Working mum of three

Figuring it out as we go along. Blogging is cheaper than therapy.

Ying versus yang

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It’s not the most exciting double life, but there are definitely two of us. Work-me and mum-me. This week, the two me’s have not been getting along so well. Neither feels like they are getting enough attention. Both want more hours in the day.

In the office last week I was able to keep the two me’s very separate. I had an hour’s commute each way to get into the appropriate character. On the first day back to work, I felt like a spare part, and there’s nothing worse than leaving your baby and feeling like it’s for nothing. So on the second day I volunteered for stuff, I wrote drafts, I organised, I got involved. I got my work-me mojo on. But in some ways I think I pulled it off too well because colleagues haven’t given me much slack since then. Coming back after maternity leave is very odd; competent but nervous, familiar but unsure, enthusiastic but exhausted.

I was told several times by well meaning colleagues to read an internal blog about settling back after maternity leave. Thanks, but I already know what it’s like. It’s rough. It’s emotional. The blog is actually for everyone else to read: a kind of ‘how to be supportive’ guide. Bit sad that we need it – are we so lacking in compassion and common sense? And even worse that most people have missed the point – that we all have a role to play in getting women back into the work place. I was even told that my account had been completely deleted when I left because ‘most women don’t come back after maternity leave’. Not exactly the welcome home party I was expecting. I wanted more: a scheme or some kind of formal outreach that respects my privacy and determination to be taken seriously. Sadly it is seen firmly as my problem and not that of the organisation. So although I’ve had some lovely contacts from colleague-friends, it is my own struggle to get back into the swing of things. I don’t need the hand holding of a new beginner but some reassurance, encouragement and an early mark wouldn’t go amiss.

Despite my best efforts, there were gaps in my ‘professional’ performance as mum-me snuck back in. I found myself swaying gently in the lunch queue. I changed the subject away from baby talk so that I wouldn’t burst into tears. I patted my handbag off to sleep on the tube. Being without the baby is a bit like giving up smoking. You just don’t know what to do with your hands. My mum-me arms felt so gangly without him to carry. I missed having baby to excuse my lost focus on the conversation. I missed the endless conversation fillers.

Back home, despite our fears, they had a wonderful week. Rich and baby bonded over mushed food and peekaboo. My days were punctuated by text updates which made my eyes sting. Baby was perfect. As soon as I walked in the door, 5yo bounded over for cuddles and to whisper ‘I’ve missed you so much’. 3yo would excitedly tell me about his day: ‘we went on a train’ ‘I had grapes’. But baby, sweet baby, always in his fathers arms, would take a few moments to stare at me intently before bursting into tears. Big, wet, overwhelmed tears that could only be soothed by milk that he hadn’t noticed he was missing all day.

We took the kids into my office to give them some context for my going back to work. As the two worlds collided I felt strangely relaxed. We walked around formal rooms, busy corridors and even past the big BIG boss’ office. The boys were perfect, introducing themselves and showing off their visitor passes. They took it all in their stride. As we talked to my team they held my hand. Even in work I’m mum-me to them.

This week we’re back into the remote working routine and the two me’s keep getting confused. Our morning routine is even more complicated. Breakfasts are scoffed while lunches are squeezed into tupperware. Boys are wrangled into clothes between cartoons. A blur of shoes, coats and brushed teeth dive into the car. I race back for bags, books, bottles, consent forms, phone, where’s my bloody phone?

I fly back in from the school drop off, logging on and switching modes. I try a line of chitchat with my team about this week’s costume demands (the Owl and the Pussycat for those interested), but there is rarely time for such frivolity. My mind spins into a different gear.

From my little home office, my team can’t see the bags under my eyes or my unwashed hair. I send important emails around the world with sick stained shoulders. The two me’s go into battle again.

Logging off has got later and later this week and my blackberry became a staple at dinner. Legitimate emergency this time, but the temptation to check emails during family time is lamentable. It’s winking at me now.

Overnight I wake to feed the baby, two or three times. This transitional period is always rough. Sometimes so tired I can barely keep my head up. But usually with real clarity I add to either my home or work to do lists. I pay bills in the middle of the night, order groceries, send emails. I’ll be lost without these extra hours in my day when they are wasted for sleep.

Such a blur of pressure and survival, but I’m already two weeks back into work. And while my organisation struggles with its emotional intelligence, I decided to take responsibility. I had dived so deep into work-me that I was hiding mum-me. I was expecting colleague telepathy. So I’ve told my boss now about the school run. I’ve mentioned to my team leader that I’m still breast feeding through the night. It’s not much but I feel a bit more at peace. They haven’t treated me any differently, I’m still crazy busy and have the interesting work. It feels good to have addressed my ying and my yang. The two me’s are beginning to get along.

And now I’ve had a little think about my day, I’ve realised I have this 6 minute drive from the school run when I’m alone in the car. It’s my only unaccountable time of the day. Not responsible to or for anyone. I’m neither work-me nor mum-me. Just me. 6 minutes. 3 times a week. Just me.

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Work life balance

Sitting on the train again, wondering about balance and getting it right. Regular trips to London are a feature of the remote working deal and allow for some much needed thinking time. Another hard week at work has kept me late for childcare duties and has forced work preoccupation to eat into family time.

One evening this week, listening to Rich negotiate the kids into the bath from my study, there was a little knock at the door. 4yo comes in quietly and says ‘come on Rhi, it’s nearly time to stop working’ ‘ok’ I say abruptly, ‘the quicker you leave me, the quicker I will finish.’ ‘Well, maybe I’ll just wait here for you, and if you need to take a call, I’ll be really quiet’. The kid sure knows how to hit my spots. Finally with the work done, I rush up to settle him into bed. I have to bury my face into a cuddle so he doesn’t see my tears. ‘Why is your nose all red?’ he says ‘maybe you’re not very well’.

The kids are in the habit now of knocking the door when they get back from school at around 4. It’s been a welcome break and is my first face to face contact since the school run. I take 10 mins to make a cuppa and hear about their day, something I otherwise miss out on as they quickly forget the details and respond ‘nothing, I can’t remember’.

But a few times it has been a disaster. If I’m on the phone or in the middle of something, it’s obviously not convenient for me to pop out and say hi. Sadly the boys don’t understand my work responsibilities and insist on sitting outside my door screaming (not the ideal soundtrack to a teleconference). There was a particularly bad one the other day, where 4yo lay down outside my door whining while I was on the phone to my boss (and luckily, friend). I stormed upstairs and told him I wouldn’t be allowed to work here anymore and would have to go to London all the time. Cue: horrified, tear stained little face and guilt ridden mammy.

This month’s trip to London has been a success, work achieved, meetings had. It’s good to sit in the same office as my team and share jokes with them. I realised this time that it isn’t the visit to London that feels hectic, it’s the bloody job. The constant, relentless pressure. The endless and ridiculous demands. Since starting the job, I’ve been working at the limits of my capacity, energy and abilities. But there is always something else. I spent the two days in a strange time limbo, not enough time to do all the work, too much away time from the family.

As I walk out if the station into the arms of my mum who is giving me a lift home, I realise that I forgot to take a picture of the train for the boys. And I forgot about the treat I promised them.

The next morning, the kids wash away all my feelings of neglect with massive cuddles and snuggles in front of cartoons. Life feels manageable again, enjoyable even. And they didn’t even ask about their treat.

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