To be honest prior to having my first baby, and even throughout my first pregnancy, I thought I would be a stay at home mum until my youngest had started school. Then I had my first baby. It was then that I realised that I didn’t think that I would be able to do it…
When I had my first, Noah, my dad had passed away 5 weeks earlier, my husband was posted with the Army to Darwin and my life in general was quite chaotic and emotional. Noah was admitted for jaundice, it was then Christmas time and I also had many trips interstate visiting my husband and his father. During this time I was on paid maternity leave and the thought of returning to work was the furthest thing in my mind.
Fast-forward 6 months, Dan had been posted to Adelaide and we were finally able to establish a family home. It was then that I realised how lonely and isolated I felt. I wasn’t sure if this was because everything had began to settle down or whether it was because where the Army had given us a home was quite far from any of my friends and family however all I could think about was returning to work and feeling like me again. I was legitimly surprised how much I felt that I lost a big art of me since being home. I felt as though I had lost some of my identity and was legitimly surprised again how much I missed being “needed” other than for mothering duties.
Please don’t get me wrong in thinking that I hated being at home. I actually loved the time I had but I also found I needed a balance. It was a great relief that we decided to have another child and I wished to have paid maternity leave again that I returned to work. I am fortunate enough to work in a job that is shift work and very flexible with hours, which allowed me to pick and choose when I could work around my husband being home and other family members to watch Noah. Further more I worked in a job that I wasn’t gone from 9-5, which seemed to reduce the dreaded mum guilt. Yet again I still felt the need to justify not only to myself but also amazingly to others my decision.
Given the fact that the Australian Institute of Family studies have reported in 2011 65% of mothers returned to the work force following maternity leave it still surprises me the raised eyebrows that you get when you will be one of the majority. To be honest the thought of some extra money coming into the family home was a massive factor but just leaving the house to do something for me was my biggest reason. I know this may sound selfish to some and understandable to others but it’s honestly how I felt.
Fast-forward 3 more babies and 3 more times that I have returned to work in between each. I am 100% glad that I have. In fact I have returned to work earlier and earlier after each baby (when my paid maternity leave had finished). I also remember wishing Harriet’s leave to finish quicker because I was ready to go back to work. I have found a massive change in my engagement with not only my husband but also my children when I work. I have personally found that the more I have spent on doing things for myself the more patience and tolerance I have towards my children.
I have also found that I don’t care anymore what people say about my desire to return to work. We have found a balance that has worked for not only my family but for me. The other aspect I have found is that now we know that we will not be having anymore children I have found a new found excitement at reviving my career and not just working for “alone time” and extra money.
One thing I have always struggled with is why is it STILL so socially acceptable for a woman to give up her career to raise children but not for a man. My husband is 100% supportive of what ever I decide to do in regards to my career. Yet I know that if I said he stay at home and I work full time this would cause an issue that is bigger than just him. It is a societal issue. I understand that he would a limited amount of stay at home dads or part time working fathers to socialise with, which would make it isolating, however I feel this is an area the government should be more supportive of. Especially now that women can earn as much as their partners.
In fact recently my husband was working 3 days a week and I was the primary income earner for approximately 5months. I found this incredibly revitalising yet he found the opposite. The main thing he had learnt was that staying at home is a lot harder than people give it credit. Your days are the same. They revolve around sleep, shit, vomit and food. Lots of food. Going to a playground is your outing and if it rains the day becomes longer because they have to remain inside for a good chunk of the day. This is monotonous. Yet it also gave him a huge insight into what I have been trying to explain for the last 5years. I saw the light switch moment. It has been the most insightful thing to happen to us as parents and partners. It certainly reiterated that walking in another persons shoes is the most powerful tool into understandings another persons needs.
Now I honestly hope that no one takes from this that I am for or against returning to work. You need to do what is best for your family but most importantly what is best for YOU. I constantly preach that you must put yourself first in order to be the best mother that you can be and for me that means working. For others that may be staying home. I am also aware that some families don’t have the luxury of choice. This to me is the hardest and most conflicting place to be. I just hope that you know whatever decision is made your children will always understand that it is for them
You are all doing amazingly. Never forget that.
pics by @shonahendersonphoto http://www.shona.com.au and @KateMillardPhotography