I’ll be honest, during my pregnancy I was unsure if I’d want to return to work after my baby was born. I thought I wanted to but I was very conscious that I wouldn’t know how I’d really feel about returning to work until my baby was here.
As silly as it sounds in hindsight, I was worried that I wouldn’t want to go back to my job when I became a mum. Logically, I knew that I’d be happy with either scenario – if I wanted to work I would, if I didn’t I wouldn’t. In any case I would be doing what I wanted to do so I’d be happy. Simple.
But that didn’t stop me from spending nine months worrying about how my life would be. What if I didn’t return to work? What about the six years I spent studying? Could I cope with being a full time SAHM?
As it turned out, I knew within days of my daughter’s birth that I’d return to work. I love my daughter and my job and there’s no reason why I can’t have both. But there is a certain stigma that comes with being a working mum.
Any by everyone I mean everyone. Even, no, especially strangers. Strangers – people who know nothing about me, my job, my family, my circumstances – seem to love telling me their opinions about whether I should work, more so than my own family and friends (you know, people who actually know me).
I have travelled to work on the train with my daughter since she was about a month old. Many strangers have made it clear to me that they don’t approve of my choices: ‘It’s such a shame your daughter has to go to day care at such a young age’ or ‘I didn’t return to work until my children were in school. I didn’t have children for someone else to raise them.’
Ahem. Hello stranger-who-knows-nothing-about-me. My daughter doesn’t go to day care (read more about that here). And even if she did, why does it affect you? And when did I ask for your advice? Oh, the gratuitous parenting advice!
This one just doesn’t make sense. In my case, I know that working makes me a better mum. Sure, I have difficult days, as do we all, but I have little doubt that going back to work has actually helped me settle in to motherhood so well. Yes, my life has changed drastically, but there are still large parts of my life (i.e. my career) that remain the unchanged. I have no doubt that this consistency has helped me cope.
That old cliché comes to mind: quality is more important that quantity.
But it’s true. I make the most of the time I spend with my daughter. Try as I do, I just can’t spend hours entertaining her. I’m not one for TV, so the office environment and everything that comes with it (travelling on the train, meeting new people, new environments, lunch in new places, etc) provides an easy form of stimulation for her and enables me to enjoy the one on one time that we do have.
The expectation is that mum will stay home, at least for some period of time, while dad goes off to work to support the family financially. No one thinks that dad loves his child any less because he has no choice but to go back to work. Oh, that’s another thing, returning to work is always seen as a choice for mums but not for dads. It’s not always a choice for either, many families need (or want) two incomes.
Why do we still assume that mothers will give up their careers?
My husband and I had many conversations about this during my pregnancy. We never started from the assumption that I’d give up my job. Instead, our starting point was to work our how we could both work and care for our baby so that neither of us would have to give up our careers.
I am fortunate that my workplace is very supportive of working mums, but the what/when/why/how of the working mum debate is close to my heart and something I continue to explore.