This is a story that many know well. If you are a parent in full-time employment you may not learn anything new, but we all need encouragement, right?
I left a job and got a new one while on maternity leave. Looking back now, I’m not quite sure how that all happened. Getting dressed in the morning was an achievement, so to pull it together enough to apply, get through 4 interviews, while baby brain and sleep deprivation was taking over my life, was as much of a surprise to me as anyone. I have only vague recollections of that entire episode, but after the excitement of getting the job (and the new wardrobe of course), it was time to start work when Darragh was 9 months old.
It’s sort of fun at the start – and scary. Fun at the thought of 9 hours to be ‘work me’ and drink hot beverages and pretend that I had things in common with young, free, cool people. And scary because you are tormented at leaving your entire heart and soul behind when you step out the door.
You worry that they feel loss and that the whole time you are away they are missing you and counting the hours until you get home.
- They have no concept of time. That is, Zero. When they are that age it could be 3 minutes, 3 hours or 3 days – and when you come back, it’s the same. I have heard this encouragement from so many of my lovely friends – and a qualified midwife, so it isn’t just people making me feel better. Well, even if it was, it did!
- YOU feel at a loss, and YOU are missing them and YOU are counting the hours. Don’t put your feelings on to them, missy / mister. My mum would repeat a version of that to me when I felt bad for leaving Darragh – it was my guilt that was projecting those feelings; he was having the time of his life!!
OK, I did cry when I was leaving on countless occasions and believe me, I am not making light of the daily ritual of peeling tiny clasped fingers from your hair / arms / neck / face / nose (yes, really), while they scream, and then you turn to watch them sob into the childminder’s arms, as if resigned to their fate, bereft and orphaned.
The photo at the top of this post (and here it is again for good measure) is a reminder on one of those days coming home late, tired and feeling guilty about life choices.
I approached the house and stood outside the window watching my wee man play for a little while – quite happily, might I add – and when he saw me at the window, he pressed his little nose and hands up against the glass and grinned and laughed and was, in that small moment, the happiest boy in the whole world. AS HE HAD BEEN ALL DAY WITHOUT ME.
There are those days and weeks when it is hard to keep going and you wonder what you are doing it for – I know, I still get it 3 years on. I don’t think that ever leaves as it is part of our programming as parents. My mum has been a mother for 48 years and she still worries about us.
A good friend at work and I shared the same commuter bliss on the Park n Ride bus out of Belfast, and we talked often about our kids. On one particular day, we were talking about ‘work / life balance’ (whatever that means!) and she passed on some advice that she had heard from another colleague a few years before:
You are attached by an invisible thread from their heart to yours. It doesn’t matter where you are, and where they are. You are their mum, and they are your baby. You carry them with you, attached like an invisible thread.
There is no right answer to the guilt and the juggle, and it is all a personal choice for which I am very thankful to have. But in those tough days, I have comfort in knowing the invisible thread is always there, even when I’m not.