Work-life balance: ‘I love you mum . . . please don’t go’

Guilt has had a field day with me since the day I first became a mammy

“She’s on the phone again,” I heard a little voice say. There was no context offered (that being the fact that I was working), just a sorrowful tone suggesting that I was unavailable to my children, leaving them to their own devices and altogether being the worst mother in the world – at least that’s how I heard it.

Apparently, however, it was just a report of my status after an older child had sent his brother to query whether or not they could have some crisps.

Mum-guilt has had a field day with me since I became a parent. It has niggled away from the first time the two pink lines appeared on a pregnancy test and I wondered how I was going to juggle motherhood with work. Working in a family-friendly environment, and aware of the significant financial impact, I decided while still pregnant that I would return to work part-time after maternity leave.

Three days one week and two days the following was the obvious perfect pattern. It was the best of both worlds I figured, until she was born and the thoughts of leaving her long days in child care, thanks to working and living in different counties, meant five mornings a week was the only option I could allow myself to consider.


Under pressure

“The best of both worlds” in many senses was also the worst. A long commute meant that I spent almost as much time on the road as I did in work. It also meant lifting my daughter from her sleep at an ungodly hour, so I could get her to the childminder. At work I watched the clock anxiously during meetings, knowing, regardless of my role, I would have to excuse myself at a particular time so as not to be late for her pick-up. I was always under time pressure in every aspect of my life. I consoled myself with the thoughts that in spite of all the rushing and fussing, this way there was less chance of me missing an important first – surely?

Nope, laughed Sod’s law who dictated that her much awaited and anticipated first step would take place on my day off, at my parents in law’s house, while I was down at the shop getting milk.

Believing a change is as good as a rest, my husband decided to surprise me one birthday with a short break for two to Paris. His parents were lined up to take care of my daughter and he was delighted with his carefully chosen location as co-incidentally we had found out that I was pregnant the day before our last trip there. His act of thoughtfulness and spontaneity was met with a look of horror from me.

“Leave her behind? Are you crazy?” I asked.

“I’m not going” I explained.

“She’ll change her mind,” others told him.

She didn’t.

And so having effectively ensured my husband will never surprise me in such a way again, life continued as normal but mum-guilt stuck around. Sometimes it encouraged me to seek changes that would improve our quality of life – such as moving house to be a little closer to work and sometimes it just added fuel to the fire in unavoidable circumstances.

Nativity play

Child four was delivered by elective Caesarean section. The date was set but I negotiated his delivery time with my somewhat bemused obstetrician. Bad enough that I was going to have to spend longer in hospital because of the surgery, I explained, “but I can’t miss child two’s nativity pageant” – “the guilt would kill me” I added for dramatic emphasis and pleaded to be put on the afternoon list. He agreed.

Child six, however, didn’t allow for the occasion and on the morning of his sister’s 12th birthday, his arrival – three weeks ahead of schedule – ensured a panicked dash across the city to the Coombe Maternity Hospital, but not before she was woken to open her presents. The colour drained from my husband’s face at my insistence, as fear and visions of his midwifery skills being tested en route to hospital filled his head.

My beautiful baby boy arrived safely and every staff member heard of the coincidence of his birth date. Even the woozy effects of morphine and the high of my son’s birth couldn’t keep either mum-guilt, or a preoccupation that someone had ensured my daughter had birthday cake, at bay though.

The pursuit of the perfect work-life balance continues, and every now and then I think I’m starting to edge closer, until deadline day looms and I try to escape the chaos of the house for the library. My blonde curly-haired two year old stands at the front door and says, “I love you mum . . . please don’t go.”

Mum-guilt kicks in immediately until I remember something similar from last night, only then it was, “I love you mum . . . please can I have chocolate”?