Mother Hood

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I will return to work next month. It’s been almost a year since I went on maternity leave. A year is a long time, and a short time. There’ve been days that felt like they went on for a year. Birth is hard, for babies and for the people who birth them. Some days feel like they happened only last week. I remember the days lying in my hospital room, watching the light change on the red brick wall I could see from the sash window. I remember the days where baby slept so much that I felt the fog of sleep deprivation lifting. I remember days where nothing I did seemed like the right thing.

It has been a good year, and a bad year, and an average year. I’ve felt regrets over significant things and trifles. Does going back to work make me feel guilty? The honest answer is no, not even a little bit. I am very lucky that I have the option to work part-time in a role that stretches me just enough to feel like a challenge but not so much that I feel stressed out on a regular basis. The real guilt I feel is that I’m not doing enough, because the time management skills I had before I had children seem to have disappeared.

I used to fit so much into my days. I would work, study, meet friends, continue hobbies, take holidays, relax with books. I still do most of these things but they feel fragmented now and I find it hard to focus on some things that used to come naturally. I wish I’d written more during this past year. I wish I’d pushed myself more. But what would have been the point, I wonder. And how could I or should I have done this.

I beat myself up by comparing myself to the other mothers who get so much done, or achieved so much more than I did before children came along. I wonder if the me I am now couldn’t sustain more ambition than I seem to have settled on. I wonder if an external force could have propelled me forward. I wonder if my age could turn into a motivator.

I’m not sure how I measure my success in life. Is becoming a mother a metric of success? I was lucky; I conceived easily and my children haven’t presented some of the myriad challenges other parents face. Is it having a secure job? I’m not sure; my job is part of my life but I wouldn’t be considered a wild success in the role. Is being married a success? Surely not; meeting someone you want to marry is largely down to luck and chance.

Part of me hopes being back at work will push me out of the mother identity a bit. Every time I’ve been on maternity leave my world seems to shrink a little. I have a vague sense that there should be more. Maybe there is, if I could lift the hood a little.

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Mother Hood

The Worst Boss I Ever Had…

…was, in a way, the best.

When I left college in 2004, I didn’t really have a plan. I was working in retail at the time, mainly because I had a great part-time job throughout college in a large department store. I had a lot of experience under my belt in retail, but a strange lack of confidence in my ability to break into another sector. I don’t know why, because more than one person told me I appeared to have buckets of self belief. At the time I remember feeling annoyed with myself that everyone else seemed to have things sorted and knew where they were going and what they were doing.

With the benefit of hindsight, I know many of my college peers were just as all-at-sea as I was but from my perspective the fact they had office jobs for Major Accounting/Banking/Finance Firm gave them a veneer of success of which I was secretly very envious. I didn’t really want a job in that area, but nonetheless I wanted to appear as though I knew where I was going in life.

I wanted to earn more money and I wanted to progress towards something, so I applied for and got a job in retail management in a smaller store. I didn’t really have a long-term goal in mind so I figured this would do until I had a bit more clarity about my life. I can’t remember what I expected to get out of the job, but I gave myself a year or two in the role to see what would happen.

While I’d worked under what I thought was a reasonably personable boss all the way through college, this was not the case in my first Real Job After College. My boss turned out to be a complete nightmare. She engaged in what I’ve since learned is common, namely, information hoarding. Everything she touched caused stress. I walked on eggshells around her and put up with a lot of what I would tackle head-on these days.

I never knew if taking the initiative was the right thing or would result in a Serious Conversation about how she knew best. I couldn’t change even minor things without her changing them back or having a Serious Conversation about how she knew best. She was demotivating for other staff and I slowly started to plan my exit.

At the time I was conflicted because I enjoyed the role and many of the people I worked with. It wasn’t a dream job – is there ever such a thing, really?! – but it was a step forward in my working life and I learned a lot about what was important to me personally and professionally and what I was able to tolerate and what wasn’t acceptable to me in any way. I grew up and grew into myself quite a lot.

After nearly two years I had gained enough experience to allow me to move on and upwards a little and I thanked my boss in my head for teaching me more lessons during that time than I ever thought I would learn. She was a terrible boss, had no management skills and was entirely unsuited for her role, but in some ways she was the best boss I ever had.

The Worst Boss I Ever Had…

Not Guilty

I am a parent who works outside the home. So is my husband. We both grew up in households with parents who worked outside the home. I realised after I went back to work when my first child was 11 months old that I felt no guilt whatsoever. And I never have, not for a moment. I’m quite certain my husband doesn’t feel guilty either.

I am lucky and privileged that working outside the home is a choice I have made freely. It gives us more options as a family and I feel better as a woman, wife and parent for making this choice. I enjoy my work, I don’t feel a great passion for it, but I like having a part of my life that’s all about me.

