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.