The Up and Down Life of A Working Mother

In the toilets at work there is an unforgiving mirror.

It is in this mirror that I see the cold, hard evidence that life is starting to take its toll.

I sometimes use it to pull out that evidence-the grey hairs I seem to have suddenly acquired-when no one else is around.

Being a working parent is hard. There are days when I feel like those greys are multiplying and not even the strongest dye could mask them. There are days when I leave home in the morning to screams and tears; to a tiny child lifting up his arms as I turn to leave, too young to understand the need for his mother to earn a living. Those are the days when I thank my lucky stars for the presence of my mother to comfort him, and carry to work with me the sinking feeling that nothing I ever do is good enough.

But there are also days that are not like that. Days when I have a good day at work, when I feel as though I’ve made a difference to a child’s future, even if that child isn’t my own.  When I thank my lucky stars that I get to teach other people’s children, albeit in different skills to those I teach my own. After all, at 21 months he’s not quite there yet with Kant’s categorical imperative, although I’m working on it.

There are other things I’m working on too. I’m working on managing my time better, at responding to emails whilst feeding a toddler, at knocking out the bare bones of this blog post on the ten minute commute from work to home, and I’m working on not feeling the guilt quite so much.

We’re all just trying our best.

Would I still work, if I had the choice not to? I can’t answer that question. I worked hard for my career, invested in it, and continue to do so. But if that mythical husband had appeared, swept me off my feet as they do in all good fairy tales, and promised to take care of me forever, to return home on the dot each night at seven and whisk the baby from my arms, as I collapsed, just as exhausted as I am now, onto the sofa each night, would I turn it down?

Or would we find another way through; would I work, while my husband stayed at home, or would I, like most of the other working parents I know, put my career on the back burner for a few years and go part time, even though so often that solution seems to feel like the worst of both worlds.

The question doesn’t matter, of course. The option was never there, and for that perhaps I should be grateful.  I always needed that extra injection of motivation, the extra incentive to get out of bed in the morning and into work, and now I have it.  This little boy, for whom I would go to the ends of the earth.

I’m grateful too, for my mother, who has dutifully sacrificed the last few years of her own career to allow me to pursue mine, so that the childcare bills are somewhat eased. So that I don’t have to go to work every day thinking of that time I had a conversation, at work (where else?) with a nursery manager who confessed that she thought babies at nursery were “institutionalised.” I was five months pregnant and terrified. How would I manage? I cried tears of despair to women I worked with. How had they done it? How would I manage? I was a fool to think I could do it; be the career woman, the single mother, the one who almost left it too late, and then panicked and had a baby alone. Could I really do it? They took me aside, these women, and told me I could; that everything would be fine, as it was for them before me.

As it will be for generations still to come.

I may not always be there at home for my son, every minute of every day, watching his milestones twenty four hours a day and knowing every tiny aspect of his developing personality the way I did on maternity leave, but I am dealing the hand that life has dealt, and doing so the best I can.

Just the same as everyone else.

If you like my posts, or even if you don’t and think I am banging on about an age-old dilemma that has afflicted working mothers since the actual dawn of time, and which, pre-Internet, didn’t seem to require such navel-gazing introspection, as we were all far too busy with more important matters like making sure our offspring weren’t getting their heads trapped in the mangle, or being eaten by a sabre toothed tiger, please consider voting for me in the Mum and Working Awards. 

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51 Comments Add yours

  1. Beta Mummy says:

    Wonderful, pertinent post.
    From another single, working mother. X

    1. Min says:

      Thank you! 🙂

  2. Ellen says:

    Such a well written post. I have so much respect for you and all working mothers (especially single ones). I think you are amazing and these awards are a great way to celebrate that.

    1. Min says:

      Thank you Ellen, that’s a lovely thing to say.

  3. This is exactly the kind of post I needed to read this week. The Popple has started her settling-in sessions for nursery in preparation for me returning to work, and I’ve been feeling guilty because it’s been really hard on her. I need to work to support our family, but she’s too young to understand that. As hard as it is, it’s what I need to do, and all I can do is try my best to balance it all.

    1. Min says:

      You’ll be absolutely fine. It’s so difficult. After you’ve been at home with them since they were born, you almost can’t imagine them being able to cope without you, but they do, and it’s fine. I won’t say it’s always easy, and I do miss some of the new things Piglet does day to day (although I can catch up at the weekend), but in many ways I think I appreciate the time I have with him more because I’m not with him all the time. Best of luck with your return to work.

  4. Talya says:

    Wow great stuff that you’ve been nominated – you know we love you, your posts, including THIS post – and I’m off to vote now! Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub xx

    1. Min says:

      Thank you Talya! And thank you for voting and for hosting #Coolmumclub!

  5. Anthea says:

    Loved your post, from another working mother.

