Category Archives: Working life

Don’t discriminate against working mums

Today the Guardian reported on a survey conducted by law firm Slater and Gordon which indicated that 40% of employers were wary of employing women of childbearing age, hiring mothers or putting someone they knew was already a mother in a senior role.

No big surprises there for any woman who has ever worked.

The idea that we live in an era of equality when it comes to the workplace is a complete fallacy. Sex discrimination is alive and well, taking many different forms, but one of the most obvious and pervasive of these is almost certainly related to a woman’s decision to have children.

I use the word ‘decision’ deliberately as there are many who argue that women have no right to complain as it is their decision to have children and they should accept the consequences and not expect their employer to ‘foot the bill’ while they laze around on maternity enjoying the fruits of that decision.

To deride the natural impulse to procreate as a ‘decision’ in a manner which implies it is as frivolous and as selfish as bunking off work to go to Glastonbury (which I have known almost as many people to do with none of the derision from co-workers) is overly simplistic, unhelpful and quite frankly stupid.

Firstly, it is not just women involved in the decision to have children – anyone over the age of about 12 knows that. Clearly in a natural birth (i.e. Not adoption or surrogacy) it’s the woman who carries, gives birth to and often feeds the baby so of course she is going to need at least some time to stay home and will often choose to stay at home longer to bond with the baby. But she didn’t start that process on her own and shouldn’t be in some way blamed as if she has ‘decided’ to go through 9 months of pregnancy, hours of excruciating labour and months of sleepless nights purely to have a bit of a break from work and wilfully piss off her employer.

Secondly, if the only way it is acceptable for women to be employed by businesses concerned with the impact of maternity leave and parenthood is to refuse to have children altogether, who do these businesses think they are going to employ in twenty or thirty years time when their current workforce have retired leaving behind no offspring to take over? That people in our communities have children is not selfish. It is not just a nice thing to do. It is not even simply important. It is vital, and we all have a stake in those children being raised well, whether we choose to have them ourselves or not.

As well as the issues faced by employers, the comments on the article are littered with damning anecdotal evidence from other employees, all along the lines of ‘I work with a woman who has kids/went on maternity leave and I ended up having to do all her work, the selfish lazy cow’ or words to that effect.

In my life pre-parenthood I was an incredibly diligent worker and prided myself in never taking time off work. Often this pride was misguided as it probably meant I dragged my germs in and affected other people, or stumbled about my workplace inefficiently for two weeks rather than spending one day in bed and coming back on top form. Regardless, I never missed a day, worked bloody hard and was naively proud of it. At times I would notice that other colleagues seemed to take a fair few days off work and feel aggrieved. When they were off for the third or fourth time with their child, rather than thinking ‘poor kid, that must be a nightmare’ I’d begin to assume they weren’t that unwell and silently tell the mum/dad to toughen up and just send her kid in to school or nursery. Little did I realise then that little kids get sick a lot, and when kids are sick, they are really sick – snot everywhere, projectile vomit down the walls, pus filled pox bursting every time they move. Even if you could bring yourself to abandon the snivelling wretches for the day, there’s no way in the world any childcare or school would take them – they’re trying to protect other children, and therefore other parents and workplaces, from the same fate.

Now I’m a mum I dread illness and the inevitable ‘Whose day at work is more important? How long will it last? Is there anyone else we could call if it lasts? If we wrap him up will the childminder even notice?’ conversations which take place the moment the illness is discovered. Whining colleagues who think parents are skiving off work don’t see the agonising faces pulled while trying to negotiate interim childcare. They don’t see parents running between bottles of Calpol and laptops as we try desperately to keep on top of things while we’re at home. They don’t feel the hideous guilt that comes when you realise that, because of these perceptions of mums not being as good workers, you’re more worried about what you’re missing at work than you are about your own ill child. Perverse but sadly true.

