I shared this post on Facebook the other day after a colleague of mine commented that I looked exhausted, I laughed it off “well I am a mum” but it made me think… I guess in reality I AM exhausted. Not that sleep-deprived exhaustion of the newborn days, when you are suddenly handed over this tiny living person who relies on you for everything, whose body clock is all jumbled up and who cries to be fed every couple of hours; but an exhaustion that has just become a completely ingrained part of me as a working mum. I asked a few friends, “Do you feel like this too?” and the answer was a resounding “Yes!”
We are bombarded with image on TV, in films or adverts, or even from Bloggers and on Pinterest – those perfectly coiffed mums that have it all; who manage to jump on a conference call whilst their three kids eat dinner without so much as a murmured complaint about the food choice, and whose houses are always spotless and ‘visitor ready’. But that’s really not the reality of being a working mum – the reality is that, just like parenthood in general, it is really hard!
The ‘Mum Guilt’ is real…
I’ve spoken about Mum Guilt before – but this week it’s been pretty full on as I missed my daughter’s parents ‘evening’ – because the appointments ran from 3:00-5:00pm.
I finish work at 5:30 *if I’m lucky* and it takes me around 20 minutes to get to the school so when I got the appointment times (four days in advance) I called them up and explained the situation and was then asked by the receptionist why I couldn’t ‘just take the afternoon off’. I can’t ‘just’ take the afternoon off – mainly because most of my annual leave for the year is depleted to try and cover childcare (and I still haven’t got childcare sorted for most of the SEVEN week Summer holidays), but also because I have to pre-book annual leave and the notice they gave wasn’t long enough for me to be able to do so…
This was met with a sigh and I was told that a message would be passed to the teacher, at which point the receptionist decided that I clearly need to be reminded that it’s not the school’s responsibility to cater to individual needs and that parents are expected to play an active role in their child’s school life…
I’d like to say I said something cheerful in response and put the phone down nice and gently but I didn’t – instead I muttered something about the school only catering to the parents who didn’t work and slammed the phone down in a rage. Then I balled my eyes out at my desk. Because let me tell you the reality of being a working mum – the ‘mum guilt’ is intensified.
Oh and this week I also can’t attend the SATs prep meeting because that’s on at 3:30pm, and I missed her last school assembly because I was travelling with work, and I can never make the parent and child phonics sessions at 9:45 on Friday mornings; in fact I only get to drop her to school three days a week and that is to the breakfast club not the proper start to the school day and so she has to get up an hour earlier than any of the other kids in her class… As if that’s not enough to feel guilty about I never ever get to pick her up from school, I am always forgetting the homework book or PE kit and there have been more than just a few times where she’s had to wear the same uniform two days in a row because I’ve not done the washing or ironing…
Oh and this morning I knocked over her Lego house whilst rushing to leave the house so she’s pretty upset about that, and I rely on the TV to ‘babysit’ in the mornings so I can use the loo and brush my teeth without needing to talk at the same time, and I can’t remember the last time we had quality time just the two of us together, and I let her sleep in our bed way more often than I ought to admit simply because I love having her close and I miss her so much (and then I get more guilt because the judgey pants then come out and tell me I should be encouraging her to sleep in her own bed and that I’m setting her up for failure as an adult)
Oh and my ‘shouty mummy’ alter-ego comes out way too often, I travel alone and I go to the gym which is probably quite selfish, I was useless at making packed lunches and secretly relieved when she opted to go for school dinners, I hate doing homework, I am forever guilty of asking her to wait five minutes whilst I do this or that, I always forget that she’ll only eat prawns cold, I experience genuine dread when I see the school’s number pop up on my phone, I’m forever forgetting what fancy dress outfit she’s supposed to be wearing this week *oh and I don’t hand make them* and I snap over nothing all the time.
In fact ALL the guilt is real…
It’s not just the ‘mum guilt’ that working mum’s are affected by, oh no, did you know there are approximately a million things per day *not an official statistic* to feel guilty for?
