It’s almost been two months. Two months since the return to work. Since the day I re-entered the “rat race” and commuter-hell and dragged my smart-casual, sometimes just down-right smart clothes out from the back of the wardrobe, dusted off some heels, and reminded myself how to apply make-up.
In truth, when I was pregnant with baby Claudia and certainly as maternity leave approached for a second time around, I’d thought more than once that this was likely to be my exit route out of the working world and into full-time stay-at-home-mummyness (not a word sure, but hey!). But then I experienced what it was like to be a stay-at-home-mum to two children under three: trying to potty-train while nurturing a newborn; trying to cope with breastfeeding and mastitis while keeping going with ballet classes and dancing around the living room to Disney Princess music at the demand of my pre-schooler; trying to juggle getting a baby and a toddler fed and bathed and into bed simultaneously, alone, ideally by 7.30pm or at the very least by 8, and it WAS HARD!
I feel a bit of a wimp saying it was HARD, because I found it hard and yet I had help from my mum – who’d come every Monday afternoon to visit – and help from my in-laws, who also came once a week. Then Allegra went to nursery two full days a week (those days were A LOT easier – dealing with just one child at home was a total breeze, I began to wonder what the hell I’d been doing all that time I was at home with just one baby first time around!).
So, how could it have been so tough?! Well, for all the help I had, I still had a fair bit of time when it was me and the two boos, alone. Richmond Daddy working long hours and never home for bath/bedtime. Plus Allegra decided she’d drop her afternoon nap around the time she turned two, so the fact that from the time Claudia woke up (around 6am) to the time Allegra went to bed at night (often around 8pm), I was all consumed by motherly duties: it felt pretty tough.
Then there’s all the other stuff that comes as part and parcel of being the one at home. The laundry, the constant tidying from room to room and back again (on repeat!), the cooking, the washing up, the bottle washing/sterilizing merry-go-round, the irregular ‘on-duty’ hours and lack of an HR department to go visit if you’re feeling a little over-worked and under-paid.
I take my hat off to the stay-at-home-mums who do it and who do it well. I had my good days, but mostly I think I felt like I was just about keeping my head above water.
Now don’t get me wrong, there was a TON of things I totally LOVED about being on mat leave again, this time around with two gorgeous girls. The middle of the afternoon teddy bears’ picnics and visits to the playground to have fun on the swings. Play-dates with our lovely local friends and coffee and story/problem-sharing with fellow at home mums. Spending time one-to-one with these two amazing little people that depended on me for everything, watching Claudia grow day-by-day from a tiny newborn into an increasingly independent toddler and seeing Allegra thrive as a big sister, growing up almost over-night from a toddler into a little lady with her own (strong!) wills and ways, likes and dislikes. That stuff can be pretty mind-blowing.
But for all the good stuff and even the not so good, for all that I was truly grateful for and for all that I couldn’t help but moan about, that year away from work taught me a lot about myself.
It taught me that as much as I love – and I really really really do love – being a mum, I need to have something else in my life that is just for me. I think right now that something else is a life in the working world.
Does that make me selfish? Does it make me greedy? – I hope not. I hope that I am some-way towards achieving the perfect balance, which of course is the holy grail, but here’s where I might just have lucked-out. You see my very fabulous work-place (hello boss if you happen to be reading this!) agreed to something amazing: the three-day week. So, for right now, that’s what I am working. I work three days a week, I have four days at home. It’s a balance that is working well for me, for us as a family, right now, I think.
The girls are both happily settled in a nursery/pre-school – Allegra does two full days and one half, Claudia two half and one full, and they are in the same place and often get to spend time together, which is lovely. Claudia settled in from the off and has never looked back, she totally loves it! She has been finger-painting, exploring gloop, making friends, going on trips to the playground, generally having a whale of a time. One day she even made a cheese scone (I’m assuming that was done with some level of help!)! My mum has Claudia one afternoon and then my in-laws have both girls another afternoon, so they get to see grandparents every week, and then they have two days during the week with me, and then the weekend we’re all together again as a family.
So far, it’s working.
I hope it will continue to do so.
It’s not without it’s challenges. There’s a fair bit of mental and physical juggling involved. I have had to become super-organized too – outfits laid out the night before, nursery bags packed with spare clothes, food batch cooked and in the freezer for Claudia week-on-week (less need for this now she’s moved on largely to fork mashed ‘real food’ vs purees). But I think it’s worth it.
I think going back to work has given me a greater sense of me again, a greater sense of myself, and I think it has helped make me a better, more patient parent.
More patient because when I have to deal with those inevitable pre-schooler tantrums, they feel more like isolated incidents and less like the latest in a series of never-ending illogical and irrational flare-ups, which test my limits and push my buttons! And in that way, they sort of feel more manageable.
I hope I don’t look back in years to come and feel regret that I may have missed out on spending this time with my girls when they are so young. But I think that if I do, then I’d be looking back through rose-tinted glasses, because in all honestly, for all the good times, there are lots of tough ones when you are a full time SAHM and some of us are better equipped than others to deal with those day-in-day out. I think for me, being a part-time stay-at-home-mum and a part-time working mum is the balance I need to ultimately be a good mum (and a slightly more sane one too!).
I know it’s not for everybody.
But I think it’s for me.
So for now, that is how things are and so long as everyone is happy, that is how things will stay. Let’s just see how we go…
Five Frivolous Things I Love About Being Back At Work
- Being able to drink hot tea or coffee, any time I want
- Being able to go to the toilet alone, any time I want
- Being able to get dressed-up in clothes that are otherwise incompatible with being around small children
- The amount of ‘alone time’ headspace
- Being able to start and (most importantly) finish conversations with fellow grown-ups
Five Frustrating Things I Loathe About Being Back At Work
- Having to have the girls ready to leave the house by 7.30am three days a week and getting myself out of pyjamas by 8am
- Having to function intelligently even if you’ve been up in the night due to a waking baby or your day officially began around 5am
- Self-inflicted anxiety caused by my constant compulsion to check emails when not in the office!
- Not being able to take my girls for an impromptu trip to the park on a sunny Tuesday afternoon (although of course I still can on a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday!)