I chose to work and not stay at home with my children. When herself was a baby, I stayed at home, not from choice but because I was looking for a job. I was out of the work force for nearly two years. Those were two tough years. I was living abroad which doesn’t help when you have a small baby. I was a nervous first time mother and I had two friends who were parents and weren’t working and no family in the country. I was really lonely most of the time and really tired all of the time. Babies are demanding and, in my experience, not great company. I can remember counting the hours until Mr. Waffle got home and I still remember the misery of Armistice day which is a holiday in Belgium but not for those who work in the European institutions (they have Europe Day on May 9 instead). So basically, a full day, in November when everything is closed and there is nothing for you and your baby to do except count the hours until Daddy gets home. It’s not a coincidence that I started my blog during this time and it played a big role in saving my sanity. Look, it was basically fine, we had enough money, we were living in a nice part of the world, I was able to fly home to Cork and stay with my family reasonably regularly; but it was hard.
I found a job before the boys were born. It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world in terms of content but its relatively low demand level was a blessing and my colleagues and I were running the Brussels outpost of UK organisations; we were young (at 36, I was the oldest person in the building); we were left to our own devices and we had a lot of fun. I am still in contact with people I knew there and think of my experience very fondly. When I went out on maternity leave with twins, I think they thought that I would never come back. They were so wrong, I’d learnt my lesson.
When we came back to Ireland, the children were 5 and 3. We actually needed my salary as Mr. Waffle was starting up on his own and had no money – possibly the only time since we met when I earned more money than him. We had a complex tapestry of childcare arrangements and it held up alright. When my salary was cut (thank you economic crisis), we had to send the boys to school earlier than we would have liked (they were 3 years and 11 months) because we couldn’t afford the creche fees and the child minder but it was ok. Then when Mr. Waffle started earning a bit more money, I was able to work a 4.5 day week pattern and take four weeks parental leave in the summer. I’m trying to remember when I started doing that, maybe summer 2011. So I had a reasonable balance, I felt. But I wonder whether for the children, it was ever enough. They have all said to me that they really, really wanted to be collected by me every day not just once a week. At some point, we reached a stage where I could have stopped working and we wouldn’t have been financially ship wrecked. We seriously thought about it. But we didn’t. I’m out of parental leave but I am still working a 4.5 day week which is better than many people manage. And I am excited about my new job and, I suppose, the children need me less than ever. But yet, Michael was sick recently and we left him home alone. He wasn’t very sick and Mr. Waffle was able to drop in on him during the morning. As I left for work, Michael said to me, “Sorry to be an inconvenience.” I have to say, I felt absolutely heartbroken. As Mr. Waffle is self-employed, he does almost all of the appointments and events during the day so I don’t even cover that kind of stuff very often. He tells me, as he returns wearily from another trip to the dentist or whatever, that I’m not missing much, but I do feel that I am.
On the other hand, my own mother worked when I was a child. We had a live in childminder and my memory is that sometimes I was collected from school by my mother, but this was reasonably rare and we regarded it as a treat. Mostly I was on the bus (in primary) or on the bike (in secondary). Often, it seemed my return home would be the signal for my mother to depart (sometimes to play golf, I feel). She was an academic and so had more flexible hours than I have. I don’t ever remember being unhappy with the arrangement but then I don’t ever remember my mother feeling even slightly guilty about it either. I wonder whether these things are related. I enjoyed an excellent relationship with my mother and spoke to her pretty much every day of my life until her dementia got too bad to make that possible a couple of years ago. So, you know, I don’t feel that I missed out or that our relationship suffered.
Anyhow, I still think about it a lot. I think I was put off by staying at home with a small baby which is not for me but I did love staying at home with the children when they were slightly older and those summers off seem halcyon in retrospect (though the children do remind me of the time I was so angry with them all that I pretended to drive off in the car and leave them – so maybe not entirely halcyon, can I say that I only turned over the engine and didn’t leave the driveway? Is it still bad?). Am I doing the right thing? I just don’t know, I am trying to do my best for everyone but I do wonder whether I am succeeding.
Incidentally, time Mr. Waffle has spent wondering whether he should give up work to spend more time at home with his children? None.
I packed my suitcase once to move out when I was angry with the children. I am sorry you felt heartbroken when Michael thought of himself as an inconvenience. If it helps, we leave our older ones at home when they are ill. The younger ones go to school unless they are very very ill. I can really relate to your post. I moved to Britain, then had my first child when I barely knew a soul, it was a lonely affair and I remember largely darkness (he is a November baby). I went back to work after 18 weeks unpaid leave. It was easier with the second one but pretty horrendous with the final two. They were 3 and 4 when they came to live with us and I didn’t know what they liked and what they didn’t like. I lost my job to my adoption leave cover, which was awful. I have always worked and I always had some lingering guilt and unease about not being at the school gates or at the French cafe or whatever. Still do. On the other hand I enjoy my work and I enjoy the financial security it brings. I am an academic, have much of the freedom an academic job brings. I missed the past two parents night because I teach in the evenings. I felt the need to write a note for the teacher that I am not a bad mother (I didn’t). Sorry, didn’t mean to make this about myself. I just wanted to say that I very much enjoyed this post, it is good to know that other mums all around the world feel similarly conflicted about motherhood and work. You are doing the right thing. As a regular reader of your blog, I get the impression that your children are well balanced, happy and enjoy life to the full. I call this successful parenting. xx
Chistina, what a nice comment, thank you so much – I particularly appreciate the suitcase packing story!
This post and the last one are such beautiful, poignant pieces of writing. I’m a working mother now, but I spent 10 years at home (from the time my first was born until my youngest was 7 and in school the full day. It’s only 3 years since I went back to work full time, but I relate nonetheless.
Your piece on living away from “home” was just so beautiful. My husband and I lived in three other places around the US before returning to our hometown when our children were three and a newborn, and I feel exactly as you wrote about it. . .knowing every block of every street, which makes everything so nice and familiar, but also makes me inconveniently picky about where we can live and where our children can go to school. Here’s where your two posts converge for me. . .living in our hometown is what finally convinced me to go back to work full time. Because only on two salaries could we afford to live in the neighborhood with the schools that are acceptable to me, for our children! Oh dear. We’ve often said how much easier it was when we lived in cities where we had no preconceived notions, bias, or let’s be honest, neighborhood snobbery.
Anyway, that’s all to say I just really appreciated these two posts. The honesty and glimpse of your world is lovely.
Thanks Kara, what a lovely comment. I think it is something that lots of people struggle with – I’m glad I’m not alone!