  6. Anthea says:

    Loved your post. I tell myself that I am setting a good example showing kids that although spending all my time with them is what I want to do, I am instead making sure that they are taken care of and that it makes coming home to them such a nice part of my day!

    1. Min says:

      I agree. I try to tell myself that Piglet will grow up knowing nothing other than a full time working mother, and so he will see working as something that both genders just do, and hopefully will appreciate the value of working hard.

  7. So well said – I opted out of my career when mine were 10,8and 6 because I could but it was the most soul destroying thing I ever did – took me a year of reflection to go back out and get another career – I needed to be ‘me’ and for me that was having a job that was mine – for money that wasn’t handed to me by my husband and to use my brain – we are all different but I salute you for not having that choice and just how bloody hard you work!

    1. Min says:

      Thank you. I’m glad I don’t have the choice to be honest, because I think I’d be quite rubbish at being a SAHM. There would be a part of me that would feel a bit like I was letting the side down as well. I respect everyone’s choice but I think I would struggle with the lack of independence and the feeling that I was wasting my education (although a friend of mine did point out that bringing up children isn’t a waste of education because you’re educating them, but that doesn’t tend to be the way society sees it, and I think I have internalised those messages).

  8. This is a wonderful post, thanks for sharing on #KCACOLS. I think all mums go through this guilt and uncertainly at times, or quite a lot of the time, in my case! Leaving my child at nursery for the first time to go back to work was one of the single hardest things I have ever done. But we get through it, and our kids don’t know any different, and we all have to make the best of it! I think by being a working mum you are setting a brilliant example xx

    1. Min says:

      That’s what I hope, even though I sometimes wonder if he prefers Granny to me. He certainly sees more of her! Thanks for commenting.

  9. Great post. I did the part-time thing and some days it feels like the best of both worlds, and some days the worst! But I have total respect for you doing it on your own – it’s hard enough with a husband who’s never around, so I really do take my hat off to you. X #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      I can identify with that. I haven’t gone part time, but I have some colleagues who work part time, and who always seem to be around and working just as hard, even though they are earning half as much! Thanks for commenting.

  10. Dr Mummykins says:

    I was really feeling the post. I’m not a single mother but I’m a mother that spends more time at work than at home, so I could relate to a lot of what you said too.

    Then…I read the last paragraph and laughed so loudly. THAT there is what motherhood (whether single or not) is all about! (no, not sabre toothed tigers and heads in mangles but finding the humour in everything and just cracking on.)

    Fab post as always Min x x #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Thank you. I’m glad it resonated with you. Humour is the best answer to everything!

  11. Jane Taylor says:

    A really well written post, Min. I always like posts that give me glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ of another bloggers life. We are like Heinz 57 varieties aren’t we? Although I am not a single mum, I have friends who are and don’t have the benefit of passing over the baby/child to a partner at the end of an exhausting day…And who have to work extra hard to ensure that they give all they can in love and time to their kids. I am so glad you have the love and support of your mum. What a blessing.

    Thanks for sharing. #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Thank you, I am very lucky!

  12. It is so hard being a working parent, I finally decided to stay home after number 4 (Granny used to watch her, and they have a wonderful relationship), as childcare is ridiculously expensive. All the best to you! Don’t worry about the grey hair, we all have them 🙂 #fortheloveofblog

    1. Min says:

      Good to hear that your daughter has a great relationship with her grandmother. I’m sure Piglet will have a fab relationship with Granny too. I need to cover those grey hairs though. They drive me insane, and I swear there are more of them every day!

  13. Amazing post – I respect you so much! You’re obviously a wonderful Mother! xx #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Thank you Fi. That’s very sweet of you!

  14. Baby Anon says:

    A great post. I returned to work early on and my husband took shared parental. It has been exhausting, balancing the two jobs and I was consumed with guilt to begin with. I’m not anymore, I’m happy but it is an eternal struggle for women #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      It is. And we end up feeling guilty whatever we do. Thank you for commenting.

  15. Very well-written post. I’m a working mum too (currently on a trip away with work and I miss my little girl so much!) but I have my partner at home – I am in awe of mums who manage on their own. Really great post and best of luck in the awards. #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Thank you! I am lucky to have my mum as such a support. She really does make it a lot easier.

  16. I’m having this to and fro at the moment. I don’t want to go back to work, but I need to because if I don’t go back for 3 months I have to pay back my mat pay bla bla bla. Ideally I want part time but they might not let me have it. People keep telling me “you’ll miss all these moments” but necessity is necessity. I think if I could, I wouldn’t go back. But we gots to do what we gots to do! #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Yes absolutely-and it isn’t all bad. Yes, it has its moments, like this morning when Piglet was crying and not wanting me to go, but once he arrived at nursery he was fine!

