What do I ‘do’ now?

If someone had suggested before I had kids that I might feel differently about my working life after they were born, I probably would have thought they were patronising and most definitely that they were underestimating the modern, ambitious woman they were talking to.

The reality? I feel like it’s not ok to admit this out loud – but I know that friends have said they felt the same so what the hell – I felt like I was coasting when I returned to work after having kids. Not that I didn’t want to be there or couldn’t do the job, not because I didn’t enjoy having colleagues again, but it just felt different. I was glad to return to something of my ‘old’ life, but some of what made it exciting before was lacking. On my first day back I was shown a structure with a new role in it which in my previous life I would have clambered for. Since finishing University like most people of my age, working life had involved gaining experience, looking at the next role or promotion and all with a goal to keep moving up. I’ve never been ruthlessly ambitious, but I worked hard and wanted to progress and apart from having fun with friends and meeting a couple of men and then the man, work took up a large chunk of my time and I was happy with that.

On seeing this new structure, I immediately knew I wouldn’t even be putting myself forward because I’d come back part-time and it was for a full-time role. I didn’t know (but would soon find out) that I was about to get knocked up again and would only be back in work for nine months. I suppose Sheryl Sandberg would advise that this is where I should ‘Lean In’ – so what if you’re part-time or pregnant? Get involved and then the job you return to will be more fulfilling and you’ll be able to hold your own and sit at the table with, well, whoever is running the show. Except I didn’t have the energy.

It took a few months to adjust to this new work me. The return to work is a steep learning curve; missing your baby of course, and not overlooking the ability to get ready in less than 14 minutes but still complete all basic hygiene requirements and do *something* with your hair. I think many of us have to change our expectations of work, and it can come as a surprise even to ourselves. I’m learning that a lot of women feel guilty or judged for whatever decision they make.

For those that do have a paid job, are they supposed to feel bad about leaving their kids in childcare? When I returned to work again after having Mabel, one of the mums at nursery drop off (noticing I wasn’t wearing slouchy jeans and had washed rather than dry-shampooed my hair) touched my arm and said sympathetically ‘Oh, you’re back at work?’. I replied, ‘It’s ok – I’m genuinely excited about not having to sweep the floor three times a day and to feel a bit like my old self’. She leant in conspiratorially and said ‘you’re so right’. I had a year of maternity leave after both babies and felt some relief to go back to work in that it signalled the end of the start, a return to some sense of ‘normal’ and a rediscovery of the world outside the bubble of our home. Equally, some friends that don’t work apologise for it in an ‘oh I’m just at home’, that just being testament either to how they feel about being a stay at home mum, or they think that’s what others might be thinking so they get in there first. So we’re all feeling a bit judged whatever we do?

I’m worried I’m letting the side down by admitting I felt less driven for a while – women before me have fought for this right and I’m suggesting maybe it was a bit too much pressure?

Maybe though, not everyone wants to Lean In and although women should be able to work and have babies and run the world, the pressure to be the best at these things all at once could send some of us over the edge. For a while, getting my head around kids and their total ability to make or break my day by whether they ate/crapped/smiled was enough. The sheer headspace children take up compared to life before – the domestic change that requires thinking about weekends and food shopping and so-and-so’s birthday – feels massive. Juggling that and kids and work is pretty major when you first do it.

mute gethatched.caOnce I’d accepted this new working life, the juggle was easier. I enjoyed working and being with other adults, I did my hours, I didn’t beat myself up about not being in early or finishing late and I had to accept that I wasn’t at the centre of conversations and decisions. It actually was really enjoyable to work without that pressure and not getting involved in the office politics that can be quite consuming. My salary reflected the fact that I was part-time, so I eventually stopped feeling guilty about not being there five days. Being back at work also helped Doug and I find a bit more of a balance at home. I can’t say the calls from nursery to pick up a poorly child got easier – or knowing that they wouldn’t be allowed back in for the rest of the week due to whatever bug they had. Handling a conference call on mute from the toilet with my three year old and an exploding arse (his, not mine) was not a career highlight. Those things will always happen and apart from in a minority of households, these responsibilities more often fall to the mother. We can save that particular debate for another time…

In a couple of weeks I’m starting my own business*. The drive has come back, although I’m realising that success is going to look a bit different to what I thought was important five years ago. Things that previously didn’t matter – the travel distance to work and flexibility for sickness or holidays – have to feature. I think like many women I’ve also worked out I want to do something I’m really passionate about. For the sacrifices we’ll inevitably make and the juggling we’ll inevitably manage, not to mention the extortionate childcare costs, it feels more important to want to do whatever it is we do.

Many people end up in careers due to circumstance and luck. For those of us still not sure what we should ‘do’ now, rather than seeing becoming mothers as killing our careers, perhaps having kids actually gives us the chance and drive to work out what it is we do want to do. I have friends that are studying, retraining, freelancing, building their own businesses – they are focused and excited and doing something that fits with their life as it is now. It’s not easy, some are struggling financially and I know some wish they’d done this when they were young and carefree. I suppose we didn’t know then what we know now and our choices would have been different anyway. I think it’s ok that it might take a bit of time. We might want to have a lie down rather than lean in for a short while.

