When my firstborn daughter was 3 months old, I went back to work two days a week. I was 23 years old, and had only been working for a year since graduating university when I had her. So my husband and I decided that I would work part time, while my daughter stayed with my mother for one day a week and with him on the other.
It was my choice at the time, although in hindsight it was not an easy choice, and one I now know I would make differently if given the chance. This was the start of my life as a ‘working’ mum, and since then I have had two more babies and various part time jobs.
This year saw the start of a new chapter in my life – that of having all three children in full time school. This was it. I’d finally made it! No more expressing at work, worrying about nap times, or having to work a full day after minimal sleep. Working in paid employment would be so much easier with everyone in school. Or so I thought.
In reality, I now have no days in which I’m home to ‘catch up’ on the housework (although let’s be realistic – it doesn’t matter how many hours you spend at home with or without children, the washing will never, ever end). When one of my kids is sick, I miss a day of work and don’t get paid. I’ve missed assemblies and sports days. I haven’t done parent help in a while. I’ve also left sobbing children at school, or with babysitters, all the while trying to hold back my own tears of guilt. I’m not complaining, this is my choice. And that’s ok.
On a number of occasions this year while sitting outside of pre-primary with my fellow school mums, I’ve had friends (who don’t work in paid employment) comment to me on how they don’t know how I do it. My standard response is, “some days, not very well”. Because that’s the truth. But you know what? While there certainly are extra challenges with being a ‘working’ mum, it can be just as challenging being at home full time with kids.
We are all ‘working’ mums, and our days often start before the sun rises. Feeding, comforting, training, dressing, educating, supporting, refereeing, cleaning and caring. And that’s all before anyone even leaves the house. And as mums, when we’re sitting together at school or playgroup commenting on how tired we are, my tired is not more justified than yours just because I happen to get paid for some of the work I do during the day.
Whether you’re at home during the day, working part time or full time, volunteering or getting paid, we are all in the front lines of motherhood together. We are all equally valuable and we are all doing our best for our families. So the next time you see a tired mum, ask her about her day, and sit with her in solidarity, even when her choices may be different to your own.
Because sometimes, I don’t know how any of us do it. But we do.