But we have to worry, because there will always be someone you work with who has an ‘I worked with a mum who wasn’t very good at her job therefore I don’t like working with mums’ attitude, which is not only discriminatory and offensive, it is also downright moronic! I have worked with countless men, both fathers and childless, who have been lazy, arrogant, work shy, all-talk-no-action-because-I’m-too-busy-climbing-the-career-ladder, or just no bloody good at their job, but that doesn’t mean I tar all my male colleagues with the same brush. Some people work hard at their job, others take the piss – it doesn’t automatically correlate with gender or whether or not you’ve had children. If you assume it does that’s discrimination, pure and simple.

According to these managers’ perceptions, I’ll be worse at my job now than I was before maternity leave. Ignore the fact that I’m older and wiser. Ignore the fact that trying to get all your housework done in the space of a one hour nap time teaches you how to be a million times more efficient than a day’s time management CPD could ever do. Ignore the fact that I returned to work desperate to throw myself back into it after a year of mental stagnation singing 5 little ducks ten times a day. Ignore the fact that I work bloody harder than most of my childless colleagues because I know that I have to prove myself more than they ever do. Oh, and the fact that they stay until 7pm while I leave at 5 does not mean they work harder or better than me, it means they work longer. It’s not the same thing.

I’m not oblivious to the problems employers and colleagues of working parents face and clearly my viewpoint is extremely biased. I can see that maternity leave is a major financial and logistical challenge for employers and there is always that worry that the mother may not come back at the end of it (though literally everyone I know did go back). I understand it must be frustrating for women who have chosen to focus solely on their career and not have children to know that they are being judged by a set of criteria which doesn’t even apply to them. These are all problems relating to the employment of working mums, and in many ways working dads. But they are not problems caused by working mums and dads.

We all have a right to work. We all have a right to have children. We have a duty to do both of these things to the best of our ability. If you don’t think these things are currently working well together, change the system, lobby the government, do something about it. Don’t just blame, deride and discriminate against women and working mums; nothing good will ever come of that.

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The summer holidays (or, why are there so many kids in my way?)

I bloody love the summer holidays – I would, I’m a teacher.

Months and months of never having the headspace for anything more than lesson plans, making and exam prep are finally relieved. After the inevitable first few days of illness (end-of-term-itis), there stretches ahead of me several weeks of carefree abandon and something finally resembling a normal life – at least until results day.

Now I’m a parent, I appreciate it even more. I appreciate there are some parents who dread the holidays – their normal routine is disrupted with the need for childcare, holiday clubs and, scariest of all, whole days of family time which need to be planned, organised and endured. For me though, it’s the best time of the year, the only time I can fully devote my attention to my son without rushing out of the house while he’s still in his PJs and rubbing his eyes, or trying to play jigsaws whilst also reading a stack of essays I promised my year 12s I’d hand back the next morning.

In the summer we can really get to know each other: building towers for hours on end, running through the fountains in the park on a hot summer day and reading Peppa Pig books ten times in a row (ok, I’m less keen on that last one).

There’s just one thing that threatens the bliss that is my summer holiday.

Kids.

Bloody kids, they’re bloody everywhere.

A quick trip to the shops becomes a mission. Gangly teenagers lurk around every corner looking hopelessly angry or angrily hopeless at the prospect of having to entertain themselves for six whole weeks. Hyperactive children charge out from under racks of clothes, turning corners at a pace which would make Jenson Button envious. Where they don’t knock you down, you’re likely to knock them down, or else maim them by running over their toes with your buggy.

Buggies: there’s another thing I hate. I hate having one and I hate the way everyone else’s gets in your way. When did everyone in East London meet up and decide to have babies at the same time? Walking through Boots is like an obstacle course – The Krypton Factor meets One Born Every Minute.

In a previous life, I would have escaped to a museum, though you’d have to be careful which you picked. Head to the British Museum and far from a peaceful exploration of our nation’s history, you’re liable to be confronted by hoards of holiday club children. Underpaid, undertrained, overly stressed and largely hungover students and graduates attempt to herd round rowdy groups of kids who in theory are using their holidays to expand their minds, but in reality are just scouting for the nearest corners to lurk in while they post selfies on Snapchat or Instagram. ‘In museum. Everything old and boring. Lolz.’

