Destination: Some Place Else

…to get away for if only a moment

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39. The push, the pull, of being a working mum.

I’m in thin air. So high up, all I can see is tiny pedestrians and roof tops below. There is no one up here to help. It is just me, alone, with my thoughts and my rapid, beating heart. I walk along a needle thread rope that could snap if I put a foot wrong. I sway and feel giddy at the thought.

Delicately, ever so carefully I move, one step, then another and hope that I don’t fall, that I don’t cave with the pressure. I look back to where I was before and hope that my heavy eyes won’t close, that my weary body can actually make it to the other side in one piece. Focus. Breathe. OR- fail, but is that an option?

No, I am not a circus performer; dare devil or actual tight rope walker, though one might argue that life as a parent can be a combination of the three. I’d even go as far as to say we are all magicians at times; I mean our powers of persuasion and misdirection are second to none. ‘Here bubba, take my phone so I can have my keys back’…..‘if you’re a good girl, we can go to the park’….you learn to compromise, you learn to sacrifice, you learn to be an entertainer, a caregiver, a negotiator, a juggler.

But in fact for me, this fine balance, this tug and pull, has become my new daily order. This is my life as a full time working mum. But can I be as bold to say that maybe it was also as a stay at home mum? Because really don’t we live in a world full of contradictions and expectations, especially as mothers- about what is expected of us and who we should be? How we should behave and react? What the idealism of good parenting is…..

I mean I have certainly felt pressure to be it all. Should I:

Be a stay at home mum who cooks, cleans, nurtures, teaches and solely focuses all her attention and time on her home and child, with no time to spare for herself. One, who also has the time to work on her post baby body, fits into her pre baby clothes and is a yummy mummy to the fullest. It is not all sipping latte’s at the local cafe with other mums, it is also that moment when you find yourself knee deep in washing and look to the still massive pile and think, or could I:

Be a working mother who earns, learns, inspires, grows, perseveres, furthers herself, leads, all whilst often on little sleep, little understanding and an even more dwindling capacity for any spare time for herself. But then who also has to come home and deal with the duties as above.

But still:

Be a loving and devoted partner who listens, who shares, who understands, a lover not a fighter, one who does not now equate jumping into the sack, with getting into bed and passing out from unrelenting tiredness.

And you ask who is putting this crazy pressure on me? Pressure that I know many other mothers feel, from our continual rants with each other……our partners or husbands??

Well for me it is far from it, he couldn’t be more amazing, though I’m sure he wishes my tiredness wasn’t an excuse for my lower than usual sex drive. He couldn’t be more supportive and willing to be the ‘be it all dad.’ He cooks, he cleans, he dotes over our daughter and is patient with me when I am not always patient with other things.

Instead, I think the two greatest foes are societal pressure to be a ‘certain type of mother-the all encompassing kind’ and in turn, our own critique of ourselves as mothers. You see it in the way celebrities bounce back post baby and then we all curse ourselves for not being able to follow suit. You see it in the debate between breast feeding or formula feed babies, co-sleepers or cot sleepers, child care or home care children, working mums or stay at home mums-it is constant and it is overwhelming. Just becoming a new parent is full on enough, let alone having to take in all the other noise.

There is often flack if you stay at home; there is flack if you go back to work. So what is right?? I’ve certainly had plenty for the latter-‘but how will you cope?’ ‘Won’t you be tired’ ‘won’t you miss your baby?’ ‘Wow, I couldn’t do it, especially not full time’.

The answer should be simple, but often it is difficult for some to grapple. It should be about what works for each individual and family. For my family, even before we were an extended family, we knew our model would be what suited us.

That sometimes daddy would work more and be the breadwinner. Then other times mummy would too (ok maybe 3-4 days a week would be unreal). Since we both freelance and work in industries that can be, well, elusive at times-things would have to be interchangeable. That as parents, aside from childcare and loving grandparents to help out, we would share the stay at home parenting. As much as it has been full on for both of us, it is actually something that has been important to us from the beginning-not just in an earning capacity, but as a family unit. I now love hearing about dads who are staying at home more to look after their children. None of this daddy day care stuff, it is knowing that fathers can do an equally amazing, if not better job, being the ones at home with the kiddies.

Money is always at the forefront of most family’s minds and the cold hard reality is, that to survive in this world, you need at least some of it. Things change, as do jobs, people go back to study, people buy houses, cars, go on holidays, get sick, unexpected bills comes up and people have babies-so life needs to have a certain flexibility to it. But that is also what makes it exciting. Especially when something as beautiful as having a baby does happen.

