Juggling work and children: a mum’s story
For the umpteenth time I find myself rushing out the door, half way up the road, late, son in tow and I have fluffy slippers on. Surely not as bad as turning up at work with a small child asleep in the back of the car…..I had forgotten to drop him at nursery. Sound familiar?
Seriously though, there are some (if not all) days when being a working parent is just very, very tough. The stress of juggling children with the demands of work takes a toll on many parents’ personal and professional lives and there are many challenges that we all have in common.
As a working parent, you feel guilt. Guilt at not being there 24/7. Guilt at missing first words or steps. Guilt at dosing up your snotty-nosed child and abandoning them with a teacher. Many parents would rather not work, but for most it just isn’t an option.
Whether you’re leaving your child with relatives, a childminder, a nursery or school, nothing can prepare you for the guilt you feel. Tears. From you, not your child. If they cry when you leave, you’ll cry and feel like a terrible parent. When they don’t cry you sit in the car outside for 10 minutes sobbing that your child won’t even miss you and conclude you must be a terrible parent.
It’s normal, it really is – just remember that you’re doing what you’re doing because it is right for your family. It is possible for working parents to still be quality parents. Focus your spare time and energy on raising the children – not wishing you didn’t have to work.
A huge plus of being a working parent is money. You have income.
At least you did until the childcare costs were factored in. Most of us average somewhere between a 10 and a 14-hour day all in, get paid for 7 or 8 and take home half that after childcare costs. You may even pay more in childcare than your actual mortgage or rent, which is pretty depressing. Add in rising energy bills, petrol costs and measly pay rises and it’s a fair chunk of money to find every month. However – and most importantly this is your child’s safety and wellbeing we’re talking about – it’s worth every penny.
Let’s be honest, the main motivator for parents to work might be financial and although the kids may be old enough to drop the childcare, they don’t come cheap and we want the best for them.
Most employers are far more geared up towards working parents than they used to be and there is a whole raft of family-friendly legislation that can benefit you if they are not. There are also plenty of options to consider with different types of flexible working and now sharing parental leave.
There can however be resentment towards working parents from colleagues. After all, you leave work on time every day, have days off when your child is sick, skive off when school calls to say your little angel has vomited over the headteacher – fun fun fun!
They won’t see the before or after, the tears, the panic, the tiredness, the guilt (again) that you’re not good enough at your job because it’s no longer your sole priority.
If you get a disapproving look, remember that person too may one day become a parent and know just how tough it is. The key is to manage the expectations of colleagues who just don’t get it in the meantime.
Remember when you would get back from work and crash on the sofa with a glass of wine, a takeaway and a film? Now the reality is you have a night shift ahead. There really are no words to describe what it’s like doing a full working day after you’ve been up half the night. Even when they get older, the frantic morning rush and dinner-time battles are totally draining.
It can be useful to understand that there will be times when your family needs more attention and times when your employer demands more. Don’t try to constantly divide the time equally and fairly. Try to be flexible and determine where you need to devote your time instead of spreading yourself too thinly and dropping with exhaustion.
Seeking support is of the biggest keys to dealing with the tiredness thing. This is especially true for single parents. Swallow your pride: successful parents don’t necessarily depend on others, but are often willing to trade time, swap pick-ups and use playdates in order to catch up on sleep and ‘me’ time.
Take care of yourself. When you’re feeling overtired and stretched too thin, it may seem ridiculous to focus on you, but if you don’t, you won’t have anything left to give.
The Best Bits
There is no denying that being a working parent is no easy task. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably has superpowers you don’t know about. There are, of course, positives to be found.
The ability to make adult friends and hold a normal conversation with people who can respond with more than ‘no’ motivates me. Lunch breaks and going to the bathroom on your own get a big thumbs up. Being able to shut the front door on the bombsite that is your hallway, living room and kitchen and forget about it also helps.
A sense of accomplishment, separate from being a parent, is a huge confidence booster. Your desire for achievement doesn’t stop when you become a parent.
Missing your child can be good for you, because as a working parent you value every precious second spent with your children and they will value it too.
Ultimately, children are smart and they understand why you have to work. They won’t hate you for it, you’re setting a good example and you are doing what’s best for everyone. So don’t be hard on yourself. Keep everything in perspective.
Next time you leave the house 20 minutes late with Weetabix in your hair, just remember it’s normal, you are not alone and you are doing a great job! Now give yourself a pat on the back.