I was adamant throughout my pregnancy that I would continue to live as close to my ‘normal’, ‘pre-pregnancy’ life as possible once the baby arrived. That I would not get ‘lost’ in Motherhood and become detached from the traits of my personality and the characteristics of my lifestyle that made me ‘me’. I called for meetings with my boss to discuss my return to work (though unsure on the actual timings of when this would be) and wanted to make it absolutely clear that I wanted to retain my position. I told anyone who would listen that I would continue to do things for myself and show my daughter from the very beginning that both Mummies and Daddies work.
No one was more shocked than I was when I made the decision to ‘give up’ my job after 8 years in the workplace. Whether we think we are prepared for it or not, having a baby has a massive impact on our lives in so many varying ways. My reasons for not returning stemmed from multiple factors, and whilst it was not an ‘easy’ decision to make, my gut had made my mind up for me before I could process my thoughts fully. I didn’t feel I could leave Thea, even if our situation had more so easily allowed.
For a while I have wanted to create a post on returning to work after maternity leave, or in my case, not returning. I started to write, and I somehow felt that I wasn’t going to be able to effectively get the message that I wanted to across. I didn’t want to simply describe my own situation and how I felt personally, without being able to offer another perspective, or convey that I wholeheartedly respect and understand the many reasons that other Mums may be doing things differently. There is no one ‘right’ way, and the last thing I wanted to do was give the impression that I thought mine was, without giving a nod to fellow Mamas.
I decided the post should be a collab, and reached out to other blogging Mums with children of a similar age, each with individual circumstances with regards to their return to work. We put together a simple Q&A to discuss our thoughts, reasons and doubts over our situations. You can link to read their answers at the end of this post!
Here are mine…
- How soon after having your baby (or finding out you were pregnant!) did you decide how you would continue after maternity leave?
Before going on maternity leave and all through my pregnancy I was absolutely adamant that I would be returning to work. Firstly because of our financial situation, and secondly because I was oh-so-certain that the baby would work around me, slot into my life and I would be able to continue on as normal. PAHAHAHAHA. HA. Not so!
My decision to not return was a gradual one, made based on numerous factors following my daughter’s birth.
- Who else had influence over your decision?
My partner, because he said he would support whatever I decided, but also during my maternity leave, he had one of those ‘it’s now or never’ moments, and made a big decision to leave his job as a graphics installation manager and start up his own installation company. Since he’s still starting up and establishing a client base, it’s too soon to turn down work. His hours are long and completely random (sometimes I won’t see him for several days at a time while he works day and night, and I won’t know that is going to happen until a day or two before). The long and short of this is that I am pretty much the only ‘constant’ in Thea’s life, and the onus is on me for everything she does, wants, needs etc., so I want to be around to make sure she has some security in her life. Also, when my husband does get to have the odd day off, if I were due to be at work, this would then mean we’d not have the chance to be together as a family (he works a lot of weekends too), and that prospect just didn’t sit right with either of us.
My Mum, because when we were small she put her career on hold to be with us. She enjoyed it thoroughly, and doesn’t regret it one bit. All our memories of this time are deeply treasured and so happy. She went on to still have a brilliant career(s) and excel in many areas…so although becoming a stay at home Mum was never what I envisaged for myself or something I had ever even considered, my Mother’s recount of her choices and experience gave me the confidence to make the decision for myself, and my family.
- To what extent did finance have an impact on your choice?
I worked it out and after putting Thea into childcare, paying the train fare to the office & working reduced hours (I had a rough plan to work 6 hours, 4 days a week down from 8, 5 days a week), I would have only been a couple of hundred pounds a month better off (that’s not disposable income, that’s to contribute towards living costs etc.) and since my husband had now worked to get us in a position that allowed me the choice (which I am incredibly grateful for) I chose time with my daughter over that couple of hundred pounds.
- Do logistics/travel play a role in your decision?
We moved further away from my place of work to buy a house while I was pregnant…we got the keys after I had already begun my maternity leave. My train journey would have increased by about 15 minutes had I not got a baby to factor in. That doesn’t sound like much, but on top of this, I would have also had to somehow get Thea to and from nursery on foot (there are no nurseries near our home or nearby to any train stops on the way to the office) and get to work on time for a reasonable number of hours that would have made the faff worthwhile.
The move had a huge impact on my decision, but to re-locate to this new area was the only way we could afford to buy a house, and we wanted to be able to have the baby in our own home, given the choice.
- What kind of judgement from others have you feared or experienced?
This one is difficult, since I am embarrassed to say I didn’t have the highest opinion of stay at home parents before I had Thea and became one myself. Not that I thought they were in any way ‘less than’, but because I couldn’t understand how someone could choose to ‘not work’. What an absolute fool I was. Being a stay at home parent is the hardest effing job I have ever had, and there’s absolutely no monetary reimbursement involved! If I was paying someone else to look after my child, that would be considered a ‘proper’ job, whereas mine as her Mum is mostly not.
