From the day my baby boy was born I’ve second-guessed every decision I’ve made with regards to his wellbeing. While my confidence as a mother has definitely grown over the last 10 months, I am currently facing my biggest challenge yet – trying to balance the ‘mummy me’ with the ‘career-focused me’.
When I headed off on maternity leave last December, I was 80% sure that I wouldn’t be returning to my job. I said my goodbyes with a feeling of finality, wrote a letter to my boss thanking her for her support and was ready to start a new chapter in my life. A year later I’m preparing to go back to work three days per week and am wracked with guilt about leaving my precious bub in childcare, while at the same time feeling increasingly frustrated by my limited career options.
Most of my reasons for returning to work are practical ones. Alarmingly the money tree we planted in the backyard has failed to fruit and my savings have dwindled down to nearly nothing. Living in Melbourne means we have a mortgage the size of a Rudd’s ego for a house that seems to shrink as the toy box grows. If we are lucky enough to give our son a sibling, my husband and I would have to take up residence in a teepee in the backyard as our second bedroom is the size of a linen closet.
My other reason for returning to work part-time is selfish. I love my job. I love being good at my job. While I’ve adored spending 24/7 watching my baby boy grow into an inquisitive and entertaining toddler, I do miss the mental stimulation and social interaction of work. My ambition didn’t disappear along with my pert bosoms and flat stomach. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to spend my days singing “toot toot chugga chugga big red car” and smothering my bub with smooches, but a part of me is also looking forward to putting on some mascara and immersing myself in something other than trying to wake up narcoleptic Jeff.
My unwillingness to give up on my career aspirations makes me feel guilty, but then I think – why should I feel bad about not wanting to throw away years of study and hard slog to become a professional ironer? I believe that enjoying a stimulating and fulfilling career is essential to my overall happiness and that will make me a better Mum.
But who knows what the right decision is, I certainly don’t. On my first day back at work, I’m sure I’ll be bawling my eyes out in the office bathroom and feeling like the worst mother in the world. But if I stay at home, I think the isolation, cabin fever and monotony will probably make me a less tolerant and imaginative Mum. To clarify, I’m talking about myself here. I don’t think you’re any less inspiring, intelligent and imaginative if you choose not to work. I also don’t believe that you’re a better mother if you decide to stay at home just because you think it’s what you SHOULD do. Life is too full of ‘shoulds’. Some women are cut out for staying at home indefinitely and some aren’t. My aim is to try and find a happy medium and I’m hoping three days at work and four days at home will be it.