When discussing working mothers, there is one word that consistently rears its almighty head; balance. You just have to find it and then everything will fall into place.
Just as modern women have seen their career opportunities expand, it seems that mothers returning to work are frequently doing full-time jobs within reduced hours, finding themselves in a corner next to the photocopier when they return to work, or unable to return part-time to their previous work places. We are slowly starting to see an increase in flexible working for both mums and dads, something countries such as Sweden have been thriving on for years, but it’s oh so far from the norm.
It’s great that mums would like to return to work isn’t it? So why make it so difficult? Parents should have flexibility and equality both at home and work. Being able to spend time as a family and have each parent fulfilled in their career is currently very hard, but shouldn’t be an impossibility. As it is, childcare costs can eat up an entire take home pay packet, the UK is still in the belief that generally it is mothers who are the weekday caregivers and flexible jobs for both mums and dads are few and far between.
With all this juggling and financial strain, added to this can be the occasional bouts of guilt. A heavy word that tends to flash up in traffic jams, boardrooms, during repetitive puzzles and specifically at 8am and 5pm. Being a parent is wonderful, but often a juggling act – while it looks like you’re soaring through the water, those tired legs are paddling full pelt. And with all of our opportunities and potential, we want top marks for each of our roles, so we push ourselves as hard as we can. But who are we competing with?
Here, four Bristol mothers with part-time and full-time jobs talk about their own juggling acts and how letting go and slowing down is integral to balance. Be kind to yourselves – that seems to be key.
“I coordinate the visual merchandising campaigns for a big outdoor brand. I have a 15-month-old and divide childcare responsibilities during the week between my mother and a childminder. Because of the type of job I have, it really is a juggling act. I sometimes feel like I have far too many balls in the air at one time. In some ways my job is great, because to a certain extent I am in control of my own schedule. However, it can also be really challenging, rushing around and trying to get home to see my daughter before she goes to bed.
“When I returned to work part of me felt relieved, as I was starting to find it really hard doing 100% of the childcare every day. I love my daughter more than anything, but I started to find that I needed some space to think about and do other things. So I’ve relieved the stress and frustration I was feeling about not being able to get anything else done when being a full-time mum and feeling super guilty if I let that frustration show. But of course, now I have a different kind of guilt and stress in trying to split myself between two roles.
“It can be tough but on the whole I am happier and my daughter is such a sociable little girl! I know I am a much more patient mother for having some time outside of being a mother. The best part of my day is when I pick her up from the childminder. I so look forward to seeing her again. I get really excited just walking up to the front door. Her little face when she sees me is just the best.
“There is a really unhealthy culture that tells us we have to go back to work and be really careful to operate as if nothing has changed, almost pretend we haven’t had a child. To feel bad that we need to clock off at a certain time to get home and pick up our kids. I’ve definitely felt that pressure. But my priorities are different now. I still want to do a good job of course, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal life for it any more.”
Imogen Martin, Southville
“I chose a new profession – a holistic massage practitioner – when my daughter was four-years-old. I wanted something to fit in around school times.
“I chose something with very little juggling involved and I was fortunate to have a choice. I factored in the role model I wanted to be to my daughter in terms of choosing something that I love, something with low stress something that favoured quality time at home with her. During my training, I had to find care for her one weekend a month and this was often with her grandma. Precious time that I know they both loved. Other times I asked friends. I’m sure some of my daughter’s confidence in a variety of surroundings is partly a result of experiencing time in different environments.
“My work gives me satisfaction and confidence, but my child still needs my total love and support out of work hours. I’m mindful of the transition time between work and home, making sure I let go of any stresses of the day. I visualise a basket that I put any concerns into. Playing with my daughter has often helped solve a business problem more creatively, too.
“I love being a parent and holding space for her because I really appreciate children’s ability to focus our attention completely and utterly into the moment. Parenting is still somewhat overlooked as one of the most important roles that we play, we receive no training other than the parenting we receive and yet we feel we’re expected to be perfect parents when there is no such thing.”
Becky Stanley, Redland
“I’m juggling a lot. I find that when I am busy with my extra- curricular work, something else has to give. I know my day-job inside out, I have a lovely team. I buy a coffee on my way in, I get a lunch break. It refreshes me and gives me a little break from time at home with my hectic 15-month-old.
“In the evenings, once she is bathed and asleep I tidy up the mess she has made for the millionth time, then I make dinner for myself and my husband who is normally still working at this point. We have some time to talk hopefully and eat. We might finish off some work and if we are lucky watch our current favourite box set – we rarely attempt movies these days – before crashing into bed.
“I was excited to go back to work and I feel lucky to work part-time. I was ready to take that step away from my baby. We had such an intense first year, I rarely left her for any length of time. In fact, my first day back at work was the longest I had ever been away. I was excited to wear nice dresses and get coffee with friends, meet my husband for lunch – alone. I was even excited about my 20 minute walk to work in the morning.
“I believe working makes me a better mum to my girl when I am around. I am more patient, happier and present. I was ill a little while ago and didn’t go to work for a week and I felt so frazzled at the end of it. I had some help with childcare as normal, but I didn’t get that time away from home, time to be just me. It is so important to me.
“I beat myself up a lot about not getting things done, all the time I think I could do more, I could be better. Every now and again I do have that realisation that I am a really good mum, a wonderful wife and everything else after that is good enough.”
Sally Telford, Southville
“We have two children, a girl and a boy who are eight and four respectively. So since September, they have both been in full-time school. I work two and a half days a week for a local small business based in the centre of town. For work, but mainly in my own time, I am studying for a diploma through distance learning. We work it so that my husband takes the children to school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when I work 8am to 2.30pm, then I do 9.30am to 2.30pm on Thursdays. That way I can do all the pick-ups and after school activities.
“Out of work I’m this year’s class rep for my daughter’s class and the treasurer for the pre-school they went to; I’m bookkeeper for my husband and have recently started volunteering with the NCT – just started hosting pushchair pals in St Andrews Park, and also am in training as a voluntary breastfeeding counsellor. Last but not least, I’m a keen choral singer, singing with Bristol Choral Society. I don’t watch much TV and I don’t do much housework.”
Amber Dennis, Horfield