4 February 2018

Guilt of a Working Mother

Mother's guilt. Oh it's a strong beast that one, and it seems to impact on us all. One of the areas that I personally feel the most guilt is as a full-time working mother.

Watching Motherland summed it up for me in the first 2 minutes. Julia, one of the main characters, receives a phone call from the school to let her know her child doesn't have their swimming costume. Has the school rang the child's father? No. Of course not. But it's the conversation that she then has with her male boss that had me crying with laughter... and a little bit of indignation.

Boss: Look Julia, I get it. It's hard. People say women can have it all but that's easy to say. The point is if you're hosting a dinner for 250 opticians at the Excel Centre it probably means you're missing bath time. Constantly feel like you're letting someone down - I get it.
Julia: *nodding* It is exactly that. That is it, yes that's it.
Boss: I've got kids myself. And I come from a family of very strong, strong women so I really do understand... So just sort it out!

Now I chose to return to work when my daughter was 11 months old. And I chose to return full-time. This was partly for monetary reasons - we would have struggled to get by on one wage. But a large part was for my sanity and wanting the feeling of 'me' back. I found motherhood incredibly lonely in the early months and despite having loved my MAT leave, I longed to get back to a job that I had worked hard to get and I know I am good at. I missed using my brain and skills. I am very lucky that my full-time is actually term-time, so I get all of the school holidays to spend with my daughter, but still. It's a 37 hour+ week for me when I am at work... and as such it's a 37 hour+ week for my daughter in nursery. 

I hadn't realised how fortunate I was to be working and earning my own money until the breakdown of my marriage when my daughter was 18 months old. Had I not have had an income of my own, I would have been up shit creek without a paddle. Luckily for me, it wasn't the 1950s and I wasn't utterly dependent on a man to be the breadwinner. I've now been a single mother longer than I was a mother in a 'nuclear family' and I actually have to say that while it is hard to be a full-time working single mother (wow - how many labels do we put on ourselves?!) it was equally hard during the 8 months I was a full-time working mother with a partner who could have helped. 

Some of the latest figures from the ONS (September 2017) show that nearly three-quarters of mothers with dependent children are now in full or part-time work. I have no friends who are SAHM, all work part-time or full-time. And I know all of them feel THE GUILT.

It's a funny guilt as well because it's so widespread. Guilt that you're not there for all of your children's events. That when they're ill, you may have to send them to school/nursery anyway until you get the phone call asking you to collect them because they've just been sick... That you're not able to do all of the drop offs and pick ups. That it's not easy for them to bring a friend home for tea straight from school. But the guilt is also there for work and your colleagues. That when you do have to be off you're letting them down. That you can't make that late night meeting. Guilt that your home may not be as spotlessly clean as you may like, that your washing pile is beginning to take on Everest proportions, that the dinners are not all home-made and are more freezer tapas than Delia delights.

Last week alone, three of my friends spoke to me about the guilt they feel in one way or another. That as working-mothers we're drained, guilt-ridden and dejected. Overcommitted, overstretched and pulled in so many directions. We simply cannot do everything and be everything to everyone. I heard the phrase 'too many tabs open in my brain' and that sums up how I feel on a daily basis!

Flexible working can help working parents immensely, but the need for movements such as 'Flex Appeal' by Mother Pukka shows just how often this is not taken up by employers or not used as effectively as it could be. I work flexibly but am still likely to need to reduce my hours or find different employment come September when my daughter starts school to actually make it work.

I think some of the guilt, like so much else of a mother's guilt, comes from the feeling of having to justify yourself and your decisions to others. I know the comment that stung me the most was when a SAHM told me she couldn't return to work as she 'didn't want strangers bringing up [her] child'. Well, oddly enough neither do I. I genuinely have no doubt that that wasn't a personal dig or meant to upset me in the slightest but it cut deep and that's likely because it was a little close to home with my own thoughts. 

I know I am a good mother and that I do my best. I know I am a hard worker and good at my job. My daughter is bright as a button and she enjoys the socialising that nursery brings. I have to work to be able to afford my home and look after my daughter alone. But I also want my daughter to know she can have it all if she wants; tough as that may be. And I like to think she'll be proud of me as she gets older for all I do for us.

Written by Susan @pizza.for.tea


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