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Claire Irvin Headshot

The Guilt Factor

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WORKING MOM
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And there it is.

The thing that defines almost everything I do in this new stage of my life. The thing that is a 24/7 reminder I'm no longer just daughter, wife, friend, career girl - I'm a mummy too.

It's guilt.

Yep, the minute you enter parenthood, you'd think that love is the emotion dominating everything you do.

Not so. Sure, the overpowering love you have for your children underlines absolutely everything you do, but whether you choose to be a working mum or the stay at home variety, it's guilt that defines it.

And as if you didn't know this already, this has just been highlighted by a survey of Mother & Baby readers. Our readership is split pretty evenly between stay at home and working mothers, and even though - whatever their personal choice - a staggering 94% agree that working sets a positive example of modern female role models for your children, 60% of those who do work feel guilty about it.

No s**t, Sherlock. In my experience, you're damned if you do - you offset self-fulfillment and some sense of your pre-baby persona returning for wretchedness when you leave home in the morning and gaping wounds of maternal inadequacy when you return. But you're also damned if you don't - many women who don't work saying they feel they have to fill every second of their children's lives with activities and learning experiences to fulfill their 'job' as a supermummy.

But either way, there's no escape, and the guilt starts even before you've officially made your choice - especially if that choice is to work. The minute you start to think about yourself in the same sentence as your baby, you feel that tug of "should I be even doing this?" "Am I a bad person for not totally surrendering myself to the experience of motherhood?" "I am the most selfish mother******* to ever walk the earth!".

Personally, I couldn't think of anything worse than a schedule full of play dates and baby singing. But with both my babies (Amelie Rose, now four, and Charley, now 15 months), once I'd realised that I didn't have to adhere to anyone else's schedule and could do things my way, 'eternity leave' turned back into 'maternity leave' and I loved my time at home with both babies. I like to think they loved it too!

But even before I decided when I was going back to work, I kept in touch with the office. Not just because I had to. Because (shh!) I wanted to. It wasn't just my career - what had been, before my husband and children came along, my main raison d'etre - it was a delicious reminder of my pre baby self. A life where I, not they, was in control; where I could do what I wanted, when I wanted; and where I didn't feel like I had to answer to the gnawing sense of not-quite-achieving-everything inside of me. (I can't even blame financial pressures. Sure, if I gave up work, it would impact on how we live, but without the crippling cost of childcare, we wouldn't be that much worse off.)

Many new mum friends openly disapproved. Family members told me to take advantage of having "a rest". Clearly, I wasn't doing things "right". Another reason to feel guilty!

But eventually, the bittersweet moment of returning to work arrived. And though with time, it becomes more routine, it's still not easy. That wrench of leaving two adorable faces behind every day and knowing they are learning, living, having lots of fun with someone else, whether it's family or our fantastic nanny. Even though I love my job, I had to develop my own internal anti-guilt measures. I took on a more male approach, attempting to shut out the searing pain of my maternal instincts and separating 'home' and 'office' (until six months ago, that is, when I took over as Editor-in-Chief of Parenting at Bauer. Now my days are filled with other people's babies and toddlers, the strategy is kind of not working as well). I constantly justify everything against the fact that I work. Amelie and Charley have a great female role model, as I, growing up with a working mum, also did. They are more confident, sociable little people because of it. They get to see more of their grandparents because of it. I'm more fun because of it.

They spend half of their week without me because of it.

But hey, I'm a woman. I'm a walking compromise. And I'm programmed to juggle 101 things at the same time. It's just that now, there's an extra one to deal with.

Guilt.

Get over it, Irvin.

For further details on the Mother & Baby survey results, click here

Follow Claire on Twitter @IrvAtLarge

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