Some time ago, when I first returned from maternity leave, I wrote a rather smug post defending my choice to be a working mum.
I was confident. I had made the right decision and I knew it. I was juggling my work-life-family balance and doing just fine.
Em, maybe I spoke a little too soon…
Be under no illusions, I am not giving up work. I stand by my convictions that, personally, I could never cope with spending all day every day cooking, cleaning and going to baby groups. It suits some, but my brain would spontaneously combust before the five little ducks made it safely back to Mummy duck, and my entire family would almost certainly come down with food poisoning if I donned a flowery apron and attempted to be a domestic goddess.
I have to admit being a working mum is a lot harder than I thought. Seems fairly obvious , so why did it take me so long to realise? I’m a teacher. I went back to school in May, just as all the older students went on exam leave. I took over an already reduced timetable with classes much better behaved and more eager to work than the ones I had left, and had only a month’s proper teaching before it reached that glorious time of year when we actually encourage children to enjoy childhood by taking part in sports days, going on trips and putting on shows. To be truthful, it was a bit of an easy ride. So much so that I actually thought life was too easy and took on extra responsibility as work. ‘Look at me!’ I cried triumphantly, ‘I’m such a super mum I’ve even got a promotion just after going back. How amazingly balanced am I?’
Follow that with 6 weeks of gloriously sunny summer holidays and I was under the impression that life as a working parent was a picnic (literally, at various points over the summer).
Then came September, lurking like a tiger in the shadows; seemingly beautiful and wondrous but ready at a moment’s notice to jump up and bite you in the ass. And that’s exactly what it did.
Fast forward three weeks and I’m knackered: my roots are showing and I’ve split ends a-plenty; the house looks like it’s been burgled (we never did get a cleaner); my husband and I are like ships that pass in the night, talking only to arrange childminder pick ups and drop off or realise we’ve forgotten yet another birthday; all the while the boy’s growing out of his clothes so fast we’re failing to keep up and I’ve twice this week had to make excuses about why he went to the childminder’s with no socks on: ‘we’ll, it’s only round the corner, he probably doesn’t need them.’
Meanwhile at work, there’s a mound of paper on my desk which my pre-baby, colour-coding OCD organised self would never have entertained for even a moment. My lessons are fine and my books are marked but the moment the students leave the room I collapse on a chair and stare at my planner with a mixture of fear and apprehension normally only brought on by a letter from the doctor saying it’s time for a smear test. Every time my email pings I dread opening it in case it’s another email from one of my enthusiastic, childless colleagues with a great suggestion about an exciting new lesson we could do or another academic article we could use to stretch the students: ‘What? Where the hell are they finding time to do all this extra planning and reading? I barely have time to read the email about it,’ I bemoan to myself, upset mainly because, back in the day, that annoying, enthusiastic, overly-eager teacher with a million and one great new ideas was me.
Not any more. It’s tough to accept. I knew that going back to work would involve guilt, worry and feelings of inadequacy, but I’d expected they’d all be applied to my home life, not work. Now it seems I not only have to worry about balancing the practicalities of my work and family life, but balancing the stress between them too.
Thankfully this week, fate has intervened and made the choice for me. That selfish little child of mine only went and got himself chicken pox. Sorry year 11, your essays may have to wait while I apply some calamine lotion.