You eagerly counted down your last days at work before starting maternity leave and spent the last few months enjoying every second of both parenthood and not being in the office. But the day is fast approaching when you have to leave your precious bundle in the arms of another and begin the new life of a working parent.
‘Parents all over the world do this every day’ you say ‘ it can’t be that tough’ you say, while flicking through those glossy lifestyle magazines, reading about the high-flying exec that successfully juggles her career and three children making it sound oh so simple! But in truth, unless you have an extremely supportive family to help with childcare at the drop of a hat or a healthy bank account to pay for round-the-clock nannies and school holiday clubs, the reality of being a working parent can hit hard for some. From sick stained work suits, rusks on your reports, tears at nursery to continuous guilt, here’s what they don’t tell you about being a working parent… (but don’t worry, it’s totally normal!)
Nothing prepares you for that first day
Whether you’re leaving your little prince or princess with relatives, nanny, childminder or nursery, nothing can prepare you for that first day back at work; it’s one of the hardest you’ll experience. Expect tears. From you, not your child. If they cry when you leave, you’ll cry and feel like a terrible parent. When they don’t cry, you cry anyway, sit in the car outside for 10 minutes sobbing that your baby won’t even miss you and conclude you therefore must be a terrible parent.
Cut your getting ready time by 90%
Forget snoozing your alarm, jumping in the shower, blow-drying your hair, putting on make-up and enjoying your morning coffee. With a little one either up at the crack of dawn demanding breakfast or refusing to wear anything you try and put them in (they do it on purpose, they know you’re leaving them I’m sure!) you’ll need to plan your mornings with military precision. And didn’t you know, kids just lurrrve emptying out the contents of your bathroom cabinet while you’re taking a shower? Expect all your tampons to be opened and your expensive moisturiser smeared in their hair. Instead, opt for an evening shower, learn to love any clothes that are just clean (or if you’re feeling brave, try and pull off that sick splodge on your jacket as a ‘designer flourish’) and learn about the joys of dry shampoo!
Fancy another mortgage?
Most working parents are so, mainly out of necessity. Although we like the idea of contributing to the money pot, interacting with other adults and having an identity other than ‘little Freddie’s mum’, very few manage to actually get that balance. If you’re returning to work full time and therefore needing full time childcare, expect to pay. A lot. In reality, you could probably have had a second mortgage, (holiday home in Spain yes please!) or you may even pay more in childcare than your actual mortgage – which is pretty gutting. So add that to your ever increasing energy bills, stagnant wages and rising petrol costs and it’s a pretty scary chunk of money to find every month, but this is your child’s safety and well-being we’re talking about so you grin and bear it.
Expect a 14 hour day, with the pay of 7 hours, actually 3.5 if you’re paying childcare
Remember when you had a tough day at work and you’d come home, drop your bag and head straight for the fridge for a cold glass of wine and put your feet up? Yeah, well forget that. Replace it with a frantic drive to nursery/childminders, a collection of a tired and grouchy child who 9 times out of 10 doesn’t seem pleased to see you and then get ready for your night shift. You’ll try your best to think of something healthy and imaginative to eat that everyone will like (a move rarely successfully pulled off) as the little one has a tantrum because their favourite Peppa Pig or Thomas Tank plate is dirty in the dishwasher. All as you get the bath run, the morning dishes cleared away and then your little one is bathed and ready for bed.
If you’re lucky and they’re a good sleeper, you’ll probably put them down and start cleaning away the dinner dishes, finally sitting down around 9pm. By that point, you’re too tired to watch the shows you’ve saved on your sky planner and head to bed yourself.
Jealous colleagues and guilt
Now we’ve established you work 14+ hours a day and take home around 3.5 hours of pay, you’ll probably be surprised that some of your work colleagues will actually think you have it easy! After all, you’ll leave work on time every day, have days off when your child is sick, have the option to ask for flexible hours, skip off mid-afternoon when the nursery call to say little Martha has a temperature – what a blast!
They won’t see the before or after, the tears, the panic over what to do in the summer holidays, the raised eyebrows when you can’t offer to work over time. As a working parent, you feel guilt. Guilt at not being there 24/7 for your child and guilt that you’re not good enough at your job because it’s no longer your sole priority. It’s normal, it really is, and you have to put it aside and remember that you’re doing what you’re doing because you feel it’s right for your family. And the next time you get a disapproving look, remember that person too may one day become a parent and know just how tough it is.
You’re doing a good job
OK, I know I might have gone a little OTT here and there or perhaps you wish it was this easy, but there’s no denying, being a working parent is no easy task and anyone that tells you otherwise probably has superpowers you don’t know about. Times have changed and working parents are making up more and more of the workforce. Employers are recognising the importance of flexible working and kids know you have to work to pay the bills. They won’t hate you for it, you’re setting a good example and they’ll know you’re doing what’s best for everyone – so don’t be so hard on yourself! Keep everything in perspective, do your best, and cherish the precious moments because before you know it, they’ll have flown the nest and you’ll be cashing your pension!