One of the most dispiriting early parenting experiences I had was the finding-out visit we made to our local (and excellent) nursery. Still pumped full of hormones, lacking in sleep and leaking milk I clutched our sleeping 3 month old daughter and managed to hold back the tears until we got outside.
I realised with sudden shock that it was beyond my value system to leave our little girl there, where she would sleep in one of a row of cots and be fed in one of a row of highchairs when she couldn’t as yet bear me to be out of her sight and cried if I so much as went to the bathroom or to put the kettle on.
I’ve blogged before about the confidence of pregnant me, sitting in a high-powered and demanding job in a distant office and fully expecting to be back in the same chair within six months. Whatever did happen to her? And where was she when I needed her to give me a nudge back in the ‘right’ direction?
The world had shifted. Fundamentally and forever. Where I had made decisions just for me, I now had a non-negotiable priority of a dependent child to consider before I could consider work options. What had been a priority before was dulled by an instinctive feeling that the best thing for my daughter was me. Six months became 12 months and then a mutually happy decision not to return to my previous role; my growing girl started nursery at 13 months, walking and talking and enjoying her time away from me as much as I started to.
Not to be put off, I determined I could do this, and determined to find a way to use my skills as a working mum; I negotiated a part-time position in a new and exciting senior role that meant I could combine spending time at home and at work, supported always by a very understanding partner who was able and willing to balance his career, too.
Another pregnancy and more decisions to make about returning or not returning, and with a little girl now about to make her school debut the landscape had changed again; this unchartered progress of the children from one set of dependencies to another has very much dictated what I can and am willing to do as a working mother, and I am hopeful this will continue to be part of my particular journey.
I am very fortunate in that my work is focused on digital consulting and is by its nature adaptable to flexible and remote working; working for myself and being home-based puts me in a great position in fitting work around the children. It still isn’t straightforward to plan projects and clients, but it can be done and I am determined to make it succeed.
Our family set itself the target of making it to school entry for my son without me having to physically work outside the home, and our pipeline currently means we are on target to achieve that. It isn’t ideal, as any situation isn’t, and it has frustrations and not always getting things right. But we have through trial and error reached a balance, for now, that works for us as a couple and which allows our children to thrive.
Read all the books you like on the subject, and I could recommend some great ones such as Let Go of My Leg by Kirsten Lees and Jessica Chivers’ Mothers’ Work!; visit the supporting websites such as mumsnet and workingmums and gain insight from others in similar situations as you test out ways that you can be both a working woman and a mother.
But above all, being a working mum today needs you to be determined, creative, courageous and focused; you were strong enough to birth and care for your children, and you will find a way to make your workplace work for you and your family. Just don’t judge other women and the compromises and work-life balancing tightropes they are walking – we all need to find our own singular working solution and support each other in that.
What do you see as your biggest challenge as a working mum? For me it’s being able to enjoy each side fully – either being with the children or concentrating on work – and not blur the boundaries between the two. I’d love to hear your views, leave a comment below.
I wrote this post in response to an advert on the workingmums website for a new blogger. The brief was to write about being a working mum today, and the challenges that holds for each and every one of us. The workingmums website is a great job and community site for professional working mothers, check it out at http://www.workingmums.co.uk.