The Constitution of Ireland has a clause which infers that my rightful place is within the home and that I contribute to the common good by my life within this home, where I sit writing this. I do not agree. My rightful place is within wherever I choose to do the most good. Sometimes that’s at home, on the days when I don’t leave this home to go to work. Sometimes that’s volunteering in my children’s school. Sometimes that’s on a march with my husband and children. Sometimes that’s my place of employment.

I don’t know if other women who work outside the home or who choose to stay at home to parent fulltime also feel no guilt. But I hope they don’t. And it is perfectly normal not to. Thankfully we’ll be having a referendum on the ‘women in the home’ clause, not as soon as I’d like. I’ll be voting to repeal it, and voting for political parties who want to ensure that every woman, be she a parent or not, or working or not, is able to make the right choices for herself, free of guilt.

Not Guilty

Thinking Outside the (Letter) Box

Back when I was working in Louis Vuitton I spent some time one summer working in Birmingham. I’d never been to Birmingham before I agreed to work there and I didn’t know much about it. Many of the (mainly female) staff were Muslim and we bonded over a realisation that our mothers might be from vastly different cultures but their mothering was not. One woman said many times that it was deeply reassuring that Irish and Pakistani mothers were so alike.

Some of them wore headcoverings at work. Most did not. Some explained that they wore headcoverings for different reasons and occasions. Some were deeply devout Muslims, some weren’t. Some spoke of their parents’ plans for their marriages and the arranged marriages of brothers and sisters. I felt I had to preface any questions with a lighthearted (at least I hope that’s how it sounded) quip about it being interesting to hear about other people’s cultures. It was interesting, and eye opening, and made me question a lot of the assumptions I hadn’t questioned before about women and their choices and their obligations and restrictions.

Many women don’t need to be told by others that they’re being oppressed. Maybe they’re not being oppressed. Maybe they like dressing a certain way. Maybe they don’t need opinion pieces from white men to tell them they’re like letter boxes. Maybe we should all stop making assumptions about women’s clothes. Oppression comes in many forms. More tolerance for intolerance is one such form.

These women weren’t letter boxes. They were funny, and difficult to work with sometimes, and boring, and we had disagreements, and we had misunderstandings. Just like I did and do and will do with the people I work with now. Women make all sorts of choices every day about every aspect of their lives. What they choose to wear is their choice. We don’t need laws to tell us how to dress.

Thinking Outside the (Letter) Box

The Road More Travelled

I’ve been in my current role for ten years now. It’s the longest time I’ve spent in a job. I flitted around from job to job after college. I had no big or concrete plans and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I chose my college course for practical reasons, and the fact it let me have a little more variety than other ones offered at the time. I was too afraid to change my reliable part-time job that helped me pay for my social life so I ended up drifting into the same sector I’d always worked in after graduation.

I liked my jobs. I didn’t love them. They weren’t particularly stimulating or challenging most of the time and I don’t think I saw myself in the sector in the long-term, but I needed to earn money and I was good at what I did so I stuck with them. I then drifted into another sector for a year and at the end of that year landed the job I’m in now. It’s probably been the best use of my skills for the past decade. It’s secure, stable, and mainly enjoyable.

Today, for the first time in a very long time, my mind drifted into ‘What if’ territory. What if I had planned my career more carefully? What if I’d sought more guidance? What if I’d studied something else? What if I’d been more open to opportunities in one particular role? What if I had taken more risks? What if I hadn’t let a personality clash stop me from learning more? What if, no matter what I did, I would have ended up here anyway?

Ten years ago I wasn’t married. I wouldn’t have met my husband if I hadn’t taken this job, because we met at a party one of my colleagues hosted after I’d been in the job for a year. I wouldn’t have my children. I was living a very different life. I was a lot more confident in some ways, and a lot more insecure and unhappy in many, many others.

I’m glad I’ve had the experiences I’ve had. It’s hard not to wonder ‘What if’ though. I wonder ‘What if I’m here for another ten years, and then another, and another and then I retire? Is this it?’, and that freaks me out a little.

The Road More Travelled

When You Know It Will Be A Long, Hard Week.

Work this week is going to be difficult. Not only will it be a long week, I’ll have to deal with some very tough topics. I’ve had weeks like this before and I try to make them character building. It’s always good to have your views challenged and to listen to every side of an argument, but it’s not always easy to actually do this. I’m more or less forced into having to listen, which I’m trying to see as a good thing.

With this in mind, I’m much more organised than I was last week and I have a fridge of healthy food to keep me going. I dropped the ball big time last week and the deliciousness of Offbeat donuts was too tempting to resist. This week for my sanity, health and well being I’m determined to eat properly and engage in a bit of self care.

I know I should probably try to stay off the tweet machine as much as possible. I think that’s a harder temptation to resist than the donuts. But I’ll give it a try.

When You Know It Will Be A Long, Hard Week.