A lot of parents work. Parenting takes a lot of work…
‘Hurry Mummy!’ shouts Leo, ‘Put your speedy shoes on little man’, I yell back. How is it that even if you have been awake since 2011…well five am…you still seem to be late for school. Where are the keys, does he have his water bottle…where is his book bag?! The office is ten minutes’ drive from my house, but factor in the school run and rush hour traffic; it takes me an hour. I arrive in a flurry; porridge on my sleeves and a hollow feeling in my tummy as I have had to watch my son’s little shoulders hunch and lip wobble as he walks hesitantly into the classroom.
The other afternoon I got a text from my son’s school as I drove to pick him up,
‘Parents can come to school tomorrow between 8.40 and 9.00 and read with their children.’
I felt my heart sink. This is the most upsetting text I ever received. My son ran out of school in his slightly too big shoes and inherited clumsy mummy gait. Beaming with excitement through a face covered in what I think was macaroni cheese he said, ‘you get to read with me tomorrow’. I felt an ice cold smack of guilt. At 4pm I could not book the next morning off from work. I told him I was so sorry, that we would dress up as pirates and read Peter pan together that night. I felt frustrated at the school: praise assemblies, reading time, and art and craft mornings. I wish just once in a while something would be planned for parents that work and desperately want to be involved…or be given enough advance to try and book it off.
So what would you do? Pull a sick day, risk losing a job that goes towards paying essential bills, should I not work at all? I drove to work the next morning and cried, Adele on the radio didn’t help.
Work is challenging and complex but rewarding. I like not wearing pyjamas for a while, my workmates do not wipe their noses on my sleeve. I don’t iron my jacket and often eat kids munch bunch for lunch.
Welcome to my double life…
I try and calm the raging conflict in my mind. Why do I make myself feel bad why can I not feel proud of myself. My job is a part of me, like Leo is. I love both. I take pride and reward from my work, just as I do parenting. I went back when he was 8 months old, then a necessity as I was a single parent. It has not always been easy and somehow I squeezed a Masters in the middle. Parents are multitasking ninjas. I say this as I think some people perceive that when you become a parent you become less. It made me more, more determined, more hardworking, more efficient on less sleep.
I have wept over articles where people debate mothers returning to work that suggest children are worse off for it. The time I have with my son is precious.
I now work part time, flexible working, so get the best of both worlds. Or on gloomy days feel like I am getting a meagre grey sliver of both, never fully in one and striving for balance. After the school drop off it’s straight to work and after work it’s straight to school with a quick breath in the middle. I fight to overcome the guilt that all parents face but none deserve.
I know full time SAH parents and full time at the office with coffee parents. My SAH friends sometimes feel unacknowledged, their little ones unrelenting. I was going crackers at home.
My own mother, a single parent worked hard and I fondly recall playing racehorses on her ergonomic desk chair when she took me in on sick days. I have other friends who work 45 hour weeks and express in the toilets. They juggle to organise childcare and strive for family time, smothering their desks in pictures of the children.
Who am I trying to measure up too? The perfect mother. She is fiction. Sod her.
We are all extraordinary.