To pursue a career or stay at home with the kids – is there a more polarising topic among mums? Well maybe the Gina vs. babywearing one, but it’s definitely up there. Many women hold very strong opinions on the subject and are definitely not afraid to share them. They appear to know their preferred path before they’ve even conceived. But in my own experience the reality of making such a weighty decision is far from straightforward. In fact it’s something I battle with on pretty much a daily basis.
I’ve come across colleagues who don’t seem to suffer from working mum guilt, which sadly gnaws away at most. They breeze around, proficiently juggling the demands of kids and clients. Who knows if it’s all a facade, but if so they are flawless actors. At the other extreme I have friends who wouldn’t dream of sending their kids off to childcare and throw themselves wholeheartedly into their mothering roles. Frustratingly, I seem to straddle both camps.
Since having my eldest son seven years ago I’ve experimented with working, being a full time mum and a melange of the two. Following my first maternity leave I reluctantly returned to a full on job where I was the only mum in a team of whippersnappers. I could sense the eye-rolls as I left my desk at 4.30pm (they didn’t see me finishing a presentation after the kids were finally asleep or checking emails at 3am!). Luckily I swiftly escaped back to the UK where I enjoyed a brief window at home with my little boy. I was then seduced by an exciting role in London and managed to negotiate a four-day week. It was much more parent-friendly, but the commute nearly killed me off. Again I left at 4.30pm but I arrived home exhausted two hours later and was catapulted straight into the bedtime routine. And naturally my Fridays off were spent fielding client calls while silent screaming at the kids.
Before I lost the plot with South West Trains, Geneva came calling again and I was thrilled with the prospect of being a SAHM. I had ambitious ideas about writing a book (who was I kidding?) and relishing the endless summer days with my boys. A few months in though and the book was still a fairytale dream and I had started to get twitchy. I felt uncomfortable not earning, and to be brutally honest I was a bit lonely. I am definitely a people person (of the adult variety), and I craved a bit of time away from the kids (gasp). So once again I found myself applying for jobs.
This time I found one in a school where I’ve been blessed with short working days and long holidays. On paper it’s the perfect role. It epitomises the elusive concept of balance. I get to spend time with my three boys and have a project for myself outside of the home. Win win. Yet guilt still oozes into my daily life. If the toddler is grumpy after the childminders, if tea is something and chips, or if I lose patience with the kids – I blame it all on the fact I’m a working mum.
Unwittingly, I also slide down the comparison spiral reflecting on the lives of my SAHM friends and wallowing in self-pity. I have an idealistic vision of gym sessions followed by coffee, cake and gossip with fellow mums. But as a good friend reminded me, this time I chose to work, and undeniably being at home is not all cupcakes and lattes. Occasionally I even find myself missing the stress of my years in advertising. The adrenaline rush of deadlines followed by the relief of it all coming together. I know, contrary should be my middle name!
Reviewing my mum journey so far I do believe work in some form is important to me. The guilt is something I need to learn to live with. It’s not going anywhere. Like the school bully, it’s not pleasant to be around but it keeps me on my toes. And of course there are days when I get home and just want to collapse in front of the TV with a jug of wine instead of prepping dinner and supervising homework. Days when I feel I’m falling short on all sides, but I guess that’s part of the working mum meal deal. We get a side of freedom and a dip of acknowledgement, but it can leave us with bad indigestion. We have to accept our selection and power on through the pain.
Now that I’m braced for our next UK adventure I’ve started to think about new roles. Some days I am bubbling with excitement, on others I feel completely panicked. You see I have a rather bipolar CV, leaping from head of innovation to librarian. No matter how I frame it, it all sounds a bit muddled, like it’s had a night on the gin. I’m confident I have transferable skills, but will they shine through? And after working in different fields and locations my wish-list is quite extensive. I’m worried it might scare companies off.
Thankfully the UK market seems more progressive than in Switzerland. I’ve been busy scouring websites such as Workingmums and 2to3days, which advertise flexible yet interesting roles for mums. A few have caught my eye, but I need to quieten the voice in my head that keeps telling me I’m not good enough and buckle down. I know there must be something out there that ticks most if not all of my boxes, that offers me precious time with the boys and that all important job satisfaction. I just need lots of perseverance and a little dash of luck.
The book idea is still brewing too, but with three crazy boys and not enough hours in the day I’ll have to write it in my sleep!