parent opinion

What nobody told you about being in your 'working mum era'. But should have.

I have entered my working mum era. And I know this isn't exactly the most original thought, but holy crap it's hard.

I thought I was prepared. We had pulled off a minor miracle and got a spot at our preferred daycare for our preferred day. We are lucky enough to have parents who are willing and able to share care on other days. I got the little labels and put my son's name on everything he owns.

But then I actually had to leave him at daycare. He wailed as I walked out of the nursery room, holding his chubby little arms out to me with confusion and hurt on his tear-stained face.

I went to the nearby coffee shop and burst into tears. And not gentle little tears, but great, body-heaving sobs that startled several other patrons. Every single cell in my body screamed that I was doing the wrong thing and I should go and collect him immediately. I made it 15 minutes before calling for an update and my heart shattered when I could still hear him crying in the background.

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I should be clear – the daycare my son attends is fantastic. The educators are all angels and both my husband and I are committed to him attending, both for the social and educational benefits we believe it provides and so I can continue to work. 


We know that there will be an adjustment period and that's totally normal. But all that logic and reason had absolutely no place in my head when I was imagining my son sitting alone in a dark, windowless room bawling his eyes out and wondering why he no longer had a mummy (evidently in my imagination we dropped him at a Soviet-era gulag rather than a frankly pretty luxe daycare centre).

We made it to about noon that day. The next day, my son came down with gastro.

Sobs and sickness is how we started and it's pretty much how we have gone on. Every time I think we might have taken a step forward and maybe daycare drop-offs won’t be hugely traumatising for us all, he comes home with the flu or gastro or, you know, the bubonic plague and we take three steps back.

My immune system isn't bad, but I don't think anyone's was designed to fight off germs fortified by small people licking the floor and swapping snot with each other.

I truly don't know how anyone manages this working-mum gig without support. It's not lost on me how incredibly fortunate we are to have parents we can lean on when our son can't go to daycare because he is too sick, or when we can't parent because we are too sick.

I was explaining the concept of daycare to a colleague without children. Basically, you give them all your money to look after your small human so that you can work, and then your small human gets sick and can't go. So you can't work. But you still have to give them all your money. And then the small human gets you sick, so you still can't work. And you still give them all your money.


I explained how much daycare costs per day, and watched his pupils turn into dollar signs as he mentally drafted a resignation letter to start up a daycare centre.

"Don't you get money back from the Government?" he asked. OH MY SWEET SUMMER CHILD. 

I wanted to explain it to him, I really did, but despite being very well educated and generally considered quite intelligent, I have NO idea how the CCS works. Except to say that, most of the time, it doesn't seem to work. I have spent countless hours on hold with the Centrelink Families Line. I am not proud of the person I become when I hear the infamous "Thank you for calling. Goodbye," before they hang up on you.

Sorting out the childcare subsidy so I could actually afford to work (lol) was just another task that added to a mental load that I felt tripled the day I went back to work. 

I also only work part-time, so why is there suddenly NO time in my week?? When did I clean the house in the past? Or cook things?? Pre-baby, my husband and I pretty much existed on toasted sandwiches and cereal. Post baby my concerns about keeping scurvy from our household mean that’s not so doable anymore.


And why has the number of appointments suddenly increased? Why do I constantly find myself needing to be home for the plumber, or the electrician? Or find time to go to the doctor, or the dentist, or the child health nurse? Households where both parents work are the default now, but it still feels like the world is set up for one person to be at home full-time.

Working and parenting feel like I am never quite giving enough to either role. I am still learning to be fully present with my son rather than checking emails, or trying to talk through the application of Court of Appeals cases with him.

But on the bright side, I love being back at work. I feel like I have found a piece of me that went dormant after Patrick was born (and the ability to drink a whole cup of coffee whilst it’s still warm is a seriously underrated pleasure). I also feel like my productivity has skyrocketed. When there's no option to work late or on the weekend, it's amazing how much you can actually get done in a workday.

Nothing worth having comes easy, so like millions before me, I will keep working at this and hopefully getting better.

But I reserve my right to continue to complain bitterly about Centrelink.

Elizabeth Olds is mum to one-year-old Patrick, a part-time lawyer and a full-time sweet tooth.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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