To work or not to work? That is the question.

 

Tomorrow, my reception aged son will spend his first full day at school. I feel more emotional about that than I did about him starting nursery or even on his first day in reception a couple of weeks ago. He is my third and final baby you see. The whole situation leaves me with a real mixture of emotions; joy at finally legitimately having a full day to myself after 11 and a half years of full-time child rearing, excitement about what the next chapter of my life will be like and sadness that the small child years are coming to an end. But I also have an internal dilemma going on; should I sit back and try to enjoy an ‘easier’ life now I have a bit more time on my hands or give in to my lack-of-paid-employment guilt and rush to fill the ‘gap’ with a job. Since my little one started back at school this month about half a dozen people have asked ‘are you going back to work now?’ A couple of well meaning friends have even suggested job openings they’ve heard about, which I might be interested in. Clearly I’m not the only one who thinks it’s time I went back to work!

The thing is, I used to be ‘somebody’ other than just someone’s wife and mother. I had a good job, a career which after 4 years at university and a fair amount of time doing unpaid work experience and poorly paid jobs within the industry, I had worked my way up to. I used to meet ‘real’ professional people and speak to them on a level, people like lawyers, scientists, politicians, high ranking officers in the emergency services. And, dare I say it, I even earned more than my husband for a while. But, and this is a BIG but, as I grew up the one job I wanted more than anything else was to be a mother. I always knew that should the time come that I had a child, as long as we could manage financially, I’d want to give up work for a considerable stretch of time. With that in mind, we bought our first (small) house with the budget of just one of our wages, so that we could still pay the mortgage on one wage if the need arose. We were careful and we found a way for me to take a rather long extended career break. Fortunately, we were always in the position that my husband had a job and that we were able to afford for me to stay at home. We never lived close enough to our respective families to have the offer of help with the boys, neither did we think the expense of paying for childcare was worth the hassle of me working just to cover the nursery fees. So I have been a stay at home Mum for 11 and a half years, since I went on maternity leave with baby number 1.

I feel truly blessed that I have been able to spend all this time with my boys. I’m so lucky that if they are ill, I’m there. If they have a special school assembly or meeting, I’m there. If they need to be taken to swimming lessons, Cubs, piano lessons, football training, toddler group, school trips, Christmas carol concert rehearsals, I’m there. My husband recently pointed out that as his career has developed and he’s increasingly traveling away for meetings (sometimes at a day’s notice) and working long hours, he couldn’t do his job if I wasn’t at home taking up the slack. 

It’s hard work though. There’s no clocking on and off time (as all parents know), I’m on call 24/7, 365 days a year (apart from a lovely child free weekend this summer). I don’t want to sound like a spoiled child myself but as the years have gone on and the demands of bringing up 3 lively boys have changed, I have found the mind numbingly repetitive routines hard to bear at times. Sometimes I feel like the ‘professional’ me is just a figment of my imagination, it was only when I found my old work pass in an old handbag that I was reminded of what a good job I had and how far removed from it I now am. About 18 months ago, a job similar to my old one was advertised locally, and after encouragement from friends and family I decided to apply for it. I got through to the second round of interviews and ‘was kept on file’ which seemed like a huge achievement at the the time, but who was I kidding? How could I hold a job down as well as the humongous one I already have? How do you work and be a Mum at the same time? Having never done it I have no idea how you can juggle both sides of your life without it all coming crashing down about your ears! In Gibraltar, kids are in full-time school for approximately half of the year. The rest of the time they are on half days, in-service days and holidays. Children get sick from time to time too. How do you reconcile that with a boss, no matter how flexible and supportive they are?

