From the day Moo was born I’ve second-guessed every decision I’ve made with regards to his wellbeing. While my confidence as a mother has definitely grown over the last 10 months, I am currently facing my biggest challenge yet – trying to balance the ‘mummy me’ with the ‘career-focused me’.
When I headed off on maternity leave last December, I was 80% sure that I wouldn’t be returning to my job. I said my goodbyes with a feeling of finality, wrote a letter to my boss thanking her for her support and was ready to start a new chapter in my life. A year later I am preparing to go back to work three days per week and am wracked with guilt about leaving my precious Moo in childcare, while at the same time feeling increasingly frustrated by my limited career options.
Most of my reasons for returning to work are practical ones. Alarmingly the money tree we planted in the backyard has failed to fruit and my savings have dwindled down to nearly nothing. Living in Melbourne means we have a mortgage the size of a Rudd’s ego for a house that seems to shrink as the toy box grows. If we are lucky enough to give Max a sibling, Lach and I would have to take up residence in a teepee in the backyard as our second bedroom is the size of a linen closet. And then there’s Moo’s education that we need to start saving for because he’ll be ready for high school before we can blink and dem fees ain’t cheap.
My other reason for returning to work part-time is selfish. I love my job. I love being good at my job. While I’ve adored spending 24/7 watching Moo grow into an inquisitive and entertaining toddler, I do miss the mental stimulation and social interaction of work. My ambition didn’t disappear along with my pert bosoms and flat stomach. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to spend my days singing “Toot toot chugga chugga big red car” and smothering my Moo with smooches, but a part of me is also looking forward to putting on some mascara and immersing myself in something other than trying to wake up narcoleptic Jeff.
My unwillingness to give up on my career aspirations makes me feel guilty, but then I think – why should I feel bad about not wanting to throw away years of study and hard slog to become a professional ironer? I believe that enjoying a stimulating and fulfilling career is essential to my overall happiness and that will make me a better Mum.
But who knows what the right decision is, I certainly don’t. On my first day back at work, I’m sure I’ll be bawling my eyes out in the office bathroom and feeling like the worst mother in the world. But if I stay at home, I think the isolation, cabin fever and monotony will probably make me a less tolerant and imaginative Mum. To clarify, I’m talking about myself here. I don’t think you’re any less inspiring, intelligent and imaginative if you choose not to work. I also don’t believe that you’re a better mother if you decide to stay at home just because you think it’s what you SHOULD do. Life is too full of ‘shoulds’. Some women are cut out for staying at home indefinitely and some aren’t. My aim is to try and find a happy medium and I’m hoping three days at work and four days at home will be it.
In a lot of ways Australian workplaces are still living in the dark ages when it comes to supporting new mums. I’m lucky enough to have a boss who seems open to me returning to a management position three days per week, but there is still a huge roadblock when it comes to even distribution of parental responsibilities.
My husband is a very devoted and hands-on father. He would love to work four days a week so he could spend one day at home with Moo but as a senior executive for an international organisation, that isn’t an option. The overall sentiment is that Dad brings home the bacon while looking after the bub from Monday to Friday is Mum’s responsibility. So Mum has to either give up her career until the kids go to school or be consumed by guilt and often judged by relatives and friends for going back to work and engaging childcare.
I’d love to see workplaces being more open to Dads spending one day a week at home which would allow more career-flexibility and less guilt for Mum while supporting Dad-child bonding. I know we are making inroads, but we still have a long way to go in recognising women’s value in the workplace post-baby and Dad’s desires to spend more time raising their kids.
As a side note it shits me to tears when I go out on my own and am asked “Is Dad babysitting tonight?”, no one ever asks my husband “Is Mum baby-sitting tonight?” because it’s not friggin’ baby-sitting when it’s YOUR child and spending time looking after your offspring is not baby-sitting just because you’re a bloke, it’s being a parent! Ok, ok, I’ll stop burning the bra now…
I hope in time that mums like me won’t find themselves stuck between a rock and a demotion when it comes to balancing their careers with being loving and nurturing mothers. I also hope that Dads will feel more comfortable broaching the possibility of working part-time so they can share the Mon-Fri parental responsibilities. For now, I guess I’ll just keep lying awake at night trying to find an outcome that benefits the most important thing in my life – my Moo.