wise. We are yet to experience a sick day (yet I know it’s inevitable) but we have found a new appreciation for the balance it’s brought us.
The adjustment hasn’t been easy on the kids. Far from it for our youngest, but we have persevered and she is getting there. They love their childminder and have even complained on the days they haven’t been to her (!). Thanks kids.
I have been riding on the crest of a wave since being back in the thick of it. A new found sense of freedom and drive, and a belief that I can have it all. The office environment feels like I have never been away and I have met some amazing new people from all walks of life – not just women with 4-7 year olds.
I have learnt so much already and felt proud of career achievements that had been buried right at the bottom of my mind under the baby memories, Tesco online food shop and after school club itinerary.
It has been amazing, really amazing. And the first pay day was pretty nice too.
Until that is, reality kicked in. Because despite the fact that yes I do clearly love my job, I have landed on my feet big time, being back at work hasn’t been entirely a bed of roses.
This week I had my first melt down. Reality hit and I struggled to contain the emotions. My head was brimming with dates for this that and the other, I had messages about own clothes days and bring a bottle, sports day, induction days, shows, appointments, childcare gaps as well as the days I had to swap for work reasons. Despite trying my hardest to manage it all like a project manager does best, it got to me. There were big ugly tears, and hugs needed.
The pressure I feel inside to do a good job, to make a good impression after so long away is intense. Learning and keeping up with a whole new language and asking just the right amount of questions to do the job, without being a right pain in the bum is a tricky one.
The thing is, when you have to split yourself in half, no matter how flexible or supportive your employer may be, it can feel like you’re always letting someone down. Your kids, your boss, your team, your partner, your friends. Something does have to give and it’s going to take time to get that balance right. To accept that I used to be able to be at everything, and I no longer can, or have to. It’s now that I need to rationalise, communicate and ask for support in what’s needed, and together, I’m sure it will all be fine in the end.
Over the last few months I’ve felt a little bad when I have gushed to other stay at home Mums about how much I love being back at work. Equally, when I used to look at the working Mums in their element discussing their important jobs, I felt envious of them. As I know they did of me, in my flip flops and messy hair bun without a care in the world other than what’s for tea tonight; with all the time in the world and my biggest complaint that I’d been a bit bored this week.
This ramble has therefore been about realisation and acceptance, that whatever your motherhood looks like, however you have managed to make it work, there is neither an easy option or an awful option. Every scenario comes with it’s own highs and lows no matter how perfect it may look, or hard it may feel.
Motherhood is a journey and it’s sometimes a bumpy ride. But that’s no bad thing; it shapes us and helps us to grow, to appreciate the small things and, ultimately, to make it from “Good morning Mummy” to bed time, whatever lies in between.