I feel work guilt – when I have to call in and take a day off of work to look after my daughter when she is poorly, when I have to turn down a meeting request that would see me trying to get halfway across the country and back in between the school drop-off and the bedtime routine, I feel guilty that I can’t give 100% at work because my brain regularly feels like it’s going to explode and I feel guilty that I am always so tired…
I feel guilty for not being a wonderful, supportive wife. I’ve lost count of the number of evenings I’ve left Scott at home managing everything so that I can go and be bored out of my brains at a client dinner. Or the times when the dinner is a little on the dry and crispy side because I ‘just gotta get this urgent email off’, or when I’ve cancelled date night because I have too much work to catch up on. Even when I’m not working i’m pretty neglectful – some evenings I’ll sit and daydream on Pinterest without thinking about how I could be using that time to sit and watch something with him, or even just to chat about our days. On the subject of chat, I feel guilty that whenever he asks me about my day I head straight into an intense rant about how stressful it’s been, or get upset because i’m stressed and tired and as emotional as a toddler that has missed their afternoon nap.
I feel guilty that I’m not always able to be there for my friends – when they send me a text saying that they’ve not seen me in ages, or ask why I have turned down an invite ‘again’ and I have to explain that I’m busy with work/life/trying not to throw myself off of Tower Bridge. How do you even explain to friends without kids that whilst a particular evening might be free in your diary there is every chance that on any given day you’ll have got to spend about 30 minutes with your child before bed and you aren’t willing to give up that tiny slot of time?
I am exhausted with feeling all that guilt, all of the time!
Other mums will judge you…
I really really really wish this wasn’t the case but it is. And not just other mums – colleagues, acquaintances, random strangers in the street, the workers at your child’s nursery, their teachers… judgement seems to come from everywhere.
There’s a real stigma around being a working mum, even in this day and age where so many of us are. There’s this bullsh*t idea that you would rather work than be with your kids, that you have chosen a career over being a parent and it really hurts to have that kind of judgement levelled at you. Nobody else really even knows your reasons for going back to work after you have your child – they don’t see your bank account or realise that you’re the main wage earner in your household, or they don’t see that you had post-natal depression and had to return to work to help your mental health. Or even that you did just genuinely want to have a career – does anyone who has one really want to completely sacrifice everything they have worked so hard to build up? Personally my decision to work is a combination of many things – I want to be independent, I have worked hard to achieve my career progression and my career is part of my identity, I don’t want to be on benefits, I want to provide a role-model for my daughter, I have had a long term struggle with depression and anxiety that was made worse when on maternity leave, I like being able to earn enough to treat us to new experiences and travel…
I’m not going to sit here and say that being a stay-at-home mum is easy or that a mum doing that is lucky. Being a stay-at-home mum is hard; 24-hour days, without a break, no paid holiday (in fact no holiday at all), no intelligent conversations with other adults, and in most cases there is a constant added financial pressure from living on one wage. The only difference is that most stay-at-home mums have more time in the day to get their jobs and housework etc done, and more quality time with their kids. I mean I still have to run a household, plan our meals, do our food shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing etc – I just have to do that on top of a job that has me working upwards of 50 hours a week.
You never get to switch off…
OK this might just be me but I doubt it is. I work in a demanding and stressful role that takes up a lot of my time. I’m that person who works on train journeys, who answers emails whilst cooking dinner, who has held conference calls whilst ironing school shirts and prepping snacks. I’m that frazzled looking woman brushing her hair on the tube in the morning, or who realises once they get to work that their shirt is on inside out *true story*, i’m also the woman who takes a day off but who still answers phone calls whilst trying to simultaneously navigate the Natural History Museum with their child and find an area with half decent signal (FYI: avoid the great hall but the gift shop opposite the exit to the dinosaurs exhibition space gives at least 3 bars)
And when you finally switch off the laptop and put the phone down there’s the dinner to serve up, the homework to get done, the housework to make a start on, the bedtime routine to finish. I once dreamt an entire conference call, only to wake up and realise that it hadn’t happened yet… It’s tough and it’s tiring (and probably why i’m always so exhausted!)
You never feel like you are doing your best…
I’m sure that there must be someone out there who is doing a brilliant job juggling both of her roles. I sometimes think that there must be a winning formula to success as a mum and as a full-time worker, and that I just haven’t found it yet and in the meantime i’m constantly annoyed with myself for dropping the ball. I feel so torn between both ‘sides’ of my life – it’s really tough to get any kind of balance let alone one that covers your entire work and life!