After that, then we can get back to running the world.

Thank you for reading – I know this is different for everyone, and would love to hear your thoughts below.

*Business – now up and running – is Don’t Buy Her Flowers, thoughtful gifts for new mums.

Main image by Carolyn Braby; Mute button, gethatched.ca

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30 thoughts on “What do I ‘do’ now?

  1. Ilona says:

    This is so spot on and exactly how o felt. I went back after my first and felt exactly the same as above. After my second who is now one, I’ve decided not to go back but to do bits and bobs from home and have started my own business. The money now is ‘pocket money’ but I have realised you cannot be all things. Thanks x

  2. Becky | Spirited Puddle Jumper says:

    Great post Steph! Sorry, better late than never commenting here! I totally agree with this post in so many ways. I was surprised after having children how much I’d changed. I knew I wanted to be at home with them whilst they were small, and in any case had accepted voluntary redundancy when I became pregnant with Sasha. Without looking to soley blame society, I think I would have enjoyed being off with the children more if I didn’t feel pressure from society to DO something, if being at home with the children was actually valued. Whilst I know I’ve done the best thing for US, I think I’ve perhaps unfairly resented the children at times because of this. The last 6 months or so I have wanted more, and actually being creative and writing again via the blog has confirmed this. So I am starting a new -work-from-home part time social media manager job for a company in a week, and I can’t wait! Sasha will be with my Mum before starting preschool, and it also means I can focus on my crockery business and some of the work that is now coming through writing the blog. I might be a jack-of-all-trades now, and not on the same salary, but I’m happy and the flexibility with school runs/sickness etc will be SO much better for us than having to answer to a bigger company right now. Looking forward to being my own boss too! Wow, that was a massive ramble! xx PS What’s the new business? Exciting times, if you’re going to Blogfest you can tell me all about it!

    • Steph says:

      Really interesting point about sometimes resenting the kids because of the expectations you feel people have of you. It’s so complicated! But brilliant that you’ve found a solution that you’re feeling happy with – hope it’s going well and looking forward to that catch up!

  3. Suzanne3childrenandit says:

    Oh so much to say here! I gave up work after having my lot, mainly because I didn’t enjoy my last job but also because we had already decided that our children would be better off if I stayed at home – that was our decision although I know not everyone thinks that way. I’ll be honest, I have struggled over the years because I am driven and ambitious and quite capable. I have always had that nagging feeling that giving up work was a cop out and in fact I am ‘just a mum’. That feeling has never really left me. Now that my kids are older, I’m exploring other avenues and trying new things (including writing) but I still believe (and even more so in a way) that they need me here and this job is the most important in the world. As hard as it is sometimes. Best of luck with your new business – really excited to find out more 🙂 x x

  4. Rosie says:

    Thanks for your honesty about your experience, it was really interesting to see things from the working perspective. I had just done 5 years of uni and postgraduate study, and dropped out of law school when I became pregnant as there was no way I was going to be able to juggle that particular career path to a high enough standard at that point. Now we’re going to have two under two, so it’s on hold for a while longer. A few more years of muttering about being “just” a mum when asked!
    Best of luck with your new business venture. I hope that it brings you and your family fulfilment, balance, and happiness.

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Rosie – and there’s certainly no ‘just’ about it, especially with two close together! I hope you’re feeling well and giving yourself a break when you can x

  5. Ems says:

    Really interesting post Steph – ive never been massively career driven and in fact, hate my job so having a baby & being on maternity leave at the mo has made me realise there’s no way I want to go back. Luckily my husband supports this decision and we’re going to give it a try but as I approach the time when I should be going back to work I worry about making this choice, shouldnt I be more keen to ‘work’ etc, when actually what I do with the baby every day is bloody tiring (even if its just staying inside all day!) I have random guilt about not wanting to go back to work, how weird is that?! Xx

    • Steph says:

      I think it’s really common! It’s confusing isn’t it? And frustrating that lots of us spend maternity leave worrying about it. Hope you can stop feeling guilty xx

  6. Alison (A Fine Piece & A Blether) says:

    Spot on again Steph! I’m going to make my hubby read this as we are deep in debate (and have been for several weeks now!) about my return/non return to work. I’m due back in January and have asked to reduce my hours from 3 full days a week to 1 full day and 2 days school hours as my eldest started school in August and I want to be able to pick her up 4 days out of 5. It looks pretty much certain that they are going to say no. Hubby is looking for ways to juggle it so I can stick with 3 full days, I’m looking at taking a different path because yes, success to me these days looks very different. Glad you are going with your heart! Hope I can do the same!!

