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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Why I Am Happy To Be A Single Mother

What do you think of when you hear the words “single mother”?

A harassed, overworked and underpaid divorced woman trying to raise her kids with negligible support from her ex-partner?

A young woman barely existing on welfare, shunned by society as a drain on resources?

Or a contented and fulfilled professional woman?

“I CHOOSE my choice!” Charlotte from Sex and the City shouted down the phone to Miranda after having her choice to give up work questioned. As women, we are used to having to defend our choices; about whether to be a working or stay-at-home mother, whether to breast or bottle feed, even if, when and how we give birth is questioned, as though by doing something different to others, we are somehow invalidating their choices.

One choice we don’t hear much about is the choice to be a single mother. Admit you are a “single mother” and people instantly lower their voices, worried they might say something that may offend. Worried that they could be wading into dangerous territory-an abusive ex, financial difficulties, a heartbreaking relationship breakdown, even a bereavement.

It is not this way for all of us. Some of us make the active choice to parent alone, often to go through gruelling and invasive fertility procedures-sometimes for years-to have what others take for granted; the chance to have a family of their own. On their own. It isn’t always easy, but it is always rewarding, and here’s why.

1.) You are now literally the same as all those people who had babies the conventional way; who got married, had 2.4 children and did everything “right.” Yes, you are now officially what Bridget Jones would term a Smug Married, without being married. YOU are now the one spamming everyone’s Facebook with pictures of your adorable newborn ooh-look-at-his-adorable-little-poo-face. You have turned into one of those people you hated, envied, were literally beside yourself with jealousy over every time you saw one of their scan photos. And it feels AMAZING. You can even go out for Mummy-lattes with them and have conversations about weaning. You have finally found your tribe, and for the first time ever, they aren’t drunk.

2.) There is no need to compromise on anything, ever.
You want to name your baby Rainbow Brite de Lacey Precious Little Diamond Codswallop? Go right ahead, there’s no one to stop you! Well, apart from maybe your mother, and your saner friends, but basically, it’s your call. You want to co-sleep? Great, there’s nobody else in the bed to get in the way. You want to breastfeed your child until they go to university? Go right ahead. You are literally The Boss.

3.) You will be forever described as “brave,” “valiant,” “courageous” and other such adjectives usually reserved for those who do battle, either literally or figuratively, against far worse things than a colicky newborn. Revel in it.

4.) No pesky ex hanging around, wanting to be involved, or worse, not wanting to be involved.

5.) You finally don’t care about being an “old spinster,” “left on the shelf” or a “dried up old hag,” because, well, who cares? You literally never need to worry about men, dating or the horror that is Tinder, because you did it-you had a baby-all by yourself, and you know what, it was OK. Men of the world, begone! There is no further use for you!

And finally, you’ll really annoy the Daily Mail, who probably assume you did it just to claim benefits (I didn’t, pipe down at the back there, Disgusted of Twitter).

OK, so I have given up the trappings of my former life. My vintage dresses hung unworn and unloved at the back of the wardrobe, lest I should trip over their floor length hemlines whilst carrying a toddler, or lest they be destroyed by little banana and mud-caked fingers. My love life has dwindled to the point of nothingness, and not even starting my own reality show where I pay people to marry me can redeem me now, and I am living at home with my mother in the house I grew up in as I can no longer afford a flat of my own. But I am happy, deliriously happy, happier than I have ever been.

So take that Daily Mail.

This post was first written as a guest post for the website Meet Other Mums

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Diary of an imperfect mum