I went back to work once before.
The Boy was about ten months old and I returned to a new job – before I went on maternity leave I’d had exactly five weeks in this new role at my old workplace. When I returned nearly a year later, I had to re-learn everything. I was very blessed to be able to go to work without needing to send my boy to nursery. Daddy looked after him on one day and a dear friend on the other. But even though it wasn’t costing us money, and he was with family and close friends, I was wracked with guilt. I felt guilty about all sorts of things: that my husband was sacrificing his only day off, that my friend was having to look after a kamikaze baby while trying to home school her own four kids, that I couldn’t do more days at work, that I wasn’t doing fewer days at work. I felt guilty if I left work early and I felt guilty if I picked the Boy up late. I drove drove drove like the wind to get back home or to my friend’s to pick him up at the end of the day.
Mostly, I felt like I was shirking my responsibility. He was my son. I was his Mummy. I should be looking after him.
After a few months, we decided the situation was not ideal, and as I was getting lots of freelance work in at the time, I stopped teaching and became purely self-employed. I worked while the Boy napped/slept and when he was awake I could spend the time with him.
It is now two years on. A lull in the freelance work and the end of maternity pay caused a financial drought and over the summer we decided something had to be done. I applied for a teaching post and got the job: part time, close to home, mostly in the evening which is easy to cover childcare-wise. I do one morning when a kind friend has the kids until after lunch.
Somehow this second return to work is different. I don’t feel guilty. The kids are loving having a bit of special time with Daddy without me around and they love being at my friend’s house. She has a four year old girl who the Boy is slightly in love with, and a 1 year old daughter who is 9 days older than the Girl. The two babies just adore each other and are so cute together that my friend reports never getting any housework done because she just sits and watches them be adorable.
And I am enjoying having a place where people meet me for the first time without two small children hanging off me. I am just Judith to them, or “Teacher”. Slowly, as I prepare lessons and look through the familiar websites and course books, I am remembering what I loved about this job, why I did it in the first place. I feel I am genuinely making a difference to people’s lives and to my community.
Best of all, I get to take my fun bag with me! There are no nappies in it. Just my wallet, my phone, my ID card and some real actual make up.
So I don’t feel guilty. I feel great. Even the Boy’s new favourite phrase doesn’t make me feel bad: “Oh Mama,” he says, throwing his arms around me, “Zo gemist enenene werk!” [I missed you so much enenene work] I see it as a sign of a healthy attachment. He loves having me around, he misses me when I am gone and is pleased when I return – but he is clearly not distraught or worried that he has been abandoned.
Really, apart from an initial settling in period at my friend’s house back when he was ten months old, he has always been quite content and secure and not half as mummy-ish as I imagine him to be. As for my daughter, she didn’t even need settling. She merrily starts waving me goodbye as soon as I put my coat on, even if she is coming with me and we’re just popping to the shops. And so I have come to realise that two years ago, it was me who had the separation anxiety. I didn’t want to give up being a full time mother just yet.
This time, though, the time is right to broaden my horizon again. This time, I really am ready to go back to work.