If you are a stay at home mom who thinks women who go to work “unnecessarily” should be relieved of their reproductive organs, just click on by. Silently.
Chances are however, if you are on LinkedIn and reading this, you’re not that kind of gal.
If you are a working mom looking for a compassionate rendition of tips and tricks on how you can overcome the guilt of being a working mom, please, let me kindly point you in the direction of the plethora of articles available to you online. This one isn’t for you.
For the mothers who are working full-time, enjoying their jobs, knocking back those after work drinks (yaaaaas!), flinging themselves into pre-work crossfit sessions (boooo!) and have no remorse or regret for any of it, let’s chest bump!
I am here to say, to all those guiltless mamas out there, stop feeling guilty about not feeling guilty. Furthermore, stop feeling the need to justify the lack of guilt. Let’s get one thing straight, it has been scientifically proven that the amount of guilt a mother feels does NOT directly correlate to the amount of love she feels for her child. Now we’ve settled that myth, let’s move on.
I’ve packed in motherhood and gone back to work. Ok, that does sound a bit dramatic I admit. I haven’t quite “quit” motherhood as much as I have taken eight hours a day, five days a week break from it. I found motherhood joyful and wholesome. That I will admit. However, I did not find it rewarding. I’m sorry. Actually, I am not sorry. And neither should you be. You see that is the whole point of why I decided to share my story. It is far too easy to fall into the guilt trap!
I am in a funny place, a bit like a pancake suspended in mid-air somewhere between the school run and happy hour. I am not a stay at home martyr mom who will tell anyone who will listen about how much she does during the day. I tried to be, to fit in with the local #mumsquad. It wasn’t a deliberate effort, but one brought about inadvertently as those were the ladies I found myself in contact with when I took a year off work when my son was born. My failure to consistently post pictures of my baby online or celebrate cups of warm coffee with hashtags such as #momstruggles exposed me as an infiltrator and I was snuffed out quicker than you could say #babymilestones.
I am also not a mother who struggles to balance work and motherhood while constantly sharing memes about how I “do it all.” I am not competing for that elusive Working Mom of The Year title (unless we’re talking serious reward money of course!). I do not constantly look down at the stay at home moms nor do I garner a sense of self-satisfaction from seeing them looking like death warmed up as they loiter at the school gates. Actually, I do a bit, but I am only human after all.
I am not saying that either group is better than the other, I am saying that many of us don’t feat neatly into the teams aforementioned, and that’s ok.
This puts me in an awkward but not solitary position. I, like many expat working mothers, am somewhere in the middle. I have outsourced a large part of childcare and household chores focused on my career and self, all while harbouring zero guilt about any of it.
As a working mom who “voluntarily” spends eight hours (despite the fact the little twerp spend 7 of those 8 hours at nursery) a day away from her child, I find the most challenging task of all is not the balancing act but the ignoring act. Ignoring every negative comment and accusation I get because I have decided to maintain my independence and sense of self, despite “not having to.” Apparently, if you are an expat, there is a level of income, once reached by your husband, at which you are automatically expected to stay at home, rear the children and do your chores. If you decide to go to work despite not being faced with financial pressures then you better be ready for a barrage of negativity.
I remember my first mothers’ coffee morning postpartum. It was in a small coffee shop surrounded by new mothers and babies only just a few weeks old. “We are SO lucky we don’t have to work.” piped up one lady. I stared at her quizzically for few seconds trying to decipher what she meant. I had always worked, loved my job and enjoyed being vocationally active. Whether the task at hand was transactional or not, I always enjoyed being challenged. I wasn’t a power-mad career driven professional but I enjoyed working. It gave me purpose and a sense of unrivalled independence which was important to me. It also provided me with the perfect excuse of “its been a hard day” so that I could enjoy liquer unchallenged.
Living in an expat community amidst a culture that places a high value on the merits of a stay at home mom, voicing a desire to return to the workplace is akin to blasphemy. According to these ladies, you might as well wrap your baby in a blanket and dump him in a nearby recycling bin.
It fast became apparent that my decision to go back to work made me a pariah. My husband made a decent living and we were financially comfortable so my decision to go back to work was deemed an aversion to the desire to raise my child. Just because I have chosen to work does not mean I love my child any less.
I found myself lying to friends and relatives. I feigned financial difficulty to justify my decision to spend eight hours a day doing something I love. Most saw it as an excuse to be away from my child. The focus became on my son being left behind and not on the fulfilling sense of purpose going to work was giving me. You see if my need to return to the workplace was somehow warranted by rising debt or financial ruin it was instantly forgiven. I daren’t simply state “I miss a sense of responsibility and contribution and want to return to a satisfying purposeful existence.” Once you’ve uttered these words people automatically assume two things. Firstly, that by pursuing a purpose different to theirs you are somehow putting down their choices. Secondly, they assume you place low merit on the importance of parenthood.
I don’t have much to say to the people who criticize and philosophize on the values of a stay at home mother. They are not my concern. What I am saying to all the guiltless mothers out there, it’s ok. Guilt is not a prerequisite for being a good mother.
Moms get it hard. Do you think men go around giving each other derogatory stares and saying things like, “Oh, you’re working late tonight? Don’t you miss him? Won’t you miss the milestones? Is he safe with the nanny?” Men have it easy. The love and commitment they have for their child is never questioned in light of their desire to pursue a career or work long hours. No one looks at them funny because they haven’t covered their desk in pictures of their child or opted for a personalised phone cover with their baby’s face on it.
I was at a traffic light when I turned my head to get a glimpse of my back seat. There was no toddler clapping in the car seat. There was, however, my 1980’s saffiano leather briefcase now repurposed as a laptop bag. I felt a jolt of excitement in my stomach. I am not saying it is better, or even comparable to the usual warmth that washes over me when I see my baby sitting in the car seat singing away. That warmth has an undeniable beauty all it’s own. However, I have realised that if I am indeed to live a fully enriched and content life, I have to acknowledge, embrace and pursue the thrill my career has always given me since I graduated ten years ago. To shelve the feeling would mean to compromise my very being.
So, I made my decision and owned it with pride. I enrolled my child in a nursery, hired a nanny and returned to full-time work. Now, when I am asked “Why?” the answer is no longer shrouded in embarrassment. I no longer say it is because I need to, but because I want to.
I am back at work and unapologetically so. Now, when I drive to work in the morning and see my laptop case in the back seat alongside my trusted Camelback and lunchbox I feel no remorse or guilt. Just a buzz of excitement as I look forward to the day ahead.