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To pursue a career or stay at home with the kids - is there a more polarising topic among mums? Well maybe the Gina versus babywearing one, but it's definitely up there. Many women hold very strong opinions on the subject and are definitely not afraid to share them. They appear to know their preferred path before they've even conceived. But in my own experience the reality of making such a weighty decision is far from straightforward. In fact it's something I battle with on pretty much a daily basis.
I've come across colleagues who don't seem to suffer from working mum guilt, which sadly gnaws away at most. They breeze around, proficiently juggling the demands of kids and clients. Who knows if it's all a facade, but if so they are flawless actors. At the other extreme I have friends who wouldn't dream of sending their kids off to childcare and throw themselves wholeheartedly into their mothering roles. Frustratingly, I seem to straddle both camps.
Since having my eldest son seven years ago I've experimented with working, being a full time mum and a melange of the two. Following my first maternity leave I reluctantly returned to a full on job where I was the only mum in a team of whippersnappers. I could sense the eye-rolls as I left my desk at 4.30pm (they didn't see me finishing a presentation after the kids were finally asleep or checking emails at 3am!). Luckily I swiftly escaped back to the UK where I enjoyed a brief window at home with my little boy. I was then seduced by a four day a week role in London. It was much more parent-friendly, but the commute nearly killed me off. Again I left at 4.30pm but I arrived home exhausted two hours later and was catapulted straight into the bedtime routine. And naturally my Fridays off were spent fielding client calls while silent screaming at the kids.
When Geneva came calling again and I was thrilled with the prospect of being a SAHM. I also had ambitious (ridiculous) ideas about writing a book. But after a few months I started to get twitchy. I felt uncomfortable not earning, and to be brutally honest I was a bit lonely. I am definitely a people person (of the adult variety), and I craved a bit of time away from the kids (gasp). So once again I found myself applying for jobs. Fortunately, I landed one in a school where I was blessed with short working days and long holidays. On paper it was the perfect role. It epitomised the elusive concept of balance. Yet guilt still oozed into my daily life. If the toddler was grumpy, if tea was something and chips, or if I lost my patience with homework - it all got blamed on the fact I was a working mum.
Reviewing the journey so far I do believe work in some form is important to me. The guilt is something I need to learn to live with. It's not going anywhere. Like the school bully, it's not pleasant to be around but it keeps me on my toes. And of course there are days when I get home and just want to collapse with a vat of wine instead of prepping dinner and supervising homework. Days when I feel I'm falling short on all sides, but I guess that's part of the working mum meal deal. We get a side of freedom and a dip of acknowledgement, but it can leave us with bad indigestion. We have to accept our selection and power on through the pain.
Now that I'm braced for our next UK adventure I've started to think about roles. Some days I am bubbling with excitement, on others I feel panicked. You see I have a rather bipolar CV, leaping from head of innovation to librarian. No matter how I frame it, it all sounds a bit muddled, like it's had a night on the gin. I'm confident I have transferable skills, but will they shine through? I know there must be something out there that ticks most if not all of my boxes, that offers me precious time with the boys and that all important job satisfaction. I just need lots of perseverance and a little dash of luck.
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