New Year, a new role and a new me, that’s what we all say right, but 2018 really is the year I’m starting with the acceptance I am not a failure and the unknown of where it may take me. You see I spent much of 2017 stressing about this, and when, at the end of the year, I found myself sat in the doctors surgery for the first time ever about to admit just how stressed I’d become I knew I had a decision to make there and then; to return to work after a year’s maternity leave or not.
My second baby, a boy, had arrived and I had planned so many adventures but what I didn’t plan for was the journey I was going to go on myself
; a journey of acceptance that it’s OK to be a stay at home mum, even if it isn’t my first choice. Having worked from leaving college I have been surrounded by likeminded women who want to work and achieve great things in life. I’m now 36 and the thing I’ll happily admit is that I’ve never known what I want to be when I grow up. I have always been lucky that my experiences have led me to each new opportunity and I’ve stayed in that role until the time came to move on to something better. If I told you I’ve worked running two computer shops, became a bridal consultant, worked as a receptionist followed closely by a stint as a PR Coordinator (not forgetting a year out to travel Australia), and then trained on the job in Dubai to become a Nursery Practitioner it doesn’t seem possible without a degree of some description, but it’s all true, I don’t have a degree and I have worked all of these roles. Each of these I loved for periods of time and each shaped me into the person I am today, my time in Dubai was the opportunity that gave me my first real insight as to who I want to be and the types of roles I’d look for in the future, someone who helps to shape the minds of young children to enable them to believe in themselves. The trouble is that over the last five and a half years, and without realising, I lost a lot of my own self-belief as I became a mum first time around, suddenly my world became focussed on helping my daughter find her way and when the time came for me to return to work for the first time ever I took a role that fitted in with childcare and wasn’t solely about my own need to be happy. I’m not the first person to do this, millions of us do, and we often feel like we have little choice. Was it right for me? I’ll come back to that.
I knew early on that this role was a moment in time, a moment that turned into three years and in all honesty could have been much longer had a shift in consciousness not happened. Now with a second child suddenly I found I had become dispensable in my workplace. Let me explain; I didn’t want finding a nursery to take over my maternity leave so I sourced a nursery place early on, I’m organised like this you see, and with this came the reality that with one child in school, already adjusted working hours to accommodate this, I was now needing to juggle my hours once again for the nursery place, without doing so I was going to find myself in the position that my monthly wage would not cover the new costs. I’d done my homework, I needed to finish 45 minutes earlier on one of my working days and had three scenarios in place as to how these hours could be altered, my request was flawless, or at least that’s what I thought. We hear all the time about the categories us mums fit into; the career mum climbing the ladder who is delighted to return to work, the mum who would rather be at home but has no choice other than to work, the mum who is happy to stay at home and many others in between. What about those of us who choose to go to work because we are striving to be a working someone, even if at the end of every month it sees my entire wage and more paid to childcare; does that make me insane? Why work I was asked inappropriately by a work colleague, my response is as simple as the words written; because I like to.
I never imagined at seven months into maternity leave that I would find myself in what was going to be a battle to return to work that literally changed my life, you see it turns out I thought my job was safe, that my employers having previously been of the understanding nature, knowing my husband and I don’t have family close by to help, would once again be willing to accommodate me because they know me, that they even like me; I got it wrong. Feeling backed into a corner I felt I had no choice but to ask for help from my Union to help fight my right to return to work. It wasn’t a pleasant experience; it was time consuming and at times felt very personal. I began to question why I wanted to work and just how different it would be if I became a stay at home mum. My son has been completely different to my daughter; he’s not a fan of sleeping. Ever. He refused bottles which left me solely breastfeeding for a longer period than I had planned for. I was exhausted and found myself only able to focus on feelings of guilt that if I didn’t return to work I would not be bringing in an income to our family home. I was devastated that the hours I was being asked to work meant our son wouldn’t attend the same nursery as his sister therefore not giving him the same start in life and I wondered if I could face the week days with my son for a few years ‘on my own’ until he qualifies for the free nursery hours while my husband works long hours; what would I have to talk to people about other than the mundane tasks of school pick-ups and play groups. I looked in the mirror now almost ten months into my maternity, tears rolling down my face, and not for the first time, as I questioned why it felt like I was taking steps backwards, I was a failure. Why wasn’t being a mum enough? Who was I?
