Things I didn’t know: part two

Before having a child, I joined into conversations about how working mums are so much more productive than anybody else. How having a fixed end to the day really focusses the mind. How much easier it is to prioritise when you’ve got important priorities out of the office. How you’ll be a better manager, as you can’t micro-manage, you have to delegate for the times you’re away. 

I bought into it. I read articles about it. I came back into the workplace with all guns blazing, ready to pick straight up where I left off. 
An exhausting 10 months later, I call bullshit on my former self. 
It starts with just the maths of it. And I love starting with the maths of it. I work 4 days a week. Each of these days is at least an hour shorter than my pre-pregnancy, energetic days. Unless I was pretty slovenly back then, I can’t just concentrate a bit harder and chat a bit less to make up a day and a half each and every week. I might be more productive if you use the proper definition (output divided by time, or money – I’m paid a day less), but I cannot possibly actually produce more. 
Focussing on the important things means that little things get dropped. A lot of these are fine; but the little things matter. That extra 10 minutes to chat to somebody that you later rely on for a favour. Or, more importantly, might have become an actual friend if you spent a bit more time at the tea point with them, or made it to team drinks. Before the little man, if I’d really needed a hug during the day, I could have found one. Now I have to wait until I get home: it’s a better hug, but the wait is hard. 
Maybe my team appreciates the extra autonomy some days. I’m sure they can’t help but resent it on others. On balance it might work out in all our favour; but on balance means highs and lows that are higher and lower than before. 
So what does this mean? If I’m not as useful as before should I not work? Should my employer not accommodate my demands to make my job fit around my life? 
No. Not even for a second. 
Life will always get in the way of work. It’s probably that work gets in the way of life…but either way round, it’s important for everybody that we allow people to have lives that are complicated, messy, lively and lovely. The stress involved in stopping this is excruciating, and the talent loss is immeasurable. Particularly as a civil servant, we need a workforce that represents the population that it serves. This population is diverse and interesting and unpredictable at times, and our workforce needs to be too.
So why even mention it? If a manager suggested this in a performance review, I would go apoplectic. If my husband tells me to relax or my mum says I might be less ambitious now, I can recite my feminist monologue without thinking. I don’t for a second think my experience applies to every working parent, and I don’t think that my experience will always apply to me. 
I think this is a letter to my former self. I need to apologise to her that I’m slowing down. I need to tell her that it’s ok. That I mind. I mind enough to swap Netflix for emails some evenings; but I don’t mind enough to give up Friday mornings in my pyjamas with a chubby, cuddly boy on my knee. She still lives in my head, this former self, and some days her frustration itches the inner lining of my skull. I need to tell her to chill the fuck out on those days and just leave me be. 
I need to remind her that she used to be kind to distracted colleagues, and ask her to be kind to me. I need her to forgive me for the fact that this isn’t how we’d planned it. And I need to forgive her for being so naive. 

Counting my blessings: choice

Blogs that talk about the struggles of motherhood are important. Rhys was six months old when he first slept through the night: 3 days later I was googling “I’m a terrible mother”. I thought the exhaustion was stopping me from loving every minute of my day with him; without that excuse I was lost. But I found miraculous support online. Funny, affectionate, brutally honest stories that stopped me feeling so alone. 

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in those stories. We’re all on the “I’m so tired/busy/stressed competition line”. And we are those things; but every so often I want to step off, to remind myself of my many, many blessings.
Today’s list is about choice. I made so many choices to get here; so many choices that so many others don’t have. I am spoilt, and I am grateful.
I chose to have a baby. So many people, for a multiple of heart breaking stories would like to make that choice, but can’t. Or, for equally heart breaking reasons, don’t want to, but end up with a child. I stopped taking the pill, put on some lacy underwear, saw two blue lines on a test.
I chose to wind down my job when I became unwieldy. My husband and I attended all our antenatal appointments without any hassle from bosses; I recruited my replacement early, increasingly worked from home and was fussed over kindly when I made it in. Had I felt more energetic, I could have powered through until the last possible day with no more than affectionate warnings from colleagues. 
I chose how long to have off work. Our country is more generous than most; the civil service is particularly generous. Fully paid leave, and then the unquestioned right to unpaid leave made a year an easy decision. Not an easy year; but an easy decision. 
My return to work wasn’t handled perfectly: but I did have some choice in the role I took. It was a little mis-sold, and my pay went wrong, but at no point was I made to feel that I had no options. I dictated my working hours. I didn’t get a lot of help in making sure the job fitted those hours, but, unlike other mums I know, and a dad, I wasn’t pushed and pushed and pushed when I returned from leave until the only option left was resignation. 
I choose to work. We would have to change where we live, and how we live, if I didn’t want to work, but we could do it. My husband wants me to work; my husband pulls his weight. 
These last few weeks have juggled conference calls around ear infections, mild chicken pox and suspected scarlet fever. I’ve wondered what on earth I was doing with my life; whether this is balance, whether this is sustainable, whether this is right. I don’t know the answer: but I know that if I want to change, I have the tools to change. 
Women fought, and died, to make sure I have the right to complain about having to work late at night. There’s been a lot of love in my life that brought me to last Sunday morning, when the little man brought me to tears by saying “Mummy hero” when the big man taught him the word. 
It is tough, but the debt I owe to strangers and friends for allowing me to shape what my life looks like is bigger than anything I can ever repay. I didn’t ask to have a home cooked meal thrown at me; but I did decide to sit in front of the lovely little man in the high chair. I didn’t ask for the argumentative midnight email; but I did choose to sit in front of that screen. I am lucky. I am grateful. Motherhood and employment sometimes feel like chains; but I chose these chains and I wrapped them around myself. And on more and more days they don’t feel like chains. They feel like cuddles and high fives. I am lucky. I am grateful.