I have always been the kind of person who thrives in the workplace, so being a stay at home Mum is completely unchartered territory. If I had to summarise, I would say that my fears are that people would assume because of my situation that I am not clever, not driven, not capable, not a role model and not a feminist.
Even some of my oldest friends have looked at me with a mixture of confusion, sympathy and disapproval when I have explained my decision to not return to work, which I have very much struggled to come to terms with. At times have felt as though I no longer have anything to offer, or am no longer worthy of the same respect as when I was getting paid to work.
- How has your sense of identity/independence/confidence been affected?
Specific to not returning to my job, not having my own wage has been a difficult one to adjust to. I have always been in paid employment ever since I was 14 years old (that’s 17 years, folks) be it part-time while I studied, or full-time since finishing university. However, in our family it is me who handles all of our finances, so I do still feel involved and play an integral role. I am no longer employed in the traditional sense, but I am responsible for handling all of my husband’s business accounts and admin, as well as occasional freelance work for his clients, so that definitely gives me another focus and sense of value, and we work together towards the same goal of providing for our family. However, as far as anyone else is concerned, because I don’t take a wage or run my own business, I am probably ‘just’ a stay at home Mum, which I would be lying about if I said it doesn’t sting.
In some ways, I am far more confident than before I had Thea. I like myself better as a person. I look back on how my personality was affected by my job, and I don’t like a lot of things about that person. I could be stressy, impatient, often rude, judgemental & snotty. I don’t think that’s due to me working full stop, nor my former workplace. More so, an unfortunate bi-product of an underlying dissatisfaction with my situation at the time.
- Did you have career goals prior to pregnancy? How do you feel about them now?
I’ve never had my heart set on one particular job. I studied English Language & Linguistics at Uni, which is more of a core subject rather than specialist, so I’d hoped by ‘playing it safe’ it would leave me open to approach a range of roles/industries. I’ve held two full time jobs since I graduated, both office-based. I would have liked to have been challenged more than I was. The main challenges for me ended up being the workload, and dealing with stressful deadlines/confrontations. I didn’t feel as though I was doing any ‘good’ or had anything to show for my commitment or how stressed I had become, which muted my inspiration and enthusiasm in the end. I do slightly regret allowing a lot of my career so far to be made up of ‘firefighting’ and not reaching my potential…but equally, I am confident that once Thea is a bit older, that I am bright, flexible and hardworking enough to re-establish my career and that I will know my own mind better to follow what it is I feel passionately about.
- In what form does your ‘Mum Guilt’ kick in?
I think people assume that only ‘working’ Mums feel guilty. This is definitely not the case! Often if we haven’t made it out to a class/playgroup/activity any given day, I worry that Thea might be bored, or that she would rather be with some friends than at home with me while I do work or try (largely unsuccessfully!) to keep up with running the house.
I also feel guilty because I know there might be other Mums and Dads out there who wish they could stay at home too, and if I complain about my bum not touching a seat ‘til gone 8pm (because looking after a toddler all day whilst juggling everything else is HARD!) I may appear to be coming off as ungrateful or resentful, which I can assure you is definitely not the case. I always try and make the most of every day I have with Thea, whether that’s taking her out, playing at home or just singing songs and reading the same book a million times over with her sat on my lap instead of getting on with what I ‘should’ be.
- Name your biggest doubt/insecurity over your situation.
When I see or hear the term ‘role model’ used for being a working Mum, I get a pang in my gut…am I not setting a good example by raising my daughter full time instead of going out to work? Am I an inferior role model by taking another route instead? I have the utmost respect for Mums who go to work, I’d go as far to say admiration. I agree that it’s a fantastic example to set your children by showing them how to hold down a career and create your own independence. So when I see rants on social media or experience judgement about being a stay at home Mum, I do feel a bit upset that the support isn’t always reciprocated. I am cautious about being too open about the reasons why I am ok with putting my career on hold for a few years, because I don’t want to cause any offence or come off as though I don’t understand or respect why other Mums choose (or have to) do things differently.
Another concern is that I worked really hard and invested a lot of money into going to university and working my arse off for years, and whilst I’m not in paid employment, it’s difficult to not worry on some level that it was all for nothing. I do know really that it wasn’t, but it’s something that crosses my mind from time to time.
- Finish this sentence ‘I am happy with my decision because….’
…at the end of every day, I feel good about being with Thea. I genuinely don’t get bored with hanging out with her. I feel like I’m fulfilling a role I didn’t know I was made for, and I know I’m doing my best. I know I will 100% return to my career when the time is right. But for now, for my own little family and our situation at this moment in time, I am right where I need to be.
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