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!