There are of course a few more ‘boring’ museums from which you can escape the masses, but while they may have nominally fitted a changing unit in order to class themselves as ‘family friendly’, they’re really not. They’re trying to keep out the under-18s riffraff to please grumpy old gits like me, who don’t want their peace disturbed by noisy children. The problem is, I now come with one of those permanently attached. It’s fair to assume no one in the British Library wants their afternoon disturbed by my son singing Old McDonald at the top of his voice, no matter how impressed I might be with his impression of a cow.

Finally there’s the park – every cash strapped parent’s best friend. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to live near one of London’s big parks, there’s enough to keep you occupied for days on end: paddling pools, water fountains, swings, slides, climbing frames, boats and of course big open spaces to run around on and have picnics. It’s perfect for when people visit and, when the weather’s right, it’s near paradise.

Except for those bloody children.

Everywhere you turn, there they are. Toddlers having tantrums, brats on bikes and scooters, pre-teens giggling and taking up the equipment clearly marked ‘under-10s only’. If you’re really unlucky you’ll be hit by another holiday club group – packs of little monsters in hi-vis jackets, storming at you in a scene reminiscent of the stampede which killed Mufasa in The Lion King and causing just as many tears. Perhaps the hi-vis jackets aren’t really to help the workers keep an eye on the children – they’re a beacon warning innocent bystanders: ‘LOOK OUT, HERE THEY COME!’

I don’t mind children. Contrary to current appearances, I actually quite like them. While most parents lurk in the corners of the play area sipping on a coffee, I always seem to end up stuck in the middle orchestrating some kind of elaborate game which inevitably ends with me getting covered in either water or sand.

Still, I need some rest. I’ve got a very specific plan for my summer and I don’t have time for people to get in my way.
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It is my curse in life to spend all my working time surrounded kids, only to get a break and be surrounded by more somewhere else – and this time I’m not allowed to tell them off when they’re naughty!

Someone disabuse these children and their parents of the mistaken notion that this is their summer holiday. It’s not. It’s mine.

The joys of half term (or how on earth do you achieve a work life balance?)

Half term is over. A couple of days and I’ll be back at work: refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to go.

The last few days before the break I was struggling. I had zero tolerance for rude teenagers (why is it so difficult to say please and thank you?). Parents were driving me crazy (yes, your son is being challenged enough, or at least he would be if he bothered to bring in a pen and open his book without me nagging him twenty times!). I was losing enthusiasm for my subject (I’m running out of different ways I can host a discussion on whether we have any sympathy for Caliban).

I was struggling so much that when my husband asked me the question: how was your day? I responded immediately with ‘Rubbish!’ and entered into a tirade of reasons why I was exhausted, fed up and needed a holiday. So hell bent was I on explaining the negatives of my work day, I neglected to tell him I’d been given an outstanding in my most recent observation and that my year 9 class had made me a valentines card to apologise for their previous bad behaviour with the message ‘we really do appreciate all your hard work’ – an act so sweet and unexpected it nearly made me cry in front of them (it didn’t though, and I still made them write an essay!). I just couldn’t focus on the positives.

Ultimately, I was just knackered…and missing my boy.

One week later and I am almost unrecognisable. 6 blissful days of quality family time has made all the difference. We haven’t done anything massively exciting – visited my parents, been to soft play, watched the Gruffalo on DVD, a trip to the park (more specifically Alexandra Palace, where I sat in a pub next to Kenneth Branagh – that was pretty exciting!) – but it’s been lovely, and even though it was interrupted by the inevitable boring day of exam marking, it was everything I hoped for when we first decided to have a family. I feel rested and happy.

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The problem is, how do I now give that up for another 6 weeks?

In the last week I feel like I’ve truly witnessed my little man growing up. His speech has come on leaps and bounds and there must be some link with how much more time I have to talk to him. Yesterday, after much procrastination and some quite frankly wimpy behaviour, he faced his fears and pushed himself down the slide for the first time. Before you know it, he won’t need me at all.

