Shuffling towards the edge of the platform, artificially awake thanks to trite alarms and instant coffee, I estimated that I had roughly ten hours before I’d be getting off at the other side. Until then I’d paid £7 for the privilege of being squashed into standing in an aisle, far closer to any stranger as I like to get. I rooted in my bag to make sure I had my awful, unflattering ID pass and readied myself for the day ahead.
Yup, as of September our little bubble of maternity leave burst and I had to go back to work. In our flat I could walk into town and back, avoiding the cattle trains and turnstiles. Towards the end of my pregnancy I took the train and hated it. I travelled six minutes into town and back, for two weeks, and that was enough for me. Now I’m a fully fledged commuter… and it sucks. No one looks especially happy to be there. People shove and huff and we all get off at the other end, trudging towards our daily destiny.
There’s no sugar coating it. Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. You spend your first few weeks of parenthood in a daze, forge a new normal for yourselves around every new milestone and wrap your days around making a world for a whole new person. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the parenting thing, the real world comes calling. Before you know it you’re duty bound by alarms, bills and childcare- if you’re fortunate enough to have it.
I don’t doubt it’d be hard even if I loved my job. Of course it is- and I certainly don’t. Before I finished work I always had the finishing line in sight, I had something to look forward to even on the hardest days. Now it’s like… this is it. There’s no end goal. It’s just day in, day out. For me, though, it’s got to be done. My job search has stalled as I get used to the new daily routine. I spend all day at work, commute home, spend some time with my son and maybe have time for dinner. Even blogging has fallen by the wayside. Going back part time isn’t an option that I can afford. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ve ended up going back full time. So what does that make me as a mum?
It’s hard when you’re reluctant about going back. What makes it worse are the sly comments about how you can’t really have it all, the exhalation of SAHM’hood as being a woman’s highest calling, the swathes of Facebook friends with ‘full time mum’ as their occupation. I’m not saying that being a stay at home mum is easy, or even always a choice. Childcare costs can often mean that it’s simply not financially viable to work. When your life revolves around rearing a family it’s hard to ever be yourself. Even in my nine months of it, it was bloody difficult, often stressful and sometimes completely overwhelming. Still, though. The particular choice of ‘title’ can hurt. What, then, does that make me? If I work full time, and say at home mums are ‘full time mums’… am I, then, a part time mum?
The guilt is real when I think about how much I’m missing. The things I didn’t do on maternity leave. The WhatsApp group of mum friends that I don’t have. My son is ten months old, hurtling towards a year, getting more vocal and mobile every day. I know there will be milestones that I’ll miss, and it kills me. But it’s what I have to do for now.
It doesn’t make it any easier when my social media feeds are clogged up with colourful, playful, seemingly non-threatening infographics. You know the type. The ones that play on your guilt, that you could be doing more for your family selling shit from home.
“Looking for people to join me on my journey!!!”
“Are you a working mum wanting more time at home???!!”
“Don’t let other people raise your children for you!!!!111!!111″
Of course when you’re hustling for a place on a crowded platform, anything else seems like a better option. When you have to drop a poorly baby off so you can go to work, the gnawing self-reproach at having to do so can swallow your focus. Going back to work is hard enough. Plying working mums with images of the life they’re not leading- while playing on feelings of maternal inadequacy- isn’t fair.
The truth is, no one has it really sussed. Not that I can see anyway. There are pros and cons of being a working mum and stay at home mum. I long for the endless stretch of days just me and my son, finding fun new things for us to do or having lazy days when it was raining. But I missed adult conversation, having some sort of purpose outside the home and having my own money.
Practically, it’d be selfish of me to stay off work. Ally earns decent money but it’s not enough to support three people. It’s not fair- for us- to let all the finances fall on one person. On a selfish level, I like being able to pick up stuff without worrying too much. I’ve always had my own money. I’d like to keep it that way. Lucas is growing at such a rate of noughts that he needs new clothes all the time. And I can get ’em. Cool.
Some parents are limited in their working choices because they also have to fit in studying around a family.
Some parents just can’t wait to go back to work.
Does that mean they love their children any less? Does it hell.
Just because your child spends more time with someone else doesn’t make you less of a mum. If I leave my son with his grandparents for nine hours a day I’m still his mummy. I’m the one who gets him up in the morning, puts him to bed, takes him to all his appointments. It’s me who takes the hit of his teething grumbles, or drives him to the hospital when he’s got a virus. It’s me that he shouts on and flashes a huge, toothy grin at when I eventually trudge home.
There’s no perfect way of parenting. We’re all just doing the best that we can, with the knowledge and resources that we have. Just like everything fuckin’ else in life, whatever path you’re forging is yours, your family’s, whatever. It doesn’t have to work for other people, if it works for you.