When Is It The Right Time To Return To Work?: The Working Mum’s Dilemma

10276511_10154214284780206_615580309_n Four years ago all I wanted to do was be a mum. I had it all planned out: give up work, have a baby, make cakes, cook every recipe Annabel Karmel ever wrote, drink coffee with new mum friends, have more babies. I didn’t think this plan through: I don’t like coffee for a start (unless we’re talking Espresso Martinis, natch).

Three years and ten months ago – four weeks after Elfie was born – I realised that being a stay at home mum was Not Me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike the new role I found myself thrown into. But I hadn’t realised how different my life would be, how freaked out I would feel at the expectation from not just myself but people around me to be a completely different person just because a 6lb ball of baby had popped out of me. I also hadn’t realised how much the thing I was looking forward to saying goodbye to forever – my work – contributed to the essence of who I was. Targets, successes, hard clients, presentations, meetings; I missed the stimulation of my job like I’d never expected to. My work friends were pushing on with their careers, moving to New York, becoming pop stars, launching businesses. I felt left behind.

But I felt totally selfish feeling that way. I had everything I ever wanted, there was no financial pressure on me to go back to work, I had plenty of empty days with no pressure to fill them with anything but coffee (yuck) and babies. Meanwhile I saw other mums struggling with work and raising their kids because they had to; I felt totally ungrateful that I missed my career and, it has to be said, like this yearning for something more than motherhood made me less of a mum.

Nevertheless I had to do something about it. When Elfie was six weeks old I started working for myself. Slowly at first, a couple of small clients, working hard on my blog. I accepted a part-time freelance gig project managing a couple of brands three days a week but had to leave when the job went full-time and I couldn’t with a nine month old at home. I pottered around again, consulting on small projects, blogging my little heart out, getting divorced. The need to earn money became more of A Thing as I embarked on my single life, I had to generate an income to sustain a household of three. But I always missed that happiness I found in an office, the camaraderie, the gossip, the adrenaline of pitching to a bunch of people.

You don’t get so much of that when you’re working at home in your PJs with The Real Housewives of Atlanta in the background. If any clients are reading this I’m only joking. I much prefer Millionaire Matchmaker.

As the kids have grown older – Hux is at pre-school two mornings a week since turning two and Elfie is starting school in September – the urge to work harder on my career has grown. I’ve done as much as I can working from home but I always feel like I should be doing more. I should be at networking events – impossible because they’re either over breakfast super early or glasses of wine in the evening. I should be hitting up my old rolodex for new business leads, pitching to prospects, hiring a couple of talented freelancers to take care of my day-to-day so I can look after the bigger picture. Then the guilt returns again… how can I consider doing all that when I have two babies at home who need their mummy to be around? I make enough money to keep us afloat and sustain a Waitrose habit, why am I hungrily wanting more out of our lives? It’s back and forth, back and forth.

Last week I had to make a decision… I was offered a job contract working as Digital Editor for a project I’ve worked on before. An amazing brand, an amazing team, the only kicker being that it was a five day a week London-based position. Uh-ho.

It shouldn’t have been a difficult decision. It’s a freelance job so I wouldn’t be tied to a contract, I’d still have evenings and weekends to work on my blog and other projects plus I’d be in the Big City so could lunch with my old work pals. But again the guilt consumed me. I couldn’t imagine being out of the house and away from the children from 7.30am-7pm, running them around from nursery to pre-school to grannies. Could I? What if they were sad/tired/cold/hungry and needed their mummy for a cuddle?

This has been one time when I have put myself first and said actually, yes I can do this. Our little family of three, WE can do this.

Hux and Elfie are going to watch their Mama work her butt off five days a week and I think it is going to be a positive experience for all of us. I’ve managed to get Hux into a fantastic nursery three mornings, I’d planned to send him there from September anyway, and he’ll spend the additional time with his Grannie. Elfie’s at pre-school four mornings and one full day a week so she’ll barely notice the difference (her Grannie is her favourite person in the whole wide world so any extra time with her is a bonus).

It’s going to be a BUSY couple of months for us all but I’ve made a mental promise to take my two away for a little holiday once the madness is over. I’m going to be a commuter, in an office, with work colleagues, heels, lunches out and meetings. I’m SO excited.

I’m still feeling the guilt of  not being there for them 24/7 like I have for the last four years; I’m going to miss their delicious little faces like nothing I’ve ever known before but that’s going to make the time we spend together all the sweeter. And I guess all this guilt and worry I’ve been feeling about being away from my children means that actually, I might be a pretty good mum after all.

If you’re having similar returning to work dilemmas have a read of Alison’s piece: ‘I Work Full Time And I Love It‘. We are not alone :) 

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