I don’t want to be a stay at home mum – despite appearances at times I love my job and want my son to see me as a strong, independent woman with interests of my own. Though I know my husband would never leave me high and dry, I need my own financial security. I need to know it’s there and it’s mine.

But…

How do you leave work at work? How do I reach the stage where I can step through the door and focus 100% on my family? How can I make sure I never miss those tiny milestones? How can I switch off enough to make sure I notice that my son has started talking in his sleep, stifling a giggle as he rolls around at nap time muttering ‘Apple piiiiiiie’ with a look of pure satisfaction on his face.

As an English teacher, I use a lot of rhetorical questions, but this isn’t one of them.

How do you do it?

How Richard Branson made me appreciate parenting (sort of)

Screw it, let’s do it! That was the name of the book which changed my life. Well, briefly…and rather superficially.

8 years ago I moved to London. After a brief stint living in what was essentially a shoe box with a window, I moved into the flat which was to be the scene of some of the happiest moments of my ventures into true adulthood. Living with two friends from university, I spent the subsequent year partying, staying up late chatting and watching the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice on a permanent loop. Getting to bed before 5am on a Saturday was a rare treat and if you didn’t wake up to discover at least two people crashed out in the living room, you knew it had been a boring evening.

Yet, despite all this fun, my housemates and I weren’t as happy as we hoped. We’d moved to London as graduates do, determined to find our vocation and forge our career paths in the big wide world. We’d all sought out and successfully gained positions in the jobs we wanted, only to discover they were crap!

One housemate came home regularly soaked in other people’s urine while my life was blighted by an ageing socialite charity trustee who, rather than helping me raise funds would instead tell me off if she thought my hairdo didn’t match my outfit or my voice was slightly too high that day. As for the other girl, there were days we thought she’d moved out we saw her so little during the week.

Then one day, clearing out a cupboard, we discovered a book by multimillionaire Richard Branson. As a group of young women committed to working in the charity sector, this was a strange source of inspiration. In this tiny book, Branson set out his key values which allowed him to storm ahead and make his fortune, all the while smiling and pausing regularly to jaunt of round the world on his latest adventure. The main key? Set yourself a challenge every day. Not every month or week or every so often, but every day.

So our new life began. Every day we set ourselves a new challenge to make our lives better. Since everything else was fine, basically the challenge was ‘don’t moan about work’.

It worked. Every time a negative phrase formed on our lips, someone would shout ‘what would Branson do?’ Every time one of us was having a tough times, we’d wisely advise ‘Set yourself a Branson challenge!’ Faced with a moment of uncertainty we’d chant ‘Screw it. Let’s do it!’

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Fast forward several years and we’ve all moved on: new and better jobs, new homes, new babies. Life is less manic and definitely involves less partying, but I’ve certainly been lucky enough to find happiness at work and at home. Still, the last few weeks have been tough for me: a family bereavement, illness (the dreaded chicken pox) and stints of parenting alone as the other half jetted around reporting on various dull-sounding conferences. I found myself more and more annoyed. I seemed perpetually stuck at home with no social life, thinking I back on the days when an could jet off at a moment’s notice and do whatever I wanted. More and more, my husband and I seemed to be saying ‘You know what I miss about before we had a kid…’ and discussions with childless friends always seemed to end with: ‘Probably not. I don’t know if we could find a babysitter.’

Gradually it dawned on me that to an outsider, it might sound like we don’t like being parents at all. Worse than that, I was dangerously close to convincing myself that life was better pre-parenthood.

So I set myself a Branson challenge: for one whole week I would not moan about parenthood. No matter what happened, I would be relentlessly positive. I did not complain about being tired at work when I’d been up since 4.30am. I’ve cheerfully accepted the fact that my head is now freezing on the cycle to work since I can’t get peace long enough to dry my hair in the morning. Even when I had to miss out on staff drinks after Ofsted (and if a glass of wine isn’t deserved then, it never is!) so I could get to the childminders in time, I just smiled and shrugged it off.

It worked!

