Whilst I feel the phrase has become somewhat overused in relation to parenting; lately I really am winging it. Some days I’m driving home from work (having my usual which radio station to listen to (too old for Radio one but not quite ready for Radio 2 and does Kiss 100 still exist?) dilemma; and I have to seriously think about where each of my kids are. So the baby is at Nanna’s I know that. The middle one is a nursery. And the 5 year old… its French club today isn’t it…? Or is it? Was French club actually on today? Is my poor child sitting on a bench somewhere waiting for me to pick her up?!?
You see being a working parent means serious juggling. Not that I’m saying that parenting in general isn’t a constant juggle; of course it is. But as I work part time, each morning I actively have to remind myself which ‘hat’ I should be wearing. Am I mummy today? Or am I the respectable employee with responsibilities and skills other than being able to balance a baby on my hip whilst opening a can of baked beans (I know, but believe me it took some practice). One thing I do know though, is that being a working parent, especially one without the luxury of being able to work from home, involves a number of struggles.
1.The first year of nursery in general
If you are yet to experience this this then all I can say is get ready. Get ready for your previously healthy, only ever had one cold in her life, 1 year old to come home with every. Single. Illness. Going. You will just be getting over the week-long sleepless-night-inducing cough (give up with the Vicks on feet malarkey, it’s a myth I tell you) and they will pick up the nursery vomiting bug. Which you will then get. At the same time, obviously.
Add to that the 48 hour non-attendance rule following a bout of vomiting. 8am on your normal working day and you are on hour 43 out of the 48 vomit free hours. Here begins the classic working parent dilemma. Who is going to take the day off to look after the poorly one? (Who by this point is charging around the house at full throttle, completely and utterly FINE!)
You argue (a lot) with your other half and conclude that neither of you are able to take the day off: You have an important meeting with your boss, he has an all-day conference. Anyway, the toddler clearly seems fine, which is more than can be said for you if you miss this meeting. It can’t hurt to take her in can it? I mean if they give it out, they’ve got to be able to take it back, right?
(Disclaimer to my nursery manager if she is reading this: I have never actually done this… er.. promise)
2.The mid meeting call
You’re in the middle of an important meeting and the School call to inform you that your little one has been sick at school. Excellent. Now be aware that the your actions from this point onwards will have direct impact on which area of life you will end up feeling guilty about. Either you fling your papers in the air and drive like a mad person, getting into school exactly 17 minutes after the phone call, but knowing your employer will forevermore brand you as an unreliable employee. Alternatively, you wait until the meeting has concluded to then drive to school, 2 hours after the initial phone call, to be met with disproving tuts from the school office secretary and a child whose sad eyes make you feel like you are the worst parent in the world. One thing you need to remember though: you can never ever win here. Mum guilt will prevail in one way or another.
3.The middle of the day parent involved school events
Ah my particular favourite. That parent participation ‘phonics workshop’ that has been planned for 11am on a Tuesday. Obviously these sort of things are not compulsory for you to attend, but do remember that your failure to do so will result in your child missing out on this activity and instead being forced to stay alone in the classroom practicing their spellings. If the mum guilt doesn’t eat you up then no doubt the wrath of your child will (although turns out they are now able to spell encyclopaedia, so every cloud and all that).
4.The straight after school party
You pick up your little one from the childminder after work and she greets you waving an ominous piece of brightly coloured paper. Your heart sinks, knowing exactly what this means. A birthday present is required. Upon examination of said coloured paper you realise that the predicament is actually worse than first thought. The party is at the local soft play at 3.30. 3 sodding 30! And so begin the phone calls to other parents. First checking whether their child received said party invite (always awkward) and then politely enquiring as to whether they wouldn’t mind awfully to take your child along to the party too. Obviously you will absolutely, most definitely make up the favour on a day you don’t have to work (so like… never then).
5.The parent side-lining
Your presence at the school gates is hit and miss. You do the school runs when you can fit them around work but you are not a regular playground fixture by any means. On the days you do manage the school run (usually after much diary rearrangement and the normal work guilt thing) you are met with stares (or glares, you can’t decide which) from the school gate regulars. Whilst you assume that this is because they are wondering what you are doing here, part of you fears they may be questioning who you actually are. Maybe they are assuming you are the nanny? Or even worse, grandparent (oh god you knew you should have gotten those grey roots done). Either way, the school gates for those who are not in the in-crowd can be a lonely place.
6.The dress up days
For anyone yet to have a school age kid, then my only advice is start stocking up your dressing up box now. Because approximately once every sodding week you will receive an email, or a text or even worse a letter (I say this is worse as let’s face it, you will be lucky if you ever actually catch sight of this slippery little fish) informing you of a dress up day. If you’re fortunate, you might get some notice of said dress up day. Maybe like a week or something if your school is particularly on the ball. If not, you will receive a cheery text message, giving you two days’ notice that your darling child needs to attend school on Friday dressed up as an Aardvark for the class assembly.
Obviously not ideal in any scenario but if like me, you are chained to a desk from 9-5 in the two days leading up to dress up day, you are basically screwed. After numerous internet trawling (on your lunch break, obvs) you conclude that George at Asda are clearly all out of Aardvark attire for this week and reluctantly resign yourself to the fact that a costume made up of a pillow case and a few loo roll tