kids

'I told a mother at the pool I was a working mum. Her reaction was gut-wrenching.'

Something magical happens when you become a mum. That invisible social boundary that stops strangers talking to one another vanishes and you find yourself having deep personal conversations with other mums without even exchanging names.

And for the best part, these chats are fuelled by a camaraderie that comes from a shared experience of childbirth, navigating life with a newborn and surviving the whole parent thing. Really, there’s nothing more levelling than parenthood.

But sometimes you stumble upon a bad apple. A rotten egg, let’s say. A mamma who takes on the snivelling superiority of a competitor. Someone who thinks they’re winning and you’re losing, and is happy to let you know this.

I met one of these unsavoury types recently. It was the first day of swim school for our two-year-olds and we were sat like a pair of half-dressed lemons, waiting to be called into the pool with our toddlers.

The usuals were swapped. Age of child; temperament; where we lived; had we slept; had we forgotten the horrors of childbirth yet. And with each exchange, she appeared to be gaining momentum in her marvellousness as a mother.

This in itself isn’t a bad thing. I like mums who are owning it. It’s often a revitalising alternative to the usual tired-off, where two mums battle to the death about how sleep deprived they are.

But then I asked, is he in daycare? A simple question, really.

working as mother
"I like mums who are owning it." Image: Supplied.

“Oh no, I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said smugly and with a heavy dose of condescension. “I don’t really believe in having kids and then paying someone else to look after them. Do you have to work?”

I outwardly winced at these words offered so casually but oh so critically. Annoyingly though I didn’t get to answer because we were beckoned into the class. But as I swished my child around that highly-chlorinated, highly-urinated pool, I kept thinking about her scornful words.

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I’ve experienced both. I have stayed at home full time with a baby and I’m now juggling life as a working mum. And not once have I looked longingly at stay-at-home mums and wanted to swap places.

Not because I think I’m better. Not because I think working mums are superior. But because personally I found staying at home with a child to be hard work, completely undervalued, totally relentless and at times, absolutely boring.

I found that child-rearing hours were a bit like dog years. For every hour I spent with my child, three has passed in the outside world. You know the one, it’s occupied by adults with freshly washed hair and clothes on the right way, going to jobs, using public transport.

So I’ve always hailed the women who stay at home as modern-day heroes as I know, firsthand, that it’s no easy feat. And for me, eight months with my much-loved and very adorable son was enough and I was ready to go back to work

But it’s the plight of the working mum which is very trendy right now. Headlines are generated daily about our struggles. And a recent study found that we’re 40 percent more stressed than our at-home counterparts.

But let’s go on the record here: it’s actually a joy to juggle. I love that I’ve got two worlds that are so distinctly different from each other. I love that I can have an uninterrupted conversation or come up for air after delving into a piece work and find that hours have whizzed past with ease.

working as mother
"I love that I’ve two worlds that are so distinctly different from each other." Image: Supplied.

I love picking my son up from daycare and seeing the joy on his face equals the joy in my heart at being reunited. And then spending a few hours in each other’s company each evening as we count down to the weekend which is our time.

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I feel extremely lucky because my set-up is working. And I don’t doubt that this pool-side mum-shamer feels equally lucky because her decision works for her.

But since our exchange, I keep thinking: Why can’t we celebrate each other’s decisions rather than using them to mum shame?

After all, imagine if this openly critical mum had simply said, “Aren’t we privileged to have the choice between working and not working?”

We could have had a lovely chat about how fortunate we are to have so many options. We could have discussed how our parents and their parents didn’t have so much flexibility when it came to child-rearing.

And I could have had the chance to say that I wasn’t cut out for stay-at-home parenting and she might have offered that she didn’t have the inclination to do the daily juggle of a working mum.

But sadly, not all parents want to play level. Some mums want to shame other mums as they sit half-naked next to a pool that’s 80 percent toddler pee. Some mums really aren’t part of the squad.

And that’s okay because here’s the thing, since becoming a parent I’ve noticed that judgement is readily available but it really does lose its strength if you don’t give a f*ck. Instead I ask myself one simple question, am I making the right choice for me and my family?

If the answer is yes then I know everything else is just noise and the thing with noise is this: You can always turn it down or just off and then listen to something else. Something sweeter that compliments you as you do the hardest job there is, in what ever way you choose.

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