The truth is, like so many things in life, it’s the idea of stress or the idea of missing out that’s the worst thing. As soon as I stopped thinking about it, it stopped being an issue. Who cares that I couldn’t go to the pub? In truth, I probably had a lot more fun playing with the little one than I would have had in the pub: guzzling down wine, moaning about work and ending up having to face the next day’s teaching with a hangover. Plus, getting up at 4.30am was quite useful when I had Ofsted prep to do!

There seems to be something about parenthood that lends itself to moaning: tiredness, loneliness, boredom, stress, all the things you have to give up. Sometimes you wonder why the hell anyone is doing it. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the internet, where lonely parents go to vent!

So this is my advice to you: turn off the computer, cheer up, go out and enjoy being a parent. Not because it’s beautiful or magical or a privilege or some other annoying and unhelpful cliche. Certainly not because it’s something that you ‘should’ do. Just because, actually – as I’ve thankfully remembered is week- it’s really fun!

If it’s not hard work, it’s not worth doing!

Life as a parent can be tough.

It’s a constant juggling act. Like a clown in a circus, you start each day by setting off your spinning plates. You’re so careful. These plates are important. Each one represents something – from a basic necessity to someone’s hopes and dreams. This one’s the cooking, this one’s the cleaning, this ones the bank balance which needs to be able to cope with that horrible day when the boiler breaks while also storing enough money to go on that weekend away you rashly agreed to with the in-laws, this one’s the drop-off and pick-up at the childminder’s, this one’s the one which sorts out family visits and make sure no one feels like they see you less than someone else, this one’s your relationship (which somehow you always forget about until after the others), this one that’s teetering on the edge is your career, and the one with the cracks already starting to show? That’s your social life. To top it all off, half way through balancing these plates you lean forward, glance down and realise you haven’t mopped the floor in so long there are still blueberry stains on the floor from last Tuesday’s breakfast. Oh sod it, let them all fall. I always preferred the trapeze anyway.

It’s been a tough few weeks in our household. From money worries to chicken pox to bereavement, we’ve had it all.

At times it’s been sad and at times it’s been stressful, but overall it’s been mostly…functional. Sometimes, there’s so much going on there’s nothing to do but switch on the autopilot and ride it out. The problem is, how do you know when to switch the autopilot off?

The simple transition from work to home life at the end of day can be a difficult one. Rushing home from the office to get to the childminder’s, it’s easy to feel like you haven’t finished and before you know it the lines are blurring. Still on work mode autopilot you rush through dinner and bedtime, half heartedly serving up rice pudding with one hand while you type email replies with the other. After bedtime, rather than spending quality time with your partner, you collapse in a heap on the sofa moaning about the housework and boring them with minute details about the work you still have left to do when you get in the next morning.

Thankfully, at times like this, when you’re meandering along in a haze, being totally ungrateful for what you have and losing sight completely of what’s important, the great gods of parenting have a habit of reaching out and giving you a good old slap across the face.

I got home from work on Friday tired, grumpy and slightly resentful I couldn’t head to the pub with all my childless colleagues. I was sitting on the floor staring into space while my son waved torn up jigsaw pieces in my general direction when it finally happened. He walked. I was totally unprepared for how completely momentous this simple act was. Obviously I knew it was a big deal but I hadn’t really thought it through. I wasn’t prepared for the total and complete shift that seemed to take place in my world in that split second when he took his first steady and deliberate steps towards me. I went from wallowing in the rivers of self-pity to standing on the top of the world.

So, it turns out that the nonsense I spout to all my students when they’re struggling is true: if something’s not difficult, it’s probably not worth doing. Parenting may be hard work sometimes, but it pays dividends. A glass of rosé down the Rose and Crown could never have the same effect as seeing the little man growing up before my very eyes, and being so ridiculously proud of himself.

I know the whole point of this blog is to be sceptical and scathing and totally un-twee, but for one week I’m afraid I’ve got to give it up and go with optimism…because my lazy git of a son has finally gotten up off his backside and starting walking. And it’s bloody brilliant!

Something’s got to give: the life of a working mum

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.

However…

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.

