(image from https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/four-key-elements-getting-nuts-and-bolts-teaching-right)
For those of you who don’t know me outside of the ‘online’ bubble, let me tell you a bit more about me. I am a live-to-work person. I am a secondary school teacher. I teach Computer Science, ICT and a little bit of Business Studies. I’ve got a Cert Higher Ed, a BA (Hons) degree, a PGCE, an MA in Education and two in-service formal qualifications. I’m on the extended leadership team of my current school and I have worked hard to get where I am today… I am career driven and ambitious. Having a child hasn’t really changed that.
I had BG one month early, as you will know if you’ve read my other posts, and therefore had to start maternity leave early. At that time I was the Head of Computing and ICT at a different high school to the one I now work at. Going on maternity leave early was a both a physical and mental challenge. I had left things unfinished. My handover was incomplete. How on Earth would the department run without me? Members of my department will happily tell you that I more ‘stressed’ about having time off than having a baby! After several emails from the maternity ward and a few more when BG and I got home, I was telephone by the Deputy Head of the school. He stated that he was ringing me as I had initiated contact several times and that under normal circumstances, the employer is not permitted to contact a new mother on maternity for at least 2 weeks after the birth of her child. I was told under no uncertain terms to stop working and enjoy motherhood. I can honestly say it took around 8 weeks for me to properly ‘switch off’ from work.
Whilst on maternity leave, restructuring a the school happened. I was kept informed of the process along the way and invited to join meetings ‘should I want to’. The upshot of the restructuring was that I would be asked to have more contact (or teaching hours) for less money. So, whilst on maternity leave I set about finding a new job. A new challenge. A promotion. And a step on the Leadership Ladder – and found one. It was all very exciting.
I returned to work on 1st May 2017 and handed in my notice. This was 7 months after leaving. I didn’t take the full year off. This was for two main reasons: 1) I didn’t want to – I had always intended to return to work full time and 2) I had a mortgage to pay and the statutory maternity pay ran out. Thanks to the benefits of ‘gained time’ (for non-teachers, this is the part of the year all teachers of exam groups look forward to… it’s when GCSE and A Level students leave as they begin their exams) I was actually able to go part time, working 4 days per week.
I felt like there was very much an expectation that I would go part time. That somehow now I was a Mother, I would prefer to share my Middle-Management job and spend more time at home. People would always ask about my baby first, me second, my work last (read my post “Identity Thief” for more on this). I’ve said it many times, but I genuinely love my job (mostly…). I love being at work. I am not a teacher for an ‘easy ride’ or for the ‘holidays’ (for the benefit of non-teachers, the holidays are largely spent working too!). I am actually in this business because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve worked hard to be where I am. Many long hours, late nights and ‘holidays’ have been spent preparing resources, assessing work, taking students away on school trips, supporting students in ‘summer school’ or ‘holiday clubs’ or ‘half term revision sessions’. The rewards are awesome.
One of the things I did not expect about my return to work was the judgment from others. Whether it be real or perceived, I take objection to the fact that I am not referred to as a ‘full-time mum’ because I go to “work” and by “work” I mean paid employment. I am still a Mum when I am at work. I am still a Mum when I am at home. I am a full-time mum. It just so happens that I am also a Teacher. When I am at work BG is either at home with her Dad who has an irregular shift pattern (except for Wednesdays… that is Daddy and BG day always!) and when he is not at home, we have an absolutely fabulous live-out Nanny. She, quite frankly, is the best thing since my discovery that baby-wipes clean everything! If BG is ill, Nanny still comes – no one has to take time off work, BG goes out to many social events – her social life is better than mine! She reads books, plays musical instruments, paints, goes to the park, goes swimming, goes on play dates… BG has a whale of a time. She is very much a happy little girl. Yet, some people – sometimes colleagues, sometimes random strangers, sometimes other mums – have the ability to make me feel guilty. Somehow they managed to pass on the perception that somehow I was not really into this mothering lark because I wanted to go back to work, or because I wasn’t taking a full year off. If I had a pound for every time someone took an inhale of breath to my response to “When are you going back to work?” and I replied with “I went back last month”. Their response then being, “Oh. Really? Well So-and-so took 85 million months off with her first. She’s got such a deep bond with her daughter”. As if somehow by me going back to work, I was neglecting my duty of bonding with my child. Ridiculous. Even now, BG is 16 months old – people still ask “When are you going back to work?”. With a forced smile I usually manage to say “I went back last May” and then politely wait for the “Oh. That was soon.” and other related comments that go with it. One person even said directly to my face “I don’t understand how any real mother could go back out to work and leave their child at home. I don’t know how you can do it.” – I mean, talk about offensive!
I’ve also heard some stories of horrific comments from friends who’ve returned to work only to be spoken to like some kind of leper. As if having a child now makes them less of a team player. I’ve heard stories of people feeling as though they are missing out on the meetings that happen in the pub after work and stories of the most outdated and chauvinistic nature it’s like we’ve traveled back in time 50 years.
I was almost prepared mentally for some of the comments that would lead to Mum guilt. A few friends had already been through this rite of passage and so I had some warning that it might happen. What I didn’t expect was my own ability to give myself a side-order of mum-guilt… I felt guilty for wanting to go back to work. Was it wrong of me to want to go back to the vocation that I have worked so hard for over the last 14 years? Was it wrong to want to take a step back from my career? Was I wrong for wanting to go to work? The answer of course to all of these questions is “No”. If I had given up work I would have been incredibly unhappy because, as I said before, I genuinely love my job. I would also probably be homeless as I have half a mortgage to pay… that or I would be married to a burnt out husband who would have to work all the hours God sends just to keep us afloat. Neither of those scenarios is a positive one.
I also thought about the role-model I can be for my daughter. It is important that she becomes a strong, independent child because she will then become a strong, independent woman. She needs to see what it means to work hard, to put your all into everything and to a job that you love.
I have absolute respect and admiration for those Mums who choose to take a career-break or stop work completely to raise their children. I will not call them a full-time Mum as if they are a separate entity to me because I am a full-time Mum too. Similarly, I won’t call them a “Stay-at-home” Mum because to do so somehow implies they don’t leave the house. On the flip-side, I won’t call myself a “working Mum” because whilst that’s largely accepted as a Mum who leaves her child with some form of caregiver and goes out to paid employment, it somehow implies that those who are not doing that are not working… which is RIDICULOUS! Mumming is hard work! These women are on a bit of a pedestal for me. Sometimes I wish I could be that Mum… I envy the amount of time they get to spend with their children. I envy the meet-ups I miss out on during the week because I’m out teaching teenagers. I miss long afternoons of coffee, cake and stopping BG stealing someone’s toy/hitting someone in the face with a tambourine/being sick on someone or something… but I cannot turn off the teacher. I can’t turn off my own personal need to be in a classroom educating (or tormenting depending on the subject, time of year, class group) students. I actually enjoy work (and disclaimer here – I am not suggesting those who do not return to paid employment do not/did not enjoy their work – this is purely a personal comment about myself!).
I started to wonder why we have such archaic view on this?! Why is it that in modern society the pressure is still on Mums to be at home raising children whilst their partner goes out to earn the money for the household? Something somewhere needs to change in my humblest of opinions. Have you returned to work? How are you feeling about it? Please do share your stories and help other Mums make a decision/deal with Mum guilt or simply say “Yes, me too!”