It is such a cliché, but being a working mum is hard work.
I recently returned to work, two days a week, after having my son almost 18 months ago. My return to work has been everything I expected it to be, and nothing like I expected it to be.
It goes without saying that returning to work means that the tight ship I would like to think I run has had to become even tighter. Work clothes are set out and prepared days in advance, as are lunches and snacks for the office. Clothes for my son and his Daycare bag are set out the night before, and breakfast is planned and readied long before he wakes up. All of these things have been hard work, but not always in the way that others would expect. For those who know me, they know that I have been blessed with the world’s best sleeper. Ever. So, ironically, some of the most stressful aspects of preparing for work in the morning have been having to wake my son up at the ‘ungodly’ hour of 7am just so that I can get the proverbial show on the road.
However, none of this has really surprised me or been particularly stressful.
What has surprised me has been navigating within the workforce as a part-time mum. Fifty years after the sexual liberation of the 1960s, and it seems working mothers are still subjected to a great deal of judgement.
On the one hand, I have found some mums have responded to my return to work by assuming that I would only return because I need to financially. Of course, extra money is always desirable, but the truth is my brain felt as though it was atrophying. So desperate was I for intellectual stimulation that I found myself writing to organisations like the World Bank telling them about errors I had found in their economic papers (I am still waiting for a response). Don’t get me wrong, I love my son and nothing beats spending time with him. But I need more.
On the flip side, my return to work has also resulted in some odd discussions and comments. I am lucky indeed to have female senior managers, themselves mothers, who have supported my return to work in a part-time capacity. They have done everything that they can to ensure that I continue to work on interesting and varied projects, and continue to have opportunities to work in a managerial capacity. But I have found some others question why I would return to work ‘part-time’. Only last week I had a discussion in the lift with a senior official that I know quite well. He seemed excited to hear that I was back, until I mentioned that I was part-time. ‘Ohhh’ was his response. Immediately I felt that he had written me off. Which is ironic, because I believe that in my two days in the office, I probably work harder and get through more than many people who work 3 or 4 days a week. No idle chit chat by the water cooler for me!
I am trying to employ various techniques to ameliorate the situation. I have been careful to say that I work two days a week, deliberately excluding the word ‘only’ from my signature block and from conversation. Why should there be a value judgement on the number of days that I work every week? I am also going out of my way to attend departmental wide seminars where I have an opportunity to pose questions in front of the executive. A reminder that I am back. I’m no more a fan of standing up in front of hundreds of people than anyone else, but I figure a bit of self-promotion isn’t bad. Men do it all the time, don’t they?
And now I have heard that the Women in Leadership group is seeking new members and I am keen to apply. One of their key mandates is to better promote working mothers. My concern is whether or not groups like this only further entrench the view that male and female colleagues are somehow different. It’s a difficult question, but so long as intelligent, educated and informed people still seem to struggle with the validity of working mothers (part-time or full-time), then sadly, it seems apparent that there is still work to be done.
If you returned to work after having children, did you find you slotted back in easily? Or did you face difficulties that weren’t there before you left?
Ambre is a first time mum to a beautiful little boy, an economist and a working mother. I am trying to navigate my way through this strange new world one day at a time. To see all of Ambre’s articles and recipes, click here.