Returning to work after a year of maternity leave is a really big moment. I remember clearly with Aasiya I was adamant I wanted to return and started having conversations with my husband about our arrangements at least six months before my return to work date. This time things were a little different.
I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been having some anxiety issues. Although the exact cause is still undetermined I know in part it’s due to the fact I’m a worrier. Around July I’d been really stressing about what we would do when I needed to return to work in October. Some of you might remember last time Jay went part-time and I worked part-time too so that one of us was always with Aasiya as we didn’t want to put our 1 year old in full-time nursery. We considered that option again this time but truthfully I just wasn’t ready to leave both my babies and return to work and all of its associated pressures. I love working and I get really consumed with my job. I work in events so I often have to do late nights and weekend work and all that was fine when we only had Aasiya as I returned to work pregnant, so I knew it was only for a limited time. This time however it just didn’t feel right.
I emailed my manager and set up a meeting 3 months before my return to work date to discuss what my options were and also to extend my leave for at least another year. Thankfully my manager was extremely supportive and understanding. I won’t go into all the details but I decided that I wanted to leave my role all together and would potentially consider freelance work in the future.
I’ve been working since I was 16. I begged my parents to allow me to work at a little chemist opposite our house for a couple of evenings and the weekends while I was still at secondary school. The summer before college I worked in retail in central London and then at 18 was hired as a casual (as and when hours) for a London library service. And thus begun my career and love affair with libraries. In just under 20 years I’ve worked in many different roles, from early years, development to strategy and I’ve loved every moment of my working life. Being a working women and a working mother was a big part of my identity until about 6 months ago when I realised that I couldn’t be the best mum that I wanted to be and work at the same time.
Many women are able to manage and juggle their responsibilities so that they can continue to work, and I really respect that. Some women have to work, living in London isn’t cheap and unfortunately one salary doesn’t always cut it. Some women are parenting solo and again their options are limited. Some women like working and that balance of work and mum life makes them better parents (that’s how I felt when I only had Aasiya) so deciding to be a working or a stay at home mum is a really personal decision but one that’s still very controversial.
I grew up in a home where my mum didn’t work. There were 5 of us, all close in age, and my dad worked for Transport for London. We were working class, my parents never took any kind of benefits, our clothes were passed down from sibling to sibling, we took packed lunches or had home dinners at primary school and didn’t have holidays every half term. That being said, my childhood was my happiest time. I had no concept of our relative poverty. Every evening we’d have dinner together, my siblings were my friends, we played all the time, from the breakfast table (we pretended to be kings and queens) to last thing at night, (we’d go camping under our bedcovers or tell stories to each other). My parents took us out regularly and back then we had to collect tokens on the back of cereal boxes to be able to afford a family trip to London Zoo or Chessington world of adventures, but agin, that felt like a game, and I only realised later in life that my parents had to do that otherwise we’d never be able to afford to go out. We didn’t have regular meals out or go to the cinema every weekend,we couldn’t afford that, but we did go to the library, museums, visit family across the country and all those things were enough for me. We went swimming, we went for picnics and we went on bike rides in the field behind our house. My childhood wasn’t filled with things and possessions but it was full of people and time and that’s what I’d like to recreate for my own children.
I’m fortunate enough to have more money that my parents. I could send them to nursery, work and then have weekend trips to the Zoo and not have to collect tokens to do so. But more than those excursions I want to give my children my time. I want to read with them, I want to watch them play and learn, I want to talk to them with the luxury of time and not feel rushed to get home, cook, feed them and then hurry them into bed so I can catch up on my emails or deal with whatever stress I have left over from my working day. I don’t manage stress very well, and with two small children I don’t think it would be fair on them or on my relationship if I was to return to work and attempt to do it all.
Having had conversations (and judgement!) with people on both ends of the spectrum, I can see the pressure that women always feel. We’re not good enough if we choose to be full-time mums and we’re not good enough if we choose to work and parent. It’s been hard for me to digest some of this criticism, especially when it’s come from other mothers. My decision is very personal to me, yet I still feel the need to justify it and prefix it with the number of years I have worked and have contributed to society, being a mother and raising children is an extension of that contribution, it’s not choosing to be lazy and not work (and sleep in as one women said to to!!!!) it’s choosing to raise children and work harder than I ever have.
Of course these decisions are never made lightly nor in isolation. I consulted with my husband, my family my friends and agonised over it for months. Even though I knew what I wanted to do, I was worried about our finances, our lifestyle and also the massive change in my identity and how I’d cope. I’m very blessed to have a strong network of support around me and a husband who isn’t very money motivated and is ok for us to “struggle” (I mean that in a very ‘first world problems’ sense) for a few years while we figure out our new way of life. I have every intention to return to work in a couple of years,maybe even sooner if I freelance, but I would like that to be on my terms and in a situation that suits me, my husband and most importantly, my children.
Have you decided to return, or not, to work and how was it for you? I’d be really interested to hear your stories as it is such a big decision and one that fuels so much debate about women, modernity and society.