When being a working mum doesn’t work

(Cross-posted from Littlee and Bean)

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I feel like one of the balloons E asks his daddy to blow up and let go of. After whooshing about at breakneck speed Monday to Friday, I spend part of each weekend sitting in a deflated heap and with a growing knot in my stomach from knowing that, come Monday, the organised chaos starts again. My nights are all about squinting at piles of marking, admin, and planning, and they’re followed by painfully early mornings, guiltily shepherding 2 tired little boys to nursery after minimal sleep. I’ve been giving myself some motivational pep talks this week, stuff like ‘get a grip woman…it’s always like this as winter creeps in…you’ve been doing this for 8 years now, you should be used to the workload…you love this job with a passion…your students are the best…it’s all worth it’.

Except this year things are different because last year, during a typically mountainous workload and with way too much going on emotionally and physically, I had a breakdown. It was hideous. Thankfully, now that I’ve healed, I’m free to see it as a blessing. I learnt that I can’t do everything, despite what the culture of my profession tells me. I learnt that my family has to come before work, and that my children have to take precedence over the emotional hold of others. I thought that would be it; that I could put all those life-lessons in a neat file and take them out as and when I needed them. But it’s not as simple as that. I can feel the pressure rising again, and I have to face facts – I’ll probably reach melting point every year, for as long as I keep this impossible dynamic going. And I don’t want it. I don’t want to have to dig around for the last scrap of energy to get me through the working week. I don’t want to stay up until midnight most nights working, with no recognition, just more pressure, and more judgement. I don’t want to forfeit any kind of relaxation, couple, or ‘me’ time because of my job. I don’t want to feel anxious each weekend because the thought of Monday is so exhausting. I don’t want work to be such an overbearing pressure that it forces my children into second place.

E starts school next September, and despite my neurotic tendency to over-plan everything I’ve been too busy with work to visit any of his potential schools. The guilt. While I don’t know what school E will go to, I do know that that my assumption that life would get easier was naive. Life is going to get much more complicated. With E at school, OH and I at work, and Bean at nursery, we’ll have to somehow get the 4 of us to different places at different times each day. It’s a logistical nightmare, particularly on the nights that I have to stay late for parents evenings or meetings. If I’m lucky E’s school will have a breakfast club, and perhaps an after school club. If not I’ll have to find a child-minder and drop him off at the crack of dawn each morning. The thought of either scenario makes me want to weep. My big boy will be going to school, and unless I make huge changes, he’ll be making that transition on his own. That’s not what I want for him. I want to pick him up from school and to hear how his day has been. I don’t want to have to rush from work, knowing he’ll be too tired to tell me about the friends he’s made, or that he’s had a rough day.

We can’t afford for me not to work, and I’d be miserable without the stimulation and challenge of a career, but I know I need to be brave and consider, for the first time in years, an alternative to this crazy status quo. I’d love to write in some capacity, it would be the dream. Perhaps, if I had more time, I could make a proper go of this blog and earn a small income from it? People seem to like it still, despite me being so terrible at responding to comments (I’m so sorry!). Or maybe I could make something of my other blog? It’s driven by causes I’m passionate about, but I just haven’t had the time to invest in it. Maybe, eventually, I’ll write the book that has been gnawing away at me for years. Or perhaps there’s something else out there for me. Whatever I do, I know I’ll put everything I have into it.

I’ve been Instagramming the hell out of my dilemma for days and now I’m blogging about it, not to wallow in my own self-importance, but because I tend to brush aside my working mum woes, which just perpetuates the stress. I tell myself to get a grip and to focus on the holidays – the biggest perk of my job. But each summer I’m burnt out.

I won’t look back in 20 years and feel nostalgic about the hours I spent working, but unless I make big changes, the lost time with my boys will hit me hard. I could keep pretending this working mum juggle is no biggy, that my career is worth us all feeling depleted come November, but I’m terrified of the time that’s slipping through my fingers. My boys need me and I need them.

Littlee and Bean:  I’m a mummy and a blogger. Sometimes I’m all about the saccharine, other times I’m all about the rage. Motherhood doesn’t define me but right now it’s the biggest part of me. I record moments with my boys, from the sacred to the profane. I discuss how I’m trying to find that elusive work/life balance. And I reflect on how breaking free from fundamentalist religion and sexism has shifted my horizons and my psychology.