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No Going Back

1
I read a fab post recently on Selfish Mother (where else?) about one woman’s decision not to return to work when her mat leave with baby number three finished. As I read it, and commented, it got me thinking about my own decision to step out of the world of paid work.

My eldest daughter will be eight this week, and I have no idea where the time has gone a) since I first held that tiny little bundle and realised that life as I knew it had gone forever, and b) since I last did a day of paid work in an office. As I was 21 when I graduated and got my

SelfishMother.com
2
first job, and had my eldest a month after my 28th birthday, I have now been ‘not’ working for longer than my entire pre-baby career. I like to think these thoughts at 3am when trying to get back to sleep after re-settling the toddler, just to really terrify myself.

This wasn’t necessarily my plan. I had a good degree, I’d worked hard, and I was progressing fast up the career ladder in the exciting world of healthcare regulation. When I went on maternity leave I was a head of department, responsible for over 40 staff and a £15m annual budget.

SelfishMother.com
3
I had meetings, wrote reports, presented papers, carried out appraisals, wore smart clothes and high heels, and quite often got drunk with my colleagues at the end of another stressful day. To say that the transition from that to being on my own with a baby who thought sleeps was for wimps, who took the concept of breastfeeding on demand to whole new levels and who bitterly resented any attempt to be put down in her bouncy chair or playgym or Moses basket, ever, was a shock wouldn’t quite cover it.

For those first few months I was desperate to get

SelfishMother.com
4
back to work. I loved my daughter. Loved her with a passion and intensity I couldn’t have imagined, but I had no idea what I was doing, and I just wanted to get back to something I knew I was good at. Something where, occasionally, someone told me I was doing a good job, where I could tick off goals met and targets reached and where nothing smelt of curdled milk.

But as the time for having That Conversation with my boss crept closer, my compulsion to get back to the office slowly but surely melted away. My little girl was still a Velcro baby sleep

SelfishMother.com
5
refusenik, but we had started to establish a rhythm to our days, and I just couldn’t imagine not being with her. She was getting more interesting too; crawling, pulling herself up, starting to communicate, and having battled my way through those early days of scream-boob-sleep repeat, I didn’t want someone else to swoop in and get the first steps and first words. There was also the not-so-little matter of finding affordable childcare that worked for us. At that point my husband worked 200 miles away from our house. He spent two nights a week away,
SelfishMother.com
6
and had some very early starts and late finishes. Before maternity leave I had been at my desk by 9am and rarely left before 7pm. Throw in an hour’s commute each way, and you were looking at 12 hours of childcare, which didn’t seem to exist and which didn’t feel the right thing for my daughter anyway. However, part time didn’t feel like the right thing for me or my team at work. My job wasn’t part-time – it was full-time, full-on, busy, and I felt that the only effect of going part-time would be to halve my earnings and double my stress
SelfishMother.com
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levels.

So, I quit. We were lucky to be able to (just about) afford to make that decision. Some of my friends were supportive, some were critical, some were envious. I was told that I wouldn’t be a good role model for my daughter if I didn’t work. I was told it was alright for me to be able to laze around at home while my husband supported me. I was told I would never regret it.

And I never have. Sure, I miss the office gossip and the long lunches on a Friday and the chance to do a wee by myself. Not to mention the salary. But, for me, leaving

SelfishMother.com
8
full-time paid work has opened far more doors than it has closed. I have been there for first steps, first words, first trips to A&E. I have experienced all the snot, tears and tantrums, but also all the cuddles and kisses and adventures. I feel firmly rooted in my community because I’m living in it 24/7 rather than commuting in and out.

When my eldest was 2, my MIL offered to babysit one afternoon a week so that I could start work on the novel I’d had an idea for. That novel, Two for Joy, was published just after my daughter turned 4, and

SelfishMother.com
9
my second book, To Have and to Hold was published a year or so later when I was pregnant with my second child. The past couple of years I’ve been back in those hazy, crazy early days with my youngest daughter, but now the dust is settling and I am well on the way to completing the first draft of my third novel. I love having a creative outlet for myself which I can fit around my daughters’ needs.

For me, I can’t imagine going back, and I am sure that this is the right answer for me and my family, but I believe so strongly that there is no

SelfishMother.com
10
one-size-fits all approach. I have friends who have made a whole spectrum of decisions after having children, some made freely and some forced upon them by circumstances – from returning to work full-time, to going part-time, to working flexibly or from home, to starting their own business, to becoming a full-time stay-at-home parent. All these children are fiercely loved by their parents, and they’re all thriving.  I found it more than hurtful to be told I wasn’t setting my daughter a good example because I had left work to be with her, and I would
SelfishMother.com
11
never dream of telling a mum who worked full-time that she was doing something wrong by sending her child to nursery. I honestly believe it’s time to ditch the guilt and the worries about how you will be perceived and embrace the choices you make. Let’s put the energy we could have spent judging other parents into pushing for affordable housing, subsidised childcare and flexible working so that the ability to achieve that work-life balance is a realistic option for all of us.

