Mummy vs Work: why I've recently done a U-turn on the subject
Updated: Jan 9
Motherhood throws up many hurdles when it comes to a woman's career. However, recently my frustrations have turned into gratitude.
I remember a conversation with my mum while I was at university dreaming about my career options. I told her I wouldn't get out of bed for a salary under £60,000, and children would not get in the way of travelling the world with work (I wanted a job that would take me from country to country). My mum replied with, "You can't have it all." When I told her she was wrong, her response was, "Umm." And that was the end of the chat.
Now post-children, my mum and I bring up this conversation often. What a brat I was. How naive I was. Firstly, I have never earned £60,000. Secondly, I had a job where I got to travel the world and hated it. And thirdly, now I have young children the word 'career' is not my priority.
Going back to five years ago, I had my first child (Jack, Ruggie 1). When Jack was four months old I had a work opportunity come my way. It was a freelance role. I was offered to work three days a week for a good salary. You're probably thinking, "What, your child was only 4 months?" I know my baby was tiny, but I still very much had my career head on at the time. I was being given an opportunity to earn a good wage and be at home for my son two days out of five. I was in.
The next year however was a huge learning curve.
My biggest discoveries were:
- Before children, you are equal with your husband. When I say equal, I mean, you both went out to earn a living and you shared jobs around the house. Everything was 50/50. I was happy.
- With children, the man and woman's 'jobs' in life shift so much that you have to fight to be equal. When I worked I was packing baby bags, juggling pick ups, taking time off when Jack was poorly - all while still managing the household chores. In my eyes, my husband and I were not equal. I wasn't happy.
Now, I must say that none of this is my husband's fault. He was the one that kept his career to keep a roof over our heads and pay the bills. We couldn't take his role out of the equation. If we did, everything would have fallen apart.
What I had entered into was, society today. The woman takes on the main carer role when on maternity leave. The woman takes on household chores when on maternity leave. No one makes a decision about it. It happens automatically. These roles then stick with us when we're expected to go back to work.
My conversation with my mum kept going round in my head. I was finding it really hard to have a job while juggling a baby. I was also resenting my husband (a lot) for being able to walk out of the door every morning for work. On the days I worked, I had to do 101 jobs, then drop off my baby, before I could even think about what tasks I had to master that day. As time went on, tension increased, stress increased, no-one was happy. I didn't feel I was a good mother, good at my job, or a good wife. My mum was right. I couldn't have it all.
Going back to work was one of my biggest eye openers since becoming a mum. It made me see clear and simple that society is very far behind where it should be. Women are fighting for equality, and in some ways its there, in other ways its really, really not. I feel girls (and boys) in school are told to study hard and you can be whatever you want to be. I studied hard. I got my GCSEs, A Levels, a Diploma, and a Degree. I spent 10 years in a career working my butt off to get a good job title and a salary to match. I then had children...and bang...it was all taken away. I'm sure the boys don't feel the same.
Mary Portas' book, 'Work like a Woman', hits the nail on the head (if you've not read it yet, you must). Things are never going to change until we (women) do something about it. We need to take control of the situation. We let ourselves play the role society expects of us. Me included.
The difficulty is, it's not easy to take control. Sorting out equality at home is do-able, however when it comes to work, the hurdles are not so easy. The way employers are allowed to treat women wanting to return to their job is appalling. I feel at this point in a female's life you are given a choice - you can choose your career or you can choose your baby. When at any point is this ultimatum given to men?
After my second child (Ruggie 2), I was more aware of the challenges I faced when maternity leave was up. I decided this time, I was going to take control. So, I launched my own copywriting business (something I've always dreamed of). I also took charge of other areas of my life. Don't get me wrong, it's not been plain sailing, and I've made some sacrifices along the way. Because I have my own business I didn't want to commit to lots of expensive childcare, so I set my alarm for 4.45am every morning to fit work in before the kids get up. I also use Ruggie 2's nap time to get stuck into projects. However, on my child-free working days I make sure the 'jobs' are more equal by sharing drops offs and pick ups with my husband. I've also made household chore agreements so I'm not the only person in charge of running the home. My main thing is, I've learned to ask for help. And I've learned not to sweat the small stuff i.e. ignore the ironing pile getting higher as the world will not end.
On a recent run (I love running for thinking time) a new emotion on the subject entered my head. I realised I was in a happy place. I was running my own business. I was seeing my children every day. My husband and I were making future plans. And, before I knew it I was doing a complete U-turn on my previous thoughts...
If I wasn't a mummy, or the female in this equation, then I'd probably be in the same industry I started out in, working every hour to keep climbing the career ladder. I realised I was actually now in a very fortunate place where I could make choices and take control of them. I'm not sure my husband can say the same for his role. He would probably love the opportunity to have time out to think about what he'd like to do, and start a business doing something he loves. But, he'll never get that luxury (for a while anyway) as all the pressure is on him to keep bringing in a good salary to support his family.
I came home after my run and thanked my husband for giving me the opportunity to discover my new business. Believe me, this is very rare for me to have a soppy moment. But, I felt I'd spent many years being a husband-hater watching him walk out of the door every morning, that it was about time I showed him some gratitude for working his socks off for us all.
In the future I hope things have changed for my own daughter. I hope splitting maternity leave equally with your partner has caught on. I hope traditional working is a thing of the past so mothers and fathers can work around their families. And finally, I hope when Erin and I are talking about her career options I'll be able to tell her she can have it all.