It was 22 minutes before I had to leave the house to drive to the airport. I was flying to Italy for my first business trip as part of my new job. It was only for one night, but that one night felt like a lifetime. In 36 hours, 2 airport journeys, 3 plane rides and 2 taxi transfers time, I’d be home. But in that moment I felt like crying, then throwing up, then crying again.
I didn’t expect to feel like this. One of the perks of my job is the fact I get to travel to places I’ve never been before, and opportunities to travel anywhere alone (even to the bathroom) don’t seem to come up often once you become a parent.
But the mind is incredibly good at making you feel terrible about your decisions and Mum-Guilt is a cruel, cruel mistress.
With every take-off safety briefing, my eyes filled with tears, thinking that if I needed to use the “oxygen mask that will drop from the ceiling” or the “life jacket under my seat” my goodbye would have been the last time my little boy saw his mummy.
I know, I know. In 20-20 hindsight it’s a ridiculous and overdramatic thought. But on that plane, I convinced myself that putting my selfish desire for a career in front of the needs of my son, would result in some kind of Mummy-Karma smiting me down from the sky and laughing. Telling me I deserve it for being a shitty Mum who wanted to go back to work.
Obviously that didn’t happen – as I’m here to tell you how ridiculous Mum-Guilt can be; but, the whole feeling took me rather by surprise. Mainly because it’s such a far cry from how I felt in January as I prepared to head back to work after maternity leave.
A combination of a traumatic birth, a reflux baby and (in retrospect, undiagnosed) PND meant that I didn’t really enjoy being a stay at home mum. Back then, the Mum-Guilt told me that I was a terrible mum for not wanting to spend every waking moment cooing over my new baby and that the delayed bonding I experienced meant that I just wasn’t cut out for the job.
Overall, I felt like a failure as a mum but my office job was somewhere I thrived. It was somewhere I felt like I had achieved something at the end of each day, somewhere where *I* was in control of the schedule, not a tiny dictator. So, as well as it being a financial necessity, returning to work part-time also seemed like the easy option.
As time went on though, I realised that going back to work actually improved my skills as a parent. I valued the days I spent with my son so much more. We started having far more fun together as he grew into a toddler and every day I was away from him, I missed him. As I missed him more, our bond grew and I felt like I was no longer the shell of my former self – I was regaining my identity. Except this time, my identity included another amazing little human.
So why was it, when I was on that plane, that I started questioning my decisions? Why did I feel like such a terrible mum for leaving him for 36 hours?
Quite honestly – I don’t know.
And I don’t know why we mums put such high, unattainable levels of expectation ON OURSELVES! As parents, we should all be incredibly proud of what we achieve on a daily basis. No matter how small. Conflicting research and new advice on how best to raise your child is only a few clicks away. We’re surrounded by negativity in the press and throughout our news feeds, but every day parents achieve little miracles.
Working allows me to financially contribute to a safe and secure home. I help to put food on the table and hope to teach my son a strong work ethic, knowing that women should be respected as equals in the workplace. These things are luxuries not afforded to everyone and I feel proud I can help to provide them for my son. We might shout or become frustrated with our children, but every day we put them to sleep knowing they are safe and that they are loved.
So, I’m proud to be a working mum.
I might sometimes waver on that self-belief and convince myself that planes will fall from the sky. But, in my clearer moments, I know I’m not shit. Everything I do, down to the very bones of me, is for him. I hope that one day, he’ll see that too.
A Guest Blog from Mel Hamblett