I wouldn’t change anything, as it gave us Bonnie who is the cutest thing ever and I can’t even explain in words how much I love her. She is the cheekiest monkey, a little adventurer and giggle machine with already I can tell a big, loving heart. But of course, along with being the most incredibly journey, babies can come with pressures.

Before I was working, I have to admit that there were moments when I thought, gosh my hubby has it easy, going to work, getting some time away –especially on the days that were filled with snotty noses, constant clinging and crying, the unknowing of what it was and what to do, the food being thrown back in my face, the being covered in vomit or poo, the helplessness, the aches, the pains.

The first few weeks back to work, I did think, wow I actually do know how to talk like an adult and not refer to pooey nappies, sleepless nights and anything baby related (although now since there are other new mothers- I often revert back-especially over our morning coffee run **an essential for working parents**). I liked that even though I was working and was often really busy, I had time to be myself outside of being a mother. That I could still do my job and do it well.

But then the mummy guilt kicked in. The- I should be with her and not at work, but then the- we need to earn money, but then the- I actually really love my job and the industry I work in and if I stay out of it for too long I might not have any career to go back to. Or the hearing about my friends who were new mothers and spending time with their babies and I wasn’t or we weren’t doing it all together.

And then the bit that I find the hardest-the missing her part.

She got sick on nearly the first day I started back at full time work and of course it fell on my husband to look after her. Like most babies who also go to childcare, she would get better, then get knocked back with another virus. My husband has had to be the one to take her to the doctors, and I even had to take a day off in my first two weeks (I am lucky to have a very understanding boss-who is also a mum of a young bub). I feel awful as being her mother, I feel this inane sense that I need to be there to hold her, nurture her and comfort her. Leaving the house if I can hear her crying, or if she is clinging onto me has been so hard and every day I miss her like crazy. There have certainly been tears on my end and request for videos and photos of her when possible. But, it has also come with a trust in both my husband and family and know that they care for her with the same capacity and would do anything for her. It’s a learning game for all of us. But I know she is happy and healthy (well most of the time-bloody childcare illness) and that is the most important thing.

I won’t lie, the missing part hasn’t gotten any easier, but I have learnt to adjust. You learn to make it all about quality time than quantity time with lots of laughter, cuddles and kisses. You realise that all those times your partner left for work, he felt it too. That after a massive day at work, he would be exhausted and come home to a probably half crazed wife who would immediately hand him our baby and that maybe he just needed a second to get changed, maybe go to the toilet, before settling in to start the night time routine of dinner, bath, bottle, bed and cleaning up for the next day. But, with all of that you also begin to appreciate each other and know that you are in it together-you’re a team and that’s why you got together in the first place. Many people do it on their own and I am amazed by you all out there.

It’s only 5 weeks till I finish on this gig and have a month off and know that there will be more time for myself and for my family. But I also know that when I return for the next one-that before work and after work, on the weekends and spare time I want to take in as much of Bonnie as possible (and remember it is important to have time for myself and my husband). It’s taking in her beautiful smiles, the way she nuzzles into my neck when she is tired, or how she now kisses me back, or how she has just learnt to walk and wants desperately to practice and is so proud of herself when she nails it, how she bops up and down when there is even a chance of a beat (whether that is our hand tapping or us playing her some old school records), how if we distract her she will eat really well, her constant chatter (even though its more dada that mama at the moment), her desire to crawl into every nook of the house even if it means she gets stuck, her love of climbing up couches and trying (with us running towards her madly) to climb down, her giggles when I tickle her or her giggles at nothing at all, her intrigue at the new and the way I see it all new too, her love of other babies and children, her awe in the simple, her snuggles first thing in the morning when we bring her into bed with us, her love of her daddy, the list goes on. Any angst I have all melts away when I walk in the door after work and she puts her hands in the air and with a smile waits for me to pick her up.

So yes, there are days when I feel like I’m on that tightrope all alone, so tired after a big day at work. But then I look to the other mothers around me (and dads) and know we are doing it for all the right reasons. For providing a good life for our children and ourselves, furthering our minds (even though restless and sleepless at times) and our industries, learning from and teaching others. And you know what, on the other side, on other days, there is no rope at all. I look around to my husband, my family and friends, my support at work and know they are all helping carry me, because they care about me and my family and that is worth its weight in gold.