Why Miranda from SATC is my mothering role model

“I can’t believe I have to pretend to be a lawyer today”

So says Miranda Hobbs, the control freak uptight lawyer character of Sex and the City and essentially my kindred spirit in motherhood, moaning wearily down the phone to Carrie after a typically bad night’s sleep.

In the early days of motherhood, stuck in the house on a relentless feeding schedule, trashy TV was my saviour and Sex and the City series 4 was my Holy Grail. Watching Miranda struggle to come to terms with pregnancy, desperately wondering how to fit in with childless friends and trying to figure out how to cope with being a mum but knowing being just-a-mum wasn’t enough I felt I’d found someone who understood. Albeit someone who wasn’t real, whose friends were ridiculously obsessed with sex and who were often not that nice.

Months passed, I learned how to balance motherhood and I passed the joys of my SATC box set onto another friend who was expecting.

Then this morning, I had a major Miranda flashback.

Several weeks ago I blogged about how much I enjoyed being a working mum. I was confident, proud and possibly verging on smug. This week the gods of parenthood have taken their revenge and come to taunt me.

A husband with food poisoning (I told him not to eat those pork pies), a childminder with stomach flu and hay fever so bad I can barely open my eyes in a morning. All these are things I could cope with. Even with a holiday for 10 people to coordinate and a summer full of family visits to organise, I could cope. Even with a baby party practically every weekend and my own family birthday season in full swing (oh god, just remembered there’s one this weekend!), I could just about stay on top of things. Even in a week when I have 2 schemes of work to write, a performance management observation and an assessment to prepare for despite never being able to actually get hold of the kids doing it, I reckon I could just about manage it all.

But throw in an-almost toddler who is so excited by his ability to almost pull himself up and almost walk that he’s decided he no longer needs sleep and I start to falter. Add to that his determination that means he screams blue murder numerous times in the night if you don’t get him up to practise, and I’m verging close to the edge. Top it all off with his amazing ability to sleep crawl, meaning when I finally give up and put him to sleep in the same bed as me I wake up every 20 minutes to discover he’s about to nose-dive off the edge of the mattress or get rudely awaken with a swift punch or kick to the nose, and I start to lose it.

Scrap that, I’ve lost it.

Looking at the bedraggled vision in the mirror this morning, with a grouchy one year old balanced on my hip, I thought ‘I can’t believe I have to pretend to be a teacher today.’

I just about managed it, smiling kindly at students as they entered my room and staring intently at my school planner whenever I had the chance so they didn’t notice I was actually holding on to the desk to stop myself from keeling over. I even managed a few productive chats with students before part way through the day I felt myself begin to sway like a tipsy middle aged mum during a ballad at a Take That concert. Finally I made it to the end of lesson bell before being washed over with a wave of nausea so strong it could wash all doughnut wrappers off of Blackpool Pleasure Beach in an instant.

I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t pretend to be a teacher anymore. I had to go home.

Thank God I don’t teach Friday afternoons and have a boss nice enough she didn’t even let me finish my sentence before ordering me out of work.

I imagine not many people are so lucky, and I intend never to take it for granted that having a nice employer and nice colleagues makes it so much easier for me to be a working mum.

I’d love to sign off with a witty note, an interesting message or just something vaguely clever but I’m still knackered and really need to go to bed.

After all, I still have to pretend to be a decent parent tomorrow.

In defence of the working mum

I am tired. Worn out. Shattered. Eyes drooping, squinting at the TV as if I was drunk, fighting the urge to go to bed at 8.30pm, unable to conduct a sensible conversation exhausted.

Sadly, it’s not the result of a wild night out partying which ended in an ill-advised round of Jaegerbombs, nor is it the product of jet lag from an exciting long haul flight from an exotic holiday.

I’m propped up on the sofa, intermittently nodding off like Tory back-bencher during a debate on human rights because I’m back at work.

Towards the end of maternity leave I realised that I was one of very few women who made an active choice to go back to work full time. Some mothers arrange to return part time or on flexi-time arrangements, others don’t return at all. Then there are those who desperately try to figure out how to avoid it, but simply have to go back full time.

Not me, I chose to.

