parent opinion

"I needed space desperately." Why going back to work has made me a better mum.

This morning, I took my son to playgroup. He absolutely loves it there, and I do too, actually.

As soon as he enters the space, he is joyful. He runs from activity to activity, doing puzzles, painting pictures, feeding the fish, and washing the dishes. I love watching him like this, and it's so special to have this lovely day together doing something we both enjoy. 

I recently returned to work three days per week, so I have Mondays and Tuesdays at home with my youngest son. On Mondays, the day is usually swamped with chores, but Tuesdays are our day to really enjoy each other and play together and I love it so much. 

I particularly love it because it’s only one day.

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You see, my son is a COVID baby. He was actually born pre-COVID in July 2019, but for the first six to eight months, babies are just feeding, sleeping, pooping blobs of gorgeousness, and it was just as he started to emerge from the blob phase that COVID pretty much cancelled life. 

There was no playgroup, no baby yoga, no swimming lessons, no play dates, and no birthday parties. Instead, there was just us, home together, every day. 

I had owned a shop and gallery pre-COVID, but I closed it in July 2020 when the lease came up and life was such an uncertain mess of lockdowns and homeschooling. 

I then tried to take a stable, normal job, but quickly discovered that nothing was stable or normal in COVID times, so I gave that up too. 

Instead, I spent the next 18 months at home with my youngest son (and my eldest during homeschooling and holidays) and though I adore my children and love being their mother, I never wanted to stay home with them for two and a half years.

During that time, I took a freelance job as an editorial assistant, working a couple of hours each day from the kitchen table, and I did as much freelance writing as I could manage. This kept me somewhat sane and helped our family afford to eat. I also decided to pursue some further postgraduate study just to keep my brain expanding and growing despite every conversation for over 40 hours per week being pretty much one sided, and mainly about eating bananas or taking a nap or The Wiggles. 


I did love being with my son, and there were lots of special moments, but I was losing myself.

You see, I’ve always been someone who is ambitious – not for high-powered jobs or big money (not that there’s anything wrong with wanting those things) – but ambitious for a fulfilling life. 

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I’d been relentless in pursuing my dreams, but this confluence of factors – a baby, a global pandemic, a financially uncertain business, an unstable job market – meant that dream pursuit was pretty much on hold.

And I wasn’t naïve either. I’d known since the birth of my first son (now seven) that for me having children meant reigning in my dreams and ambition for a while. 

This was different, though. I felt trapped. Particularly because my youngest son was now extremely attached to only me because he’d been with me every minute of every day for over two years and I didn’t know how I would ever carve out space for myself again. 

At its peak, I began to resent him and feel frustrated and exhausted by his needs. We were never apart, and I needed space desperately.

Thankfully, when the New Year ticked over, things changed. In early 2022, I was offered a short-term part-time role with an organisation I love, and I took it with both hands. It was a chance to test things in the short term without letting my employer or myself down if it didn’t work. 

But it worked. It really, really worked.

My son started going to a family day care and spending time with a regular babysitter, and he flourished. Now when I am home with him, I enjoy being with him – we connect and play and laugh. When I’m at work, I miss him and his brother and I can’t wait to see them each evening, but I still look forward to heading off to work the next day.

I really believe that returning to work has made me a much better mother than I ever was the two years I was home full time. 

It’s given me a sense of self outside of the role of mother that I desperately needed, and it’s given my son the opportunity to see that his needs can be met by others too.

Feature Image: Supplied.