Would I be a better mother if I had time away from the home and in work? Quite possibly, yes. Could I give something back to society? Through taxes and working, undoubtedly yes. But how do you do it? The thrill of being a professional and using my brain again is so appealing if it didn’t come with the stress of being a permanently on-call parent. Perhaps I have been out of the loop for so long it feels an impossible situation to reconcile. I guess it’s a dilemma more and more women face these days though. As girls, we’re encouraged to try hard at school to get to university, then we’re told to aim high and have a career, but when the biological clock starts ticking and we want to start a family, we realise that you just can’t have it all. You either work and sacrifice the time you spend with your family or stay at home and sacrifice your career. How do you strike that balance? There’s no magic solution to the problem, each family is different, each relationship is different, each employment scenario is different. Perhaps I’m just greedy and fancy having it all, to be completely there for my boys AND have a fulfilling professional career. At this point though, I must say I have no regrets whatsoever about making the choices I did, I wanted to be a stay-at-home Mum and if I had my time again I’d make the same decisions.

So, when people ask me if I’m going back to work now my youngest is on the cusp of full time education, the answer is very firmly no, not for the time being. I already have a job, I’m a Mum, it’s just this one is done for love, not financial reward. The world of paid work will just have to wait a bit longer. Instead of rushing out to get a new job, and at the risk of sounding lazy and work-shy, I shall spend some of my newly acquired free time catching up on housework (which is long overdue), I might even meet friends for an occasional coffee and I’ll be able to spend a bit more time on my crafty hobbies. Oh, and I’ve made a promise to myself, I’m going to give up feeling guilty about not going back to working – I’m so over that!

10 thoughts on “To work or not to work? That is the question.

  1. I think you have made a very wise choice, just because your little one has embarked on full time education doesn’t mean you won’t still be a full time, hands on busy mum, as you say there are times a plenty when you will be need, wanted at home …work can wait you still have years ahead of you which can dedicated to a demanding career, enjoy your children’s formative years, it’s a luxury not granted to many

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel your guilt. But mine goes the other way. Like you, I always wanted to be a Mum, that is what I was here to do. And when it happened, it became even more clear that I was ‘destined’ to be a Mum. But we didn’t quite manage to make it work as well as you have and I had to go back to work after my first and second. Since then my guilt trip happens daily. I always wonder what the right balance is. I even counted the hours in a week I was with my boys and the hours I wasn’t. As long as the first was bigger than the second, I kept going. This year, like you, marks the ‘end’ of the baby years for our youngest and now he is required to be at school by law. Before I had a ‘choice’ but now the separation is imposed. I guess the guilt should ease, but it hasn’t. Now I am thinking I should be available to take them to after school activities, give them the best chance in life, give them skills, whether it is music, another language or another sport. And that when teenage years hit, I should be more present, not less. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am (positively) jealous of your (difficult) stay-at-home status and that the other side, even though it gives you the professional and intellectual satisfaction, is full of traps. All I can suggest is that you take some well deserved me-time and reflect on what is ahead. You can always go part-time, or take a job that offers working from home and lots of flexibility. I am very lucky I have one of those. I guess has made that teetering balance just about bearable. Another option is to build your own ‘business’, maybe explore some of the crafts you so enjoy. Or learn new ones. For now I hope you can find some comfort in the fact that for them, having their Mum there for most of their formative years will have made all the difference in the world and certainly made them better men-to-be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Mariana, what a beautiful comment. I totally understand your situation and while you have the ‘best of both worlds’ the Mummy guilt is still there. Perhaps we are just destined to feel guilty from the moment motherhood happens!! I guess we just have to try our best for our families and ourselves and not worry too much about being the perfect mother. Easier said than done though. X

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  3. I think as Mums we have to do what is best for us and our families and that is so individual. Maybe as time goes on and if you were to feel you would like to work you could do a bit of both by taking a part time job but in the meantime enjoy every minute you have being a homemaker and Mum. xx

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  4. I can relate to this post on so many levels. It’s such a difficult balance! Enjoy a some more time to yourself, look forward to catching up over a coffee soon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. All I ever wanted was to be a Mum. Then my three boys were at school and I discovered all Mums were at work and I was lonely. I had no wish to return to my previous line of work so I entered the world of pre school education. I retrained, worked from home and had school holidays perfect. Subsequently I worked in retail and housing, loved both jobs and had a good working life. You will find a way to balance your need to work and to be a Mum. It can be done. Good luck

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment. It’s good to hear from someone who has come through the other side as it were. It sounds like you found the perfect scenario getting a job which coincided with your boys’ term times. Thank you 🙂

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