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!

Back to school – the long goodbye.

I feel I may be swimming against the tide a bit here but am I the only parent happy that the school holidays are at an end? Many of my Facebook friends who are parents of school-aged children have been posting pictures and comments featuring the last few golden days of the summer holidays, lamenting the fact that they’re about to lose their children to the world of education for another academic year. Rather than sadness, my feelings are of relief that I made it through relatively unscathed!

Earlier today, whilst locking myself in the bathroom to get a few minutes peace (it didn’t work by the way) I had a chuckle to myself; my Twitter feed, rather ironically, featured several blog posts about ‘ME’ time. Coming at the end of a long, fantastically busy, although, I have to say, very good summer break – ‘ME’ time is a bit thin on the ground in our house at the moment (I’m writing this after dark when I really should be in bed myself!). And living where we do means that the return to school isn’t quite as straightforward as you might imagine. It’s not just a case of taking them all to school and dropping them off at the gates until you return mid afternoon to collect them.

Here in Gibraltar, we have an eight-week-long summer break from school. Today is the day when many (not all) children in Gibraltar returned to school. So, this morning the alarm went off at 7am for the first time in eight weeks and we set off for the first school run of the new academic year. In preparation, new school haircuts were done yesterday, the last of the sew-in name tapes were attached to uniforms last night and this morning new shoes squeaked along the road to school.

‘You lucky girl!’ you might think, ‘time for a cup of tea and to put your feet up’, but alas no. This is Gibraltar and although I do love it so, there are a few quirks about life here which if I was in charge I’d like to tweak. One thing being school intakes in September. Today was the start of the school year here, and yes I did do the school run, but for just one out of my three children and just for half a day. Tomorrow a second child goes to school and finally on Friday, all three. For some poor parents the whole sorry saga of starting school won’t begin until the middle of next week!

So that’s my first gripe, staggered start dates. Now please bear in mind that this is a completely one-sided view here. I know there must be reasons for this occurrence which help the teaching staff but for parents, especially those who work and require help with childcare, this must make things very difficult. How do those who have no support network cope?

The second thing I’d like to change is summer hours, as I’ve mentioned previously in this post, during the hottest weeks of the summer and autumn terms, school finishes any time between 11:45am and 12:45pm depending on the age of your child. In other words, that eight-week-long summer break is book-ended by a few weeks of half days. I totally understand that it gets too hot in the classrooms for children to concentrate as the schools aren’t equipped with air conditioning. I also understand that many government employees work summer hours and it wouldn’t be fair to deprive the teachers of this perk if almost everyone else in the public sector (apart from the emergency services and Health Authority workers) benefited from it. After all, if I’d spent all year looking after other people’s children and had no break between Christmas and Easter or between Easter and summer (as is the situation here) I’d want something in return! BUT it really is a pain in the neck for parents, no sooner are you back from the school morning run than it seems you are heading back out again to pick them up. I don’t have the solution, I just know that the current situation, although a long standing one, makes things tricky.

So, there you have it, a staggered start to the beginning of term and then they only go for half a day, but then there’s the issue of next week. Next week in Gibraltar we have two bank holidays, one on Monday and another on Thursday. Both are for important reasons; Monday’s is a one-off event to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Evacuation of Gibraltar when the civilian population was forced out of their homes and shipped overseas during World War 2. Thursday’s is to celebrate Gibraltar National Day and the nation’s right to self determination. Both are hugely important occasions to mark, and I whole-heartedly support them, I’m not in anyway criticizing their existence. It’s just that it does mean yet another disrupted school week… school on Tuesday, Wednesday and then Friday. Should the autumn term start date be moved back until after National Day perhaps?

As a result of the aforementioned situation school full days (ie 9am – 3:15pm or later) will not begin until Monday 14th September. So, on that day, ladies and gentlemen, after several false starts, you may catch sight of me cartwheeling down Main Street enjoying my ‘ME’ time and perhaps feeling a little bit guilty about wishing away the late summer days with my three wonderful, energetic, challenging and exhausting boys!

PS I do know just how blessed and privileged I am to have my boys (and I love them to bits) but crikey it’s been a long summer and I’m just about ready for another holiday!