  17. I think you’re so inspirational! I’ll definitely vote for you and share with my followers on twitter and facebook. It is lovely you have your mum to help, and also amazing for your son to see how hard you work for him and how much you wanted him x
    Thanks for sharing on #kcacols hope you can link up next sunday too. x

    1. Min says:

      Thank you-that’s a lovely thing to say! Thanks for commenting and sharing.

  18. The Pramshed says:

    Hi Min this is a really interesting post to read, the emotion within the post tells a story just how hard Motherhood is, on us more than our children. One day your Son will thank you for all the hard work and hours spent working when he was younger so that you could provide for him. You are so lucky to have family around to look after him. Our little one will be going to nursery at the end of June, and I have very mixed emotions about it – she has not left my side since she was born 10 months ago so I don’t know how she or myself will feel. I’m sure that she will come off better than I do. What I’m not looking forward to is juggling all the balls. Thanks so much for joining #fortheloveofBLOG with another post this week, I hope you come back next week. Claire x

    1. Min says:

      Thanks Claire. I am lucky to have family to help-although I had to move across the country, get a new job and sell my flat to be closer to them, as when I first had Piglet they weren’t close by. It is hard sending them off to nursery, but they are more resilient than we give them credit for, I think. Thanks for commenting.

  19. I love everything about this post! I find myself feeling this why pretty much every day as I drop my son off at my aunts. I’m not a single mom but do work full time and find it so hart lately. I’m starting to wonder if I should try to go back to part time so I spend a little more time with him. However, I just finished grad school and am starting my career.

    So thankful to hear that I’m not alone in many of the daily struggles.

    Thanks,

    Sarah

    1. Min says:

      You’re definitely not alone. Hopefully it will get easier in time, and I keep telling myself that my son won’t know any different. Thanks for commenting.

  20. What a great post, I love it! I also don’t have a choice about working and I guess my daughter is used to the idea of me working as I went back to work when she was almost 5 months old. The good thing is, although have a very early start in the morning, I’m home by 4 and my weekends are free, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on too much. It’s hard to stay on top of everything, though. And that bathroom mirror – the one at home shows me my grey hairs and the one at work shows me the haggard-looking bags under my eyes :(. Thanks for sharing with #fortheloveofBLOG

    1. Min says:

      That’s good. Things are a bit easier at the moment but there are times when I’m not back until 7pm or later, and that’s when I really feel it. Thanks for commenting.

  21. I have so much respect for single mothers, and working mothers, totally take my hat off to you for juggling all those balls! x # #bloggerclubuk

    1. Min says:

      Thank you! Thanks for commenting.

  22. I honestly don’tknow how you do it all – you are a super mum in my book and well deserving of an award. I struggle to cope with kids, house and work with the help of my supportive husband. There never seem to be enough hours in the day! And you know what love? Don’t stare into that mirror seeing those extra lines and wrinkles, but look a little closer and see what an amazing woman you are and a fantastic role model to your little man xx Thanks for linking up #PuddingLove

    1. Min says:

      Thank you, that’s such a lovely comment! xx

  23. Jo says:

    What a well written post. Next time you look in that mirror though, see the laughter lines and the twinkle in your eyes. They are what other people, including your son, will see and remember whilst you are working so hard to find the balance.

    #bigpinklink

    1. Min says:

      Thank you, that’s a lovely comment. I will try to do that!

  24. This is such a wonderful post. We are all just muddling through as best we can. Your child will not think of things in the same way as you do, they know no other way and so they have nothing to compare to. We as mother’s think of things through our eyes, clouded with our own thoughts and experiences, our children just see life moment by moment. Most of the time, I think they are just concerned with what their next meal will be! 😉 #bigpinklink

    1. Min says:

      That’s so true, and really important to remember. Thanks for your lovely comment, and for hosting #bigpinklink

  25. It’s such a tricky one isnt it. I work outside the home two, two kids one at school and the other in creche. When we’re also racing out the door at 730 in the morning , I often think to myself just what is the point in this?? And yet, I know that working does provide me with something…I dont think I’d be cut out to stay at home, its a cliche but true that is is the hardest of roles. And like someone mentioned upthread I think working part-time can end up being doing two jobs full time but in part time hours! The elusive balance…

    1. Min says:

      Indeed! I feel exactly the same. Thanks for commenting.

  26. I start back as a teacher in September leaving my (then 9 month old) back at home with the OH’s Mum 2 days a week and 3 days with a childminder. I already feel so guilty but know I am setting a good example for her. As the bread winner I also don’t have a choice about returning to work full time. Nervous about being able to strike a balance.

    1. Min says:

      You’ll be fine. My little one was eight and a half months when I went back and initially was 5 days with a childminder for the first few months (summer term) and then I moved and got a new job to be closer to my mum so she could look after him 3 days and he goes to nursery for the other 2. It’s worked out fine, and I’m sure it will be fine for you too. Best of luck!

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