It’s 7.00pm and I have just got home from work. I left the house at 7.30am this morning, and in the car, I consoled my crying four year old son. He was upset because the other boys and girls go to school with their Mummies and Daddies. And after school, when the teacher brings the reception pupils out one-by-one, the other children spot their Mummy in the playground and run towards her and fling their arms around her neck with such sheer joy, oblivious to the impending interrogation about what was for lunch, what was the book about at storytime, what words did you learn to write today and who did you play with at playtime.
But my son doesn’t get to run to me and fling his arms around my neck. And I don’t get to ask him for a minute-by-minute account of his day while we stroll hand in hand to the car and have an argument about whether we should stop at the ice cream van for an overpriced ’99. My son has a different lady every day, but always in a purple t-shirt and hi-vis vest from the local nursery who drops him off and picks him up. And that’s not OK.
After waving him goodbye at nursery, I set off to work. What happened at work isn’t important. But it was one of those days where the thought of staying til 5.30pm and going back the day after made me literally cry with dread. Probably because of the emotional morning it was worse than normal, but I cried three times at work. THREE TIMES the blind on my office window came down, the tissues came out of my top drawer and the make up bag was poised ready to touch up the evidence of my misery.
I know that stay-at-home Mums want to work and working Mums want to stay at home, and the grass is equally as brown and wilted on both sides at times, but the guilt that overwhelms me is awful. I feel like I’m not being a ‘proper Mum’ to this poor little boy, who (in my head at least) deserves to have every person in the world at his constant beck and call and hanging on his every word. And the worst bit of all, which makes me feel worse, more than anything else, is that by the time I got home from work after feeling so miserable all day, I didn’t do what I should have done. Being the bloody selfish cow that I am, I poured myself a large (…fucking huge actually) glass of wine, and poured my heart out to my husband- complete with appalling language.
At bedtime, we had the usual routine of escaping the arguments by staging a call from Santa to check that he was in bed and can stay on the Nice List. When we went upstairs and tucked him in, he just wouldn’t settle. My husband tells me it’s just stalling tactics to delay the inevitability of actually going to sleep, and in fairness he’s probably right. But he laid in his bed, tucked in to his Thomas and Friends bedding, and asked me, “Why do you never look after me?” Tears immediately started falling down my cheeks. I tried to explain without my voice breaking, that even if Mummy isn’t right there beside him, I am always looking after him. He asked me to stay with him for ‘just twenty more seconds’ so I cuddled him and silently sobbed on his chest while he stroked my hair until he fell asleep.
It’s now six weeks since my only child started school and I was not prepared for this. I had read endless advice about children starting school and I thought I was ready. I was expecting to feel depressed about my little boy growing up, I was expecting to feel like my right arm had been chopped off the first time I was actually alone in the house. I knew I’d begrudge the expense of school uniform and never end up buying enough school socks. But I was not prepared for a young boy seemingly comparing his home life to his friends’ and feeling sad.
I suppose a valid question would be, so why work? And I have no idea why. Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits… Financial, obviously. I’ve always been very career-driven too, and like my job. I like that I have something for me, and can talk to grown-ups about something other than children (…there’s that guilty pang in the chest again for thinking that a conversation not involving trains or pirates would be enjoyable). But because of my work, I left my son behind with Daddy when he was four months old for three long, miserable days and nights. I missed his first steps. I miss too much.
But while this is all incredibly depressing, the truth is that deep down, although I question every decision, I know that every decision made, including full-time work, is done thinking only of him. It’s all for him. Although I am sacrificing some time spent with him now, I am working bloody hard to give him opportunities that I, and most other people, don’t have. I want to take him to Disneyland. I want to buy him a car on his 17th birthday with a big red bow on the bonnet. I want to fund his studies at university (if he chooses to go).
I just pray that he doesn’t end up begrudging us for going to work. But I know that right now, he absolutely adores us and knows that we provide him with all the love, Hot Wheels and biscuits in the world.
So why are we all a bit rubbish?… It’s not because we work, or because we don’t, or because we might actually enjoy some time to ourselves. It’s because we constantly beat ourselves up about being a rubbish parent when we’re not. I need to give myself a break from the guilt and regret, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Because the longer I spend wallowing in how rubbish I am, the more rubbish I am.
So, in order to be the best parent I can be, I’m off to reward myself with a huge Pinot Grigio for being a wonderful working Mum.
Thanks to Anna Lewis, The Sketchy Muma for the brilliant illustration