Reflections on 10 years as a working Mum

It is now a decade since I made the decision to be a working Mum and I get asked about this surprisingly often. ‘Does it work?’ ‘Do I feel guilty?’ ‘How many hours?’ etc etc. I thought I would put my thoughts down on paper, and at best encourage other women and men to view the benefits.

When I had my first child my husband supported me brilliantly and essentially said, ‘do what you feel is right’ about going back to work. At that time I was employed in the academic sector and self-employed clinically. There seemed to be so many options; return full-time, just one job and if so which, or reduced hours for both, (if I could negotiate this), or be a stay at home Mum. What on Earth was going to be the right thing to do? I wanted to see my child, but I wanted to maintain my professional identity, I wanted to earn money but surely that would just go on child care?!

Looking back I had a couple of defining moments, both unintentionally provided by my NCT group. The first was the deafening silence that met my comment at 3 months postpartum, ‘that I was missing work’. This made me realised my work was perhaps more important to me than others viewed theirs. The second was the puree party I was invited to when the said babies were six months old. Yes, you read that correctly, a puree party! That was it, I felt I had sunk to a new depth of loss of identity and a position so far removed form what made me happy, I knew I had to go back to work.

The financial side of working at that stage was utterly galling. It felt like every bean earnt was going on childcare. However, (and this is so important) the money spent kept me visible, current and I would not be in the position I am now if I hadn’t made that sacrifice then. Sheryl Sandberg talks abut this in her book, Lean In. The money spent then is earnt back down the line. It is hard, and takes faith in what you are doing, but certainly for me it has paid off.

Being a working Mum has made me ruthless with my time. My own Mum jokes about my ‘twenty-minute slots’. My time management is key and I never go anywhere without a paper to read in case I end up waiting…with an unexpected twenty minute slot. I’ve also discovered the time of day before the rest of the house is up. A little moment of calm to think clearly before the frenetic family/work day starts.

I am most definitely more creative with my work then previously, enjoying the perks of digital working that my former self would never have embraced. To be able to work when the children are in bed, or in a tennis lesson/dance class etc has provided opportunities that has made my educational audience more global. Women have the opportunity to have more flexible working through the digital age, but interestingly research shows it is more men that are embracing that opportunity.

What about the children I hear you ask? Well, there have been some really difficult clashes. Scheduling my course so far in advance means that inevitably clashes happen form time to time. It can be upsetting and probably is the worst aspect for me of working. I actually shed a tear when I realised I was teaching in Ipswich when my sons choir had been invited to sing in Henry VIIII’s chapel at Hampton Court Palace. Could I get from Ipswich to Surrey in half an hour? Of course not. Could I cancel the course and let all the delegates down and risk repetitional suicide-of course not! However, there is an up side to not being able to attend everything. When school and co-curricular timetables are published I ask the children which matches/concerts etc are most important to them for me to attend, and those are prioritised. The children don’t take my presence at events for granted. It makes them special and exciting for them.

The other side-effect of our family choice is that the children are expected to help out-quite frankly they have to. They routinely help empty the dishwasher, hang washing out and also cook. They are practical, helpful children that know that they have to do their bit and I am sure this will serve them well in the future.

As a parent to a boy and a girl I’m further interested by their view of women. I hope I’m setting a great role model to my 8 year old girl that you can have a career and a happy family life and that the back bone of this is hard work. For my son I hope he will respect women and their career choices as he gets older. I do however have to recall when he was five and I was telling him about a conference audience of 1000 delegates I was talking to and he paused then said, ‘ Wow Mummy will you be on a coin next?’ That taught me for talking myself up!!

I can’t confess its been a smooth ride. What I do know is I’m a calmer Mum for not being with the children 24/7. I also feel very strongly it is a very individual choice, and it’s what works for each family that’s important. In the physiotherapy post-graduate lecturing world it is so male dominated. So I say to all those clever, caring and interesting women out there who are debating whether to have a go-believe in yourself and go for it!

Isobel Heppenstall 28-08-2019

Wow- claire - such a great blog. i felt exactly the same - puree party - ha! i returned swiftly back after i spent an hour listen to a mum lament about a lack of parking in Sainsburys referring to it as a hell of a day! i think your right about setting an example. i overheard Olivia telling a friend mum works really hard so we can have nice things - that makes it all worth it! x

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