Remember my 45 minutes time difference I set out to adjust to my working pattern; I won. I was ecstatic for maybe an hour, I proved that the changes I was asking for were reasonable and that the reasons I was given for them being turned down were questionable and at times ridiculous. What’s more I was able to see that the colleagues I worked closely with had deemed me dispensable because they thought they’d found my replacement. Reality began to kick in, I was actually going to have to work with these people who 12 months earlier I believed ‘had my back,’ and would be fair. I’d love to tell you that this was my light bulb moment where it all changed but the truth is I knew deep down that I needed to accept that my life was about to change and that I could either go around blaming my workplace for forcing my hand into the decision I was about to make or embrace the reality that this role just like my previous ones had reached its end, and that the next opportunity had been staring me in the face all along; the chance to spend time with my son and nurture him in a way that is different to his sister but one that is right for him. I’m lucky that my husband’s job allows me to stay home, don’t get me wrong we live in a terraced house, there isn’t a flash car on our driveway, there are no exotic holidays and the kids aren’t clothed in designer labels but we are comfortable and unmaterialistic. We live in a society where women are told we can be whoever we want to be and to not rely on men to be the bread winners like our parents’ generation, and I agree wholeheartedly, but I also believe that this stigma is what prevented me, and so many other women from accepting that there may be periods in time where it is perfectly acceptable to be a stay at home mum, it may be but it doesn’t mean its forever and it should be guilt free, after all we are raising a family together.
Earlier I questioned if it is ever Ok to take on a role that isn’t solely about your own happiness and the conclusion I came to is that if you can smile knowing that you are working because it fits in with your family life then you will feel empowered to get up every day. On the day I left the doctors surgery I realised how low I’d become. Was I depressed? Maybe. Had I become anxious? Probably. Was I stressed? Definitely. I was offered sleeping tablets which I turned down; there and then I vowed to end the cloud that was hanging around in my head, and to focus on the future. I now realise that by facing my employees head on it was a process I needed to go through to be able to leave with my head held high, and on my terms. There may not have been career progression ‘up the ladder we all talk about’ but I can clearly see the skills I developed; the ability to stand up for myself, to know my worth and the acceptance that being a full time mum is a role I’m happy to take on because even on the toughest of parenting days it still makes me smile always - and even with no pay the rewards are worth far more than any wage packet working in an environment you feel undervalued. A tuff tray full of cornflakes and broccoli is hardly mundane and the conversations I have on the school run and at playgroups are quite frankly hilarious and often more intelligent than I could have ever had with certain individuals in my last job. There will be other mums in very similar shoes to mine, and what I’d like to say to you is to not be afraid to be the mum that works for you, hold your head up high, raising these small humans is no easy task, it takes stamina and willpower, before we know it they will be on their own path and we’ll get our time back and when we do our CV’s will be rife with skills such as handling strategies, time management and negotiation to say the least.
Early on in my maternity leave I wanted to find a way to visualise my ‘everyday’ so I began posting on Instagram under my family name #thefletcherlife. Now when I look back on my posts I can see that the simplest things in life gain the biggest smiles and with that the notion that this moment in time will soon pass. Learning to enjoy it has been the biggest journey on my maternity leave and as I embrace 2018 along with the unknown comes the self-belief that I lost five and half years ago; it’s back and I’m excited to see where it takes me.
I am a 'wannabe' Nomad who currently lives in Sheffield with my husband and two children. I genuinely love exploring new places but finding time to fit this in is tricky so more often than not I'm found in the closest independent coffee shop because nothing cheers me up better than a decent coffee.