I’ve now officially been a full-time working mum for one week and two days, and so I feel this makes me an expert and officially able to comment on what it’s like.

It’s true that I am completely exhausted.

It’s also true that the house has fallen into complete disarray: as I type, I am wedged between a Bermuda triangle of half-dried clothes, a basket of clean but un-ironed clothes and an ironing board which is staring at me as if to say ‘stop putting me up in the living room and pretending that means you’ve done something when you haven’t actually ironed anything for over a week!’

Mornings are an emotional mousetrap. If I creep around slowly, I can get ready and out of the house without the boy seeing me, meaning I can leave on time, but with no morning cuddle and feeling like I’ve attached part of my heart to a bungee rope and had to stretch it the entire length of Hackney to reach work before it flings me back across East London at the end of a long, busy day. The alternative is to get the baby up, which is lovely! But I’m not sure how much my husband enjoys being woken up by me shoving an 11 month old child into his arms then running out of the door, hoping he doesn’t cry (the baby, I think my husband’s a little old for that).

Yet for all the downsides (and there are more than I mentioned) being back at work is wonderful.

For one, I’ve remembered that I have a brain. After a year in which roughly 90% of my daytime conversations revolved around some form of feeding (breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, when to stop night feeds, when to introduce solids, purees vs. baby led weaning, is it ok to feed babies citrus fruits, 3 meals a day vs. little and often, what snacks does the baby eat, is it ok to eat chocolate in front of a baby or will they know and turn into some kind of massively obese social outcast just from having once seen a Cadbury’s crème egg, at what point do you just go ‘oh sod it!’ and take them out to McDonalds?!) I can spend my days discussing issues which have nothing to do with babies but everything to do with the things I loved for so many years before I became a mum.

It’s like switching on a light in the cupboard you’d forgotten was there. It might flicker and stutter a bit at first, but once it’s working you remember just how bright the bulb is and just how bloody, wonderfully useful that under stairs cupboard is and why the hell you ever stopped using it in the first place!

For nearly 30 years prior to becoming a mum I lived a happy and fulfilled life, yet for a year I turned my back on some of the things which had previously been my reason for getting up in a morning.

One of the wonderful things about being a parent is that it totally refocuses your priorities. For example, it no longer feels so important to colour-code the entire of my work diary that I need to stay in my classroom until 7 o’clock at night to do it. I’m also ever so slightly less OCD about ensuring every piece of paper is in exactly the right place on my desk before I leave at the end of the day – what does it matter when anything you take home will inevitably end up covered in Weetabix anyway?

Still, it’s nice to remember that there are other things in my life which are priorities. Like the joy of finishing a full day of work and feeling I’ve really achieved something. Like sitting down to dinner and saying “I had a really interesting conversation with so-and-so at work today” or “I’ve had this brilliant idea about how to teach creative writing by looking at online blogs” (wonder where that idea came from…) rather than “Well, I did two loads of washing today and we sang that song about the monkeys and the crocodile at playgroup”. It seems to me it’s much easier to keep a marriage on an equal footing when you both have something interesting to contribute, rather than one person sitting as the sounding board for their partner who’s been out in the ‘real world’ before getting a cursory pat on the head as congratulations for mopping the floor, like a dog desperately looking for praise after successfully fetching a stick while it’s owner spent the time it was gone looking for a cure for cancer.

And it’s not just our marriage which has benefited. It’s the whole of family life. Rather than spending breakfast time manically searching for playgroups to fill the day and thinking of ways to fill the two long hours between afternoon snack and Daddy coming home for tea-time, now I cherish every second at home. There is no brighter moment in my life than the twenty minutes between tea and bath-time when the three of us crawl under the duvet to read ‘That’s Not My Monkey’ or some other literary masterpiece.

I’m not saying being a working mum is for everyone. If you enjoy being at home all day and find it fulfilling then good for you. It’s just not for me.

Oh, and one final point. By some miracle of bodily timings, I haven’t had to change a poo-filled nappy all week. That’s right, not one in a whole week.

Working mum 1 – Stay at home mum 0