 

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- 2 Mar 17

I read a fab post recently on Selfish Mother (where else?) about one woman’s decision not to return to work when her mat leave with baby number three finished. As I read it, and commented, it got me thinking about my own decision to step out of the world of paid work.

My eldest daughter will be eight this week, and I have no idea where the time has gone a) since I first held that tiny little bundle and realised that life as I knew it had gone forever, and b) since I last did a day of paid work in an office. As I was 21 when I graduated and got my first job, and had my eldest a month after my 28th birthday, I have now been ‘not’ working for longer than my entire pre-baby career. I like to think these thoughts at 3am when trying to get back to sleep after re-settling the toddler, just to really terrify myself.

This wasn’t necessarily my plan. I had a good degree, I’d worked hard, and I was progressing fast up the career ladder in the exciting world of healthcare regulation. When I went on maternity leave I was a head of department, responsible for over 40 staff and a £15m annual budget. I had meetings, wrote reports, presented papers, carried out appraisals, wore smart clothes and high heels, and quite often got drunk with my colleagues at the end of another stressful day. To say that the transition from that to being on my own with a baby who thought sleeps was for wimps, who took the concept of breastfeeding on demand to whole new levels and who bitterly resented any attempt to be put down in her bouncy chair or playgym or Moses basket, ever, was a shock wouldn’t quite cover it.

For those first few months I was desperate to get back to work. I loved my daughter. Loved her with a passion and intensity I couldn’t have imagined, but I had no idea what I was doing, and I just wanted to get back to something I knew I was good at. Something where, occasionally, someone told me I was doing a good job, where I could tick off goals met and targets reached and where nothing smelt of curdled milk.

But as the time for having That Conversation with my boss crept closer, my compulsion to get back to the office slowly but surely melted away. My little girl was still a Velcro baby sleep refusenik, but we had started to establish a rhythm to our days, and I just couldn’t imagine not being with her. She was getting more interesting too; crawling, pulling herself up, starting to communicate, and having battled my way through those early days of scream-boob-sleep repeat, I didn’t want someone else to swoop in and get the first steps and first words. There was also the not-so-little matter of finding affordable childcare that worked for us. At that point my husband worked 200 miles away from our house. He spent two nights a week away, and had some very early starts and late finishes. Before maternity leave I had been at my desk by 9am and rarely left before 7pm. Throw in an hour’s commute each way, and you were looking at 12 hours of childcare, which didn’t seem to exist and which didn’t feel the right thing for my daughter anyway. However, part time didn’t feel like the right thing for me or my team at work. My job wasn’t part-time – it was full-time, full-on, busy, and I felt that the only effect of going part-time would be to halve my earnings and double my stress levels.

So, I quit. We were lucky to be able to (just about) afford to make that decision. Some of my friends were supportive, some were critical, some were envious. I was told that I wouldn’t be a good role model for my daughter if I didn’t work. I was told it was alright for me to be able to laze around at home while my husband supported me. I was told I would never regret it.

And I never have. Sure, I miss the office gossip and the long lunches on a Friday and the chance to do a wee by myself. Not to mention the salary. But, for me, leaving full-time paid work has opened far more doors than it has closed. I have been there for first steps, first words, first trips to A&E. I have experienced all the snot, tears and tantrums, but also all the cuddles and kisses and adventures. I feel firmly rooted in my community because I’m living in it 24/7 rather than commuting in and out.

When my eldest was 2, my MIL offered to babysit one afternoon a week so that I could start work on the novel I’d had an idea for. That novel, Two for Joy, was published just after my daughter turned 4, and my second book, To Have and to Hold was published a year or so later when I was pregnant with my second child. The past couple of years I’ve been back in those hazy, crazy early days with my youngest daughter, but now the dust is settling and I am well on the way to completing the first draft of my third novel. I love having a creative outlet for myself which I can fit around my daughters’ needs.

For me, I can’t imagine going back, and I am sure that this is the right answer for me and my family, but I believe so strongly that there is no one-size-fits all approach. I have friends who have made a whole spectrum of decisions after having children, some made freely and some forced upon them by circumstances – from returning to work full-time, to going part-time, to working flexibly or from home, to starting their own business, to becoming a full-time stay-at-home parent. All these children are fiercely loved by their parents, and they’re all thriving.  I found it more than hurtful to be told I wasn’t setting my daughter a good example because I had left work to be with her, and I would never dream of telling a mum who worked full-time that she was doing something wrong by sending her child to nursery. I honestly believe it’s time to ditch the guilt and the worries about how you will be perceived and embrace the choices you make. Let’s put the energy we could have spent judging other parents into pushing for affordable housing, subsidised childcare and flexible working so that the ability to achieve that work-life balance is a realistic option for all of us.

 

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I'm author of novels 'Two For Joy' and 'To Have and to Hold' and mum to two daughters aged ten and four. As well as writing, and my children, I love reading, cooking, eating and exploring London (and further afield when I get the chance). I was born and brought up in Liverpool, studied English at Oxford University, and now live in East London with my husband, daughters and cat.

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