Some say it is inevitable, that compromise between your career and children must be made when you become a mother. In some circles it’s widely accepted that your career will suffer a set-up, perhaps temporarily, perhaps longer term. When I was in my twenties, I thought adopting in my 50’s was the best option for me to have a family. I grew up in an unorthodox setting, so the idea of adoption being a part of my life came naturally to me. And I figured if I delayed adopting until my career was established I would be balancing out the tug between creating a family and forging a career. No, I never thought I could have it all, certainly not with the career in consulting I thought I was destined for.
Fast forward a few years, well, a decade actually. And here I am as a mother to my own darling son. Why the change of heart you may ask? Well, I could tell you that in that decade so much of life has happened that I’ve had to reassess what really matters to me. But the truth is, I didn’t know what was important to me until I lost it. Life hits hard, death brushes too close, too many times, and you’re forced to take stock. For me the numbers came up in favour of a family, and it is a decision I’m eternally grateful for each night I go to sleep. And so that leaves me wondering, can I have it all? Can I manage a career and motherhood? What challenges await me? What short term sacrifices am I going to have to make? And what exactly does short term look like? Is that 2 years, 5 years or 10 years? A career is a long timespan, and to not lose hope it is important to pan out a bit and have a bird’s eye view. Anything narrower and you’ll risk getting upset over the little things.
In the months I have been a mother I have learnt that there are compromises about my son’s wellbeing I’m not prepared to make. I have learnt that I’m keen to prioritise a solid foundation that’s centred around a happy childhood that will serve as a springboard for him for the rest of his life. And for me that means being present for him. I also learned halfway through maternity leave that I need my own drive, ambition and achievements quite outside of my son to keep sane and grounded. Or I will implode. The postpartum period is precarious for a whole raft of reasons, and maintaining your well-being as a sleep-deprived new mother is near well impossible. For me it very quickly became apparent that I needed something to hold on to. And so I cut my maternity leave short and went back to work. Of course, it helped that we were in the middle of a pandemic and working from home. So I turned the snug into a home office and set about creating some routine around working for two hours and spending time with my son around his naps and meal times. Was it hard? You bet it was! Every cry that I heard pierced through me, especially because I knew I could settle him much faster, with far less fuss. But soon enough it became easier for the both of us, and while the darned pandemic rages on we continue our little dance of working from home versus existing as a young family with me present throughout his day.
One of the positive things to come out of the pandemic is that we all now find ourselves reconsidering our work/life patterns. No more commute time for those of us able to work from home means being present for leisurely breakfast and also being able to do bedtime without a glitch. It also means scheduling our working days with a little bit more flexibility. All of a sudden the traditional 9 to 5 doesn’t have to be the standard order. Can I schedule my day so I work around his naps? What about late at night while he sleeps? Is that an option? Luckily for me these really are feasible options. So, short term, in the next six months to a year, this is precisely what will happen. It hardly feels a compromise. But what about the longer term?
I’m not sure where this propensity came from, but I’ve alway been a non-conformist. Living my life according to my own set of rules has always come more naturally to me; no pressure to do what others do, always preferring to think outside the box and do what may not necessarily be the standard thing to do. I must admit I don’t have all the answers, what I feel may be a good idea could turn out very much in need of refinement in practice. But one thing is for sure, I am braver for being a mother. I take more chances, bolder chances, and I’m a lot less worried about criticism and failing. So I come out swinging with my plans and course-correct if I need to, instead of being stuck in a state of analysis-paralysis.
And so some of my bold plans involve using traditional childcare means, but in unorthodox ways to make being a present working mother an option for me. The flexible working day will feature heavily, along with an au pair and on-demand sitters and nannies. I particularly like the Bubble service for those based in the UK. That’s the medium term planned for. Longer term? Well now, all bets are off. And I’m quite excited to discover what a fulfilling endeavour looks like for me in future. The beautiful thing about growth is that sometimes it really does change you, for the better. So my definition of career is shaping up to be a little different for now, but I will nevertheless continue being a working mother, because that is important to me. It is perhaps also important for a much bigger course; to help shift the narrative for the better for working mothers everywhere.
In the meantime the plan is to tackle the medium term with great enthusiasm and a semi-solid plan that is as fluid as life itself, and define our own version of a happy and healthy family. I imagine that over time my son will become more independent, will want to explore the world a bit more, make friends and play quite away from mummy, and when that time comes I too will be ready to let him venture out. Of course, that might just also buy me more time to focus on that “career” longer term.