    • Steph says:

      So difficult – that was one of my motivators, that Buster starts school next year and in my previous job I’d never have been able to pick him up. No one explained all this when we were making career plans! I hope you can find a solution and not get too stressed by it – I know it’s bloomin’ tricky x

  7. Jess Paterson says:

    I totally agree how your attitude changes toward work and how much of an adjustment it is to accept that. Also, how more focused you are about what you do with your time when you are paying childcare to be there. It can be quite empowering as well as daunting. Great post hon! See ya at Blogfest! Xxx

  8. Patricia says:

    Steph, thank you so much for another honest reflection on your experiences which resonate with so many! In fact, my comment in response became so long, I simply posted it on my blog. Can’t wait ’til the next one!

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Patricia – I think the questions you suggest we ask ourselves are really helpful when you can’t see the wood for the trees x

  9. Complicated Gorgeousness says:

    Great post again. I am lucky enough to work from home but have basically been doing the same job for a decade. Now all kids are nearly in school, I feel the first stirrings of ambition again. Good luck with the new venture Steph xx

  10. JoyandPops says:

    I really enjoyed this post and it resonated with me a lot. Since becoming a mother I have worked part time, full time, worked with my husband in his business and ‘just’ been at home! Throughout it all I have judged myself and felt judged by others. I have enjoyed the ‘break’ of going to the office but missed my children, I’ve also felt simply worn out at times.
    I’m currently helping my husband through a particularly busy spell and concentrating on my recently launched blog. I’d also like to get back into freelance writing as I used to really enjoy it.
    My career is nothing like I could have imagined but it also feels like more than a ‘career’, it’s just life (constantly changing and slightly baffling!)

  11. Katie says:

    I can relate to a lot of this steph – difficulty finding work that fits in with childcare, the feeling that you should be grateful of having a job, the quandary that is being happy with an easy life or pushing yourself forward! I’m lucky to have found a family friendly employer now but i worked in a world that women just didn’t return to work after having babies. It’s so frustrating when you want to work, have great experience and a degree but employers just dismiss you for only want to work part time.
    I can’t help thinking that the whole basis of this post is very much in line with your new business venture btw 😉 x

  12. Lisa Gardiner says:

    Another great read Steph!
    Good luck with your new business venture, I’m intrigued …
    I am currently doing bits and bobs part time to fit around the kids and avoid extortionate childcare costs. When I had the option to return to work after maternity I did the sums and unfortunately as I am not in a senior managerial role, simply middle management, it just wasn’t worth it. I could earn the same doing part time work around the kids and the other half, therefore still enjoying 75% of the time with the kids that are still at that lovely age when they actually want me around! Now I am thinking about my options, Molly, our oldest, is off to school next year so a perfect time to return to work, but doing what? I would love to retrain, but it’s so bloody expensive and my poor tired Brain after 3 years of sleep deprivation I don’t think would cope right now! So I’m left pondering and questioning myself regularly, and I have actually started buying lottery tickets for the chance to live the dream!
    Much love and lots of luck again
    Lisa xxx

  13. Suzy Bashford says:

    I LOVE this post! I particularly like the fact you acknowledge that we’re all feeling a bit judged, whatever we do. And sometimes, in my experience, mums can be the worst at judging each other and making each other feel bad… I call this the darkside of the sisterhood and wish there was more of the brightside of the sisterhood about… Maybe I sound like I’m right off the Waltons but wouldn’t it be just fine and dandy if we all helped and supported people’s choices a bit more? Whether you stay at home, work around your kids freelancing or work in an office – being a mother is both brilliant and bloody hard. This post made me feel OK about the fact I’ve had to take my foot off the gas to be there for my kids… Sometimes when I read about all this leaning in I feel guilty that I’m not doing that more… Weighed down by ‘you should’ do this or you ‘shouldn’t do this’. Your suggestion of having a lie down before I get up to run the world (or my little world, at least) is the best advice I’ve heard on this matter for a long while. Thank you 🙂

  14. Mandy Manners says:

    This is SO true and a lot of the realisation I have been coming too in the last year. Struggling with a career for the last 5 years and 2 kids under 8 has been hugely hugely stressful. I felt that I had to achieve and do it all – to be a role model for my daughter, to be independent, to respect all those women before me which have struggled and fought for women’s place in the workplace. I couldn’t possibly ‘just’ be a Mum… It was only a simple comment from my dad which finally allowed me to think about changing my life/work balance… ‘someone has to be there to pick the kids up’ whether it’s me or a nanny or an after school club… the kids are there and need looking after – therefore it is absolutely a legitimate job for a parent – Mother or Father to be there and do that job. My career is great I am really successful – but at what sacrifice?? When the kids are big will I feel like I made the most of the bond we have?? I’m not there yet… but times are a changing and I am working on working in a different way – watch this space 😉

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Mandy. Your dad is a wise man! It’s so tricksy as the idea of having it all is just peachy, but seems flippin’ impossible, especially when they’re small. Excited to see what you have planned! x

  15. Potty Mouthed Mummy says:

    I really loved reading this. At the moment I’m in a role that puts me at the centre of the politics and the pain and the issues and I don’t want that anymore. Reading this just sort of solidified that for me so thank you! Xxx