I can still remember the feeling acutely. Driving into the daycare centre to pick my baby up, panicked as the clock neared 6pm, worried about the work I had left undone at the office and above all excited to see my son. That roller-coaster of emotions occurred on a daily basis when I worked full time. I felt, like many career mothers feel, that I was completely torn between two lives. That I was not capable of delivering the same quality of work and quantity of time to my career that I once could and that I was not giving enough to my child. Even though all evidence pointed to the contrary, I was convinced I was failing at both roles. And after I filled my mother role, my career role and my growing self-doubt role, there was precious little left over to give to my husband, the house and (last on the list) myself. I know so many working women who feel like this. But perhaps we are our own worst enemy. Maybe, as well as looking critically at work practices and our situation, we need to challenge our beliefs.
Challenging Your Beliefs
I know so many wonderful mothers who worry that they are not giving 100% to both their role as mother and their career. But I wonder if anyone around them actually thinks that. It’s helpful to be completely objective and ask: What factual evidence can I bring to prove the assumptions I am making? Through that thinking we begin to understand what is truly a problem and what is our inner critic going unchecked. Are your kids happy (ish)? Is your work getting done (ish)? Yes? Then you are doing just fine.
You might have seen this article, recently discussed on the news: Study shows time spent with children aged 3 to 11 has little impact on how they turn out. Turns out mummy guilt about being away from our children isn’t necessary. Kids don’t need us quite as near as we think they do.
When you became a mother your perception of yourself changed. Your view point altered. The things that matter shifted. But your ability remains. The value you bring to your chosen career hasn’t shifted. You may view work through a different lens, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t just as good as your job as you once were. I love this post that explains why mothers make good employees: Motherhood makes women better employees.
You have made a decision in terms of your career. Maybe the income is necessary. Maybe you need to remain visible in your chosen field or risk your entire career. Maybe you are passionate about your job. Maybe you worked incredibly hard to get where you are and you have no intention of giving that up. Maybe your work provides you with a sense of fulfilment. There are dozens of reasons why you have made your decision. Own it. If you have no choice but to work, own it. You are doing it because your family needs you to. If you have chosen to work, own it. Don’t apologise for it. You have made that decision between the walls of your family home and with the people that matter. Other opinions are not really relevant.
When I asked my lovely friend, who works as a Staff specialist haematologist/pathologist about her perspective on being a working mother, I loved her answer: I love my children and I love my job. I feel fulfilled at work and I feel that what I do at work contributes enormously to the wider community. Do I feel guilty about leaving my children in care? No. I don’t feel guilty for working because every time I make an early diagnosis of cancer in a child that then facilitates them getting early lifesaving treatment, or find a reason for the crippling lethargy in the 80 year old woman that can be treated, I’m glad that I’m here doing the job I have trained for and that my children are being looked out for my the amazing people, of both family and friends, that make up my support network.
Challenging Your Situation
What can you do in your situation to make life easier? Is it possible to outsource tasks? Could you have a cleaner come once a week or fortnight? If homework is proving a nightmare, is there a chance to start a homework club after school with some other kids and share the supervision within a group of parents? If extra-curricular activities are strangling the precious time you have with your children, can you cut back? Is everyone in the household pulling their weight? Are there certain jobs you are doing that belong to your kids? Have a look at your life and see where there are opportunities to ease pressure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We have this idea that requesting help is like an admission of failure. But we all need support. Particularly mothers.
Maybe your situation just isn’t working for you and your family. Do you need to consider changing your role? Is it even possible? Sometimes we have to be brave enough to ask the question. After a year of full time work, I realised that it was not the best balance for my family. I moved into a part time role and things felt better. Did it affect my career? Most definitely. Was it the decision that made the most sense for my family. Yes. Now, I am working for myself, with all the uncertainty and excitement that brings. I still have difficulty switching from work mode to mother mode. I still struggle with identity outside of visible career success. But the balance of work feels right for our family.