Oh god, the endless dilemmas and self judgement of being a working mother.
It was our Christmas work party on Friday. It had been an insanely busy week (again) and I knew I was going to have to go home and work afterwards so I was in a bit of a low mood. Add to the fact that I hadn’t seen my little girl properly all week because I had needed to stay late every night for work, and you can see why I wasn’t fully in the Christmas spirit.
But I tried to rally. I like the people I work with and it’s always entertaining to see them drunk (I wasn’t drinking due to the aforementioned work requirement). It can also be very enlightening – I’ve had some real home truths thrown at me in the course of Christmas parties of yore, but this year was particular interesting. It turned out that the constant theme was to be, ‘Oh you’re such a role model for working mums”. “You’re an ‘Alpha Mum'” someone said to me.
What does that even mean, ‘Alpha Mum’? I’m not even going to start trying to work that one out, but I got the general message. I have a daughter. I still work full time doing a demanding job. I’m am therefore a ‘role model’ in that I’m proving that this be done.
Hmmm. Yeah. I have conflicting feelings about this one to say the least. On the one hand, I do find it hard and stressful and challenging trying to juggle all the aspects of my life. And in weeks like I’ve just had where I’ve barely seen my child, frankly it sucks. So it’s nice to have that struggle recognised, I won’t lie. But on the other hand – I honestly never set out to be any kind of role model and I’m really not sure I want to be.
The reasons for why I work full time are many but in essence there are two key factors – one, right now we need the money. A cut in my pay cheque would make a significant impact on our lives right now (i.e our house extension wouldn’t get a roof). And two, I have this thing in my head that says I’m SUPPOSED to continue ‘do it all’ and if I reduced my hours at work, then this would somehow be an admission of failure. It would be weak.
This is, of course, complete bollocks.
And that’s my issue. I don’t actually think that what I’m trying to do, which is keep it all hanging together whilst relying on the support network of people I have behind the scenes to stop it all falling apart, is really something to aspire to. What I actually think is that work places should be striving to become more flexible so that they are accommodating the working parents, rather than the working parents desperately trying to accommodate the rigid working structure.
And I have a feeling that by being perceived as a role model for ‘making it work’ what I’m actually doing is encouraging the narrative that this is the way it should be. You can go off, throw a tiny human hand grenade into your life which will blow everything to pieces so you never recognise yourself again (in a mostly good way, obvs) and yet you will still come back to work and carry on like it never happened.
Yeah, thanks but no. I don’t think that’s the way it should be at all. And yet, here I am. Apparently a role model for exactly this! Dammit! What am I supposed to do with this info? Not much I suppose. Carry on the way I am for now. Keep talking about how important it was for me to be able to shift my hours so I could see my daughter (I pushed my day back by a whole 15 minutes so I could catch an earlier train. Not exactly ground breaking I know, but I’m still grateful to my employer for agreeing) and also work towards being in a position when perhaps I can have some influence in the conversations that happen about how to support and encourage working parents.
Oh, and cut myself some fucking slack. Your life has to work for you at the end of the day, not the other way round. And it is not a weakness or failure to do what you have to do to make that happen. It is a huge show of strength. Trust me – I’m working towards getting to that place.
No doubt when I manage, I’ll be a role model for that too!