Full disclosure – I’m writing this from the perspective of a childless woman. I may very well have no right to weigh in on a career and family conversation, because as far as my genes go, at present they end with me. It’s not supposed to be like this though, because you see, I have “Mummy DNA”. That is, every cell in my body screams out to be a mum. If I’m shopping, and there’s a baby in a trolley, I will make faces at it to make it giggle. I have 3 nieces and a nephew (as well as friends’ babies that I am and ‘auntie’ to) so the idea of actually having a small army of tiny people running my life doesn’t scare me. Yet I’m not a mother yet, mostly down to family/career fear.
“I want to do all the fun stuff like play groups, baby swimming lessons, walking the baby round town in a dinosaur costume – the usual…”
Fear #1 – What if we can’t afford this? My partner is a freelance artist, who (for medical reasons) can’t “just get a job in call centre”. So, more often than not, we’re a one salary household – that salary being mine. We just about manage to pay all the bills with me working full time. We would certainly begin to struggle when my salary went to 90%. By the time I was on statutory maternity pay, we would have had our house repossessed. So yes, I’m a bit scared the big job won’t come in for my other half, and we just can’t afford me to have the time off, let alone the extra human.
Fear #2 – Will I be a bad mother if I go back after 6 months? Normally people can take around a year off to enjoy time with their new addition, but again, we probably can’t afford it, so the only option will be back to work before SMP kicks in. And although I’ll enjoy being back in the routine of work, will I feel guilty that I’m missing that valuable time with baby? Will I feel well enough to go back and be fully recovered? Plus, I want to do all the fun stuff like play groups, baby swimming lessons, walking the baby round town in a dinosaur costume – the usual…
Fear #3 – Will I be a bad mother if I go back full time? Now, this fear is based on two elements, the first being, I am an ambitious career woman. I should point out that I hate the term “career woman” and it was painful to type it! I don’t feel like I’m at the top of my game yet. I still want to be a manager, possibly a consultant. I want to have enough experience that people ask me to do talks or be their mentor. And maybe I can do that on part time hours, but in the position I’m in now I feel like all my work will have been for nothing, and coming back part time will set me back. The second part is (at the risk of repeating myself) missing valuable time with the baby. Being able to spend quality time raising them. Being able to walk them to school (when the time comes). Attending their shows and sports days. I want to be that mum, but I also want to be that aspirational woman at work.
“I should point out that I hate the term ‘career woman’ and it was painful to type it!”
Fear #4 – What if they can cope without me? This is the big one, and actually nothing to do with the family itself. I’ve got a lot of plates spinning at the moment – I make up a third of my department and I take on some of the managerial duties, I’m the communications lead and secretary for the UK and Ireland Women’s Network and I’m a communications liaison for the EMEA Women’s Leadership Council – and I love it. I love the responsibility, the work and the opportunities. I also love the recognition I get when I do a good job – it makes me feel like the different groups “couldn’t manage without me”. But of course, they could. And they would. And if I went off, someone/s would take over my different bits of work and make a fine job of it. And when I came back, the job might have been so fine, that they don’t want me back at all. So again, set back fear.
Now, the good news is, I spend lots of time talking to women who are mothers who have managed their work and life beautifully. They have the child and the job of their dreams. So although I know it’s not impossible, it’s still a scary thing to think about!