My five-year experience of being a mum has taught me that you never know what type of parent you’ll be until you are one. You have all these ideas about how you’ll raise your children, but until you meet them and get to know their little personalities, you have no clue. Similarly, how you cope with the challenge that children are to your identity and independence is something you learn after the baby is born.
At first, I didn’t think I could be a stay-at-home mum, but here I am nearly 3 years later. Although it doesn’t come naturally to me, I have found ways to adapt in a city that doesn’t seem to offer many opportunities to be a part-time working mum.
I am a social worker. This is what I did for a living before I had children. I lived and breathed this job. I loved the people I worked with, the extreme emotions I felt, everything about my vocation. It was who I was. When I fell pregnant, I decided that I would, of course, take maternity leave but it would only be for a year and I would be back. There was no way I would derail my career after so many years of hard work. I worked right up to the day I gave birth and was even giving handover to my husband whilst I was in labour.
I realised that my current position would be too much to return to after maternity leave. But I had to do what I loved, so I found a job with less hours that suited my new life better. I still worried that I had taken a step back in my career but I did find that I had a good balance of work and home. I never had Mondayitis, and on the days I worked I knew my little one was happy and cared for (even though he howled like a banshee at daycare drop off). I also loved the break I had from being Mum. I felt like myself again while I was at work.
I became pregnant again and I ended up going on maternity leave early. We knew we were moving to New York City and the stress of the move, life with a toddler and general pregnancy left me feeling completely overwhelmed. When we arrived in New York, I had such a young baby that I wasn’t even considering working. I think I lived in hope that my job would magically move its way to New York so I could continue in my happy work-life balance.
Once I felt settled enough, I investigated the prospect of working in NYC. I knew before we arrived that I wouldn’t be able to work as a social worker because my qualifications don’t meet the licensing requirement. Part-time work is rare – most people I know either work full-time or not at all. As much as I loved my job, I know that for me, working full-time is not an option until my children are older. Additionally, I don’t know how mums working full-time with two kids manage the constant illness. With one child, I regularly needed to take days off to care for a sick child, so I imagine with two, a sick-day-free week would also be a rarity.
With all this in mind, the challenge has been for me to let go of the work part of my identity, at least for a few years, and to look for ways to regain the mental balance I had when I was working part-time but without actually working.
We had been in the US about 18 months and I had just started to have a few hours to myself twice a week whilst my eldest child was at school and my youngest one slept. My brain had recovered as much as it does from the newborn stage and I was ready to think again. The first thing I did was to complete a year planner. A good friend recommended the ‘Stand Out Planner’ from Ali Hill. It helped me focus on what I felt I wasn’t achieving and challenged me to put structures in place so that I could actually achieve what I wanted to. It made me realise that although I often complained about how little time I had to do things, the reality was I had the time but I was choosing to binge watch Gilmore Girls.
My first time-regaining strategy was to delete Facebook/Instagram from my phone. I would get caught constantly checking social media and I was pretty shocked with how much I was using it after checking the battery usage at the end of the day. My fear of missing out is unfounded and I don’t really miss knowing what X from 6 jobs ago is doing. Instead, I installed the New York Times and Guardian Apps and now read the news when I have a few minutes. I have also made time to start reading books again. By doing these small things, I feel like I have re-entered the adult world.
One of my main worries was that I wouldn’t be able to get a job when it was time to re-join the workforce without ongoing professional development. My husband had been sending me free online education modules from Coursera and edX for weeks so I decided to look into it and try one out. I work better with a deadline, so the 4 week and 6 week courses suit me best. I started to spend two hours, two days a week on professional development. I’m not the best student and find a multitude of ways to procrastinate (hello 16 series of Grey’s Anatomy) but I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I complete a module and I also feel like I am working towards re-joining the workforce.
Joining the Australian Women in New York group also helped me feel like I was not too far out of the workforce. I try very hard not to die with envy when I hear the other women’s exciting start up stories or their reasons for coming to New York but I have also learnt a lot through my experience of being part of the committee. I enjoy working toward deadlines and having to use my brain for something else other than menu planning.
As you have probably learnt from what I have just written, I’ve always been a task-focused box ticker. This is not a personality type that is very compatible with being a stay-at-home mum. Some days I get nothing done at all other than feeding myself and my children and maybe—just maybe—showering. By setting realistic professional development goals, it has allowed me to relax and enjoy my life at home. While at times being a stay-at-home mum is unbelievably boring and frustrating (oh the constant clothes washing, don’t get me started), there are many positive things that I love. Obviously, there’s getting to hang out with my two awesome ratbags, but I also haven’t woken up to an alarm in 5 years (something much louder always wakes me up), I rarely have to leave the house before 8.40, and some days I don’t get out of my pyjamas.
It was really only after the birth of my second child that I realised how quickly it all goes. Although I miss being in the workforce, I know that all too soon my boys will have grown up and I will be waking to the sound of my alarm to get up and go to work. So for now, I will enjoy my slow mornings and my pyjama days, knowing that one day I will run the world again.
Photo credits: Helen McWilliam