I remember thinking that when I became a mum I would be ‘me’ with a child. Oh, how naive I was! With motherhood comes joy, tears, amazement, frustration, judgement and the inevitable guilt and anxiety. When you become a parent it seems like there are a million decisions to make and a million different ways to make them. What if you make the wrong choice? There are also endless opportunities to compare yourself to others and find yourself coming up short.
For me, my mama bear emerged and I knew what I wanted for my child in terms of how to feed/clothe/nurture her. They were easier decisions than ‘how often should I let her have a screen or sweets!’. I trusted my intuition and when it felt right to me, I went ahead and did it. There were conversations to be had with my partner of course but we were mostly on the same team. As a mum, I totally trusted my choices when it came to raising my child. This wasn’t the case when I returned to work.
Career choices as a mum
Juggling work and family
When it came to my own career I knew I wanted to work, that whilst I would love to be a full-time mum, we couldn’t afford it – a common story. So as I took my first maternity leave I enjoyed it but planned to return after 9 months, which I did. I went back part-time as a) I wasn’t entirely ready to leave my baby and b) weirdly, financially it worked better for us due to childcare costs.
Back at work, now the guilt really set in. Here are some things I felt guilty about:
- Leaving my daughter crying at the nursery
- Never being able to get to work on time as the nursery didn’t open before rush hour began
- Having to call in sick (either because she was ill or I had now caught it from her)
- Leaving on time
- Missing meetings on the days I wasn’t in
- Not having the time to talk to people at work like I was used to
- Resenting the fact I couldn’t work out my place in the new team
- Missing out on cuddles with my daughter
- Missing the social aspect of mat leave
- Not being able to do everything – be a mum, keep a tidy house, eat well, cook and work
I felt I was doing all of it half-heartedly. These feelings only got worse when I went back full time after 9 months. Very few of these thoughts were actually true though, my daughter was thriving, making friends and often didn’t want to come home! I was doing well at work, no complaints from them but I felt wretched.
Finding what works for you
I eventually found a way that kind of worked for us most of the time and for a lot of the things above, the guilt dissipated as we settled into a new routine. The guilt was replaced with a niggle that something still needed to change and so when my next child arrived I planned to work part-time, as I had originally done with my eldest. This time though it was going to be on my own terms and I took the plunge into self-employment. Now I never had to worry about what time I got to work, how I got my work done and when I could work flexibly. However, the lines were still blurred as I found myself exhausted trying to fit it all in. This time I felt guilty about:
- Not working enough when I was with my child
- Not being present with my child and instead, thinking about work
- Going to bed when I ‘should’ be hustling
- Still not being able to do everything
The list thankfully was (and remains) much smaller. I created a routine that works for us much better and it has evolved over the years. Self-employment works really well for me, though I could personally achieve similar with a part-time role that allowed me to work during school hours as many other mums I know do.
Being a stay-at-home-mum
The choice that I haven’t discussed is that of a stay-at-home-mum. Being a mum is rewarding but it is also exhausting and relentless. It can take up your entire day before you flop into bed and it begins again. For some mums raising their children becomes their job and with it can bring a different set of guilty feelings and choices. As I speak to my friends who chose this path they worry about:
- Not ‘contributing’ to the family finances
- Being unemployable if and when they do go back to work
- Missing out on developing themselves
- Investing in themselves due to lack of resources
- The feeling they should be doing more
- Not loving every moment/being present with their child(ren)
Creating a career as a mum
As we create our careers as mums we have choices to make, as we did before we became parents. In one sense the choices seem more complicated as we juggle all of the hats we wear and add in additional calendars to our own. In another sense for many parents, it becomes more straightforward. Our new family often becomes our focus, with the need for work to fit around it.
There are no wrong or right choices when it comes to creating a career as a mum
We make our decisions based on how we feel as mothers, how important a career is to us and what’s available. Our decisions will also be affected as to how supported we are/feel. I can tell you that nothing is set in stone. If you have opted for a career break, it needn’t mean that you can never work again. We do gain skills as parents that are beneficial to employers and we can create a routine that works for us. If you find that working for one company isn’t working for you then you have options available to you – from moving to an employer who offers what you need to setting up on your own.
You have the power to create the career you want, sure there are likely to be compromises and probably feelings of guilt. Over the six years that I have been a parent, I have learnt that guilty feelings come and go and the things we worry about rarely happen.
Comparing ourselves to others
One of the biggest traps we can fall into as a parent is comparing ourselves to others. This is so common when I speak to other mums. It is a huge source of guilt and judgement. Eugh. As you look down the lists of things mums feel guilty about in the different scenarios above, there are commonalities. We are all struggling to find a balance and the truth is that it’s hard. It’s not a case of making each side the same, some days the priority is with the family, sometimes it’s with work. Stop comparing what others are doing and focus on what works for you and your family. Here are three things you can do to help yourself and banish those feelings of guilt:
- Understand what’s important to you in terms of how you want to parent your child(ren) and creating a career (which may not be important to you at all)
- Look realistically at the options available to you and what the impact they would have on you and your family
- Choose an option that works for you and explore it