Nobody appreciates what you do…
I’m not talking about the husband here – he does say thanks when I dish up dinner, and he usually runs me a bath when i’m being a stresshead – I mean on a wider scale. Nobody at work really gives a crap that you’ve had 2 hours sleep because your child has a tummy bug *that you may or may not have given them with your cooking skills*, they don’t appreciate that you sacrifice time with family for work – because, and at the end of the day I guess that they are right – they are paying you to show up and get your stuff done. If you’re lucky you get a boss who has had kids, or at least understands that you might need a little more flexibility. If you’re really unlucky you get a boss who tells you, on your first day “I don’t want to hear about your kid or any of the messy stuff you’ve got going on out of work” *this genuinely happened to a friend*
Your kid won’t appreciate it either – they will be upset with you and tell you so, compounding the mum guilt, calling you out when you miss school plays or sports day or send them into school in uniform when it’s own clothes day. They might even one time shout “I HATE YOU” and it will break your heart – they don’t really mean it but they do in those few seconds that they say it.
Your kid’s school won’t appreciate it – they’ll keep on arranging meetings and parent teach conferences in the middle of the day, and keep on asking for hand-baked donations for various sales, and for you to buy poxy raffle tickets or join the PTA on the day you are already running late. Every now and then a teacher or receptionist might make a snotty remark about your priorities; and you’re a stronger person than me if you manage to just shrug those off. P.S: Do. Not. Join. The. PTA. – I mean it… you have enough stuff on your plate!
BUT… And it’s a big BUT… You are not alone…
I spoke to some other mums to see if they feel the same way – and I feel a million times better knowing it’s really not just me.
Beth from bammboo has actually had to decide to give up her role; “I’ve decided not to return to work after my second maternity leave mainly because of my school aged child. For us school was much harder than nursery because the wrap around care that was available was for much more restricted hours and the food provided (even at breakfast club) wasn’t really sufficient. I had to rush to work in the morning then rush out of work in the evening and then prepare a meal and attempt to help an exhausted child with homework and so on. It just wasn’t sustainable”
As did Laura from Five Little Doves; “I had to quit my job when my eldest was at school. As a single Mum I was working full time and having to take time off when he was poorly. He was in and out of hospital with asthma attacks that first couple of years at school and the head (I was a teaching assistant there) called me in and said that I would have to leave him in the hospital each day, come to work and then go back to visit him at night. At that point I knew it wasn’t worth it and I quit my job to be at home with him and by his side when he was poorly.”
Amy from The Mighty Duxburys knows just how important it is to have a supportive employer when you are a working mum; “The job I had when I had Short Rib was soooo unaccomodating. I took him to Hospital in the early hours of the morning with Bronchiolitis – he was fine, we got back home at around 10am after being in for about five hours. I went into work, knowing my bosses would be super pissed if I took the day off, only to get a bollocking anyway about being late. Needless to say, I cried then quit shortly afterwards. Luckily my new place is much, much better, but you still get the guilt when you have to make excuses. “
Nicole from The Mum Reviews has a similarly frustrating experience to me when it comes to the school’s organisational skills – which always makes our job so much harder; “My son’s school is literally incapable of planning things in advance. They gave us only a week’s notice of the nativity play and the same more recently when there was an opportunity to go observe your child in class. I need more time than that to arrange time off and negotiate with my husband so that I don’t miss school events that are important to my son. Especially because they often don’t allow younger siblings at these events so I have to arrange extra childcare as well.”
I totally see where Leah from Home Family Life is coming from when she says “My work is quite understanding and so far I haven’t had to take time off because my boy was poorly. But I do feel like I’m doing a semi good job at work as well as at home. I’m the main caregiver and work part time as well as trying to run a blog and YouTube. During the week in often sole parenting because of my husbands long working hours. So I feel torn with all I’m trying to juggle and I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job at any of it.”
And Jessie the Slimming Mama Bear said “Exhausting, hard work but worth it”and then sent me this quote – I’ve seen it before but it really does resonate with me.
If you are returning to work after maternity leave take a look at Abi’s post on Something About Baby here and Kirsty really sums up the whole ‘mum guilt’ feeling here – give them some love and tell them Alex sent you 😉