Trials and Triumphs
I remember very well the first time I felt like a Mum in work. It was my first week back after having my first child. I was sitting in a boardroom, in a very serious meeting. I was in my smart dress and heels whilst someone talked about Year on Year figures. I was feeling slightly smug for coping so far with leaving my precious babe each morning and not weeping the whole way to the office. I was thinking about that little baby. That sweet boy of mine. And just like that, the floodgates opened … no I wasn't crying … I was leaking milk. I was praying with all I had that the breastpads would hold out. My dress was black but would people start to notice...?
I have been a ‘working mum’ in the corporate world for around 7 years now. I have ‘leaned in’ and leaned right back out again. Over those years I, like many women before me, have faced trials and triumphs. Moving from one child to two was tough. Sleep deprivation after my second child nearly tipped me over the edge. Extended breastfeeding meant I pumped in work daily for a time and there were definitely a few uncomfortable wardrobe malfunctions during those days. Becoming a Mum of school age children was a shock to the system, with so many new moving parts to consider: notes, packed lunches, homeworks, sports kits, birthday party invites, sponsorship forms, recorders … the CONSTANT need to remember and be organised for everything.
Being a mother in the working world is a step further than being a woman in the working world. How your career moves forward will of course depend on what you do, where you work, the industry you are in. I'm lucky in many ways that despite it being unusual in my industry, I have been able to gain some degree of flexibility (a 4 day week) and that having kids hasn't stopped me progressing. Yet, those very facts have made me feel under more pressure. I don't want to appear to be the ‘part timer’ and I feel guilty for leaving on time to pick up my kids. I feel guilty if I stay late and can't be there for bedtime. I feel guilty a lot. I think it's natural to feel you have to overcompensate in work when you are there less. That need to ‘prove myself’ is a hangover from the notions of ‘leaning in’ and realistically it's not healthy or necessary to feel that way. Still, the perfectionist in me feels challenged by it, depending on the workload or how generally stressed I am. I'm working on it.
There is a weight of responsibility with a career. There are times I just have to “woman up”. There are meetings I just have to go to, deadlines I just can't miss, targets I just have to hit (or answer for if I don't). There are events I just have to attend. It's not a ‘down tools at 5pm’ kind of job. Lots of people work longer and harder, but for me, it's a tough juggling act sometimes. That weight of responsibility and expectation on some days feels light and I can carry it in my pocket. On other days it weighs heavily on my shoulders. Because I am a mother and a wife. Because I need to make it work. Because we need my job and I can't afford to drop the ball. Because my business is depending on me. Because I have little people at home who need me the most. And sometimes I feel like I'm messing all of it up: work life, mum life, life in general.
I feel often like the crazy Mum lady of my team at work (largely full of ambitious young millennials, a lot of them childless and unmarried). I wonder what they think of me as I run breathlessly into the office, clutching a coffee, having already been up for hours wrangling children out of the house and dashing to the office. I walk out of that lift in the morning feeling like I have climbed a mountain already just to get to the office on time. Various moods dictate how I see myself in my head as I step out of the lift - it varies from fist pumping and dancing with my hands in the air (when the kids have been beastly) or crawling along the floor with mascara tears running down my face (similarly when we had a bad start to the morning). I’ve envisioned all the moves!
Then it’s the ‘switch off’ from Mum mode and into work mode. To become someone's boss. To find time to ask a colleague how they are. To have all the figures ready and on the tip of my tongue before I'm asked. To sparkle. To smash targets. To grit teeth. To learn. To teach. To perform ... I sit in meetings having silent panic attacks about a note from school I just remembered about. I have cried in the toilets when I realise I sent my son to school in his uniform on dress down day, imagining his poor wee face. Mum fail.
My children are well adapted and I don't believe they have suffered from me being out at work. I have missed them and continue to miss them. I have had to leave them when they have been poorly. I have sobbed on my way to work. They of course have been absolutely fine and oblivious to my emotional turmoil. For me, this juggling act is a permanent tug of war. My heart and my head. I was once ambitious and career driven, for myself. Now, I work to provide for my family. I do it for them. In some ways I'm more driven and focused because they are at the heart of everything I do. I think that's something that is central to becoming a mother generally, and it certainly has been in my working life, as a mother. The ego has left the room. I'm much more focused. I feel that if I am going to leave my babies to go to work, I am going to make flippin sure it's worth it! It has made me more ruthless in work when it comes to distractions and things that don't serve me well. Yet in another way, my motherhood has made me softer. More balanced in my reasoning and judgement of certain situations. Less impetuous, more measured. If anything, in a lot of ways, being a mum has made me much better at my job. I’m more productive during work hours, due to my need to be somewhere else - somewhere important - outside of my working hours, I will drive to make things happen. I procrastinate less, things get done rather than put off until later. Later I'll be home reading bedtime stories and I don't want that unfinished piece of work looming in my mind.
I don't want to get on my soapbox about benefits of allowing women to remain in senior roles and offer them flexibility. There's a whole BOOK I could write - but it's surely food for thought. I'd like to point out also that this isn't a post glorifying working mums or debating who works harder - working mums or stay at home mums. It's also not a commentary on why I choose to work or the merits of juggling a career and children. I feel like there's at least another 5 pieces I could write on all of these topics. This is simply this mothers’ honest account of my lived reality and how it shapes my motherhood journey. I'm very aware that I'm not alone in my struggles and many have much greater hardships. Yet, everyone's own personal journey and their trials are worthy of being voiced. You can never diminish or amplify your own experiences, worries or successes by comparing them to someone else's. Comparison is the thief or joy for sure - but it's also the thief of comfort and reassurance. A shared experience or worry can validate your feelings rather than make you diminish or ignore them ... that way, madness lies.
I heard my little girl say recently, “my mummy's the boss at her work” and I kind of thought YES to myself (even if it's not quite right and I'm not THE boss ... I am still a manager). I'm certainly not nailing it, but I'm NOT failing (note to self). Im providing for my family. I'm showing them that girls CAN be the boss. I really hope being out in the working world shows my kids what work ethic looks like. I hope they see how hard both their dad and I work to provide for us as a family. There's something important to me about that. Can I be totally honest here? There are times when it all feels so relentless and overwhelming that I feel like I can't do it anymore, and yet I keep going. It would be wrong for me not to hold my hands up and admit that. I hope that by admitting it others in my position will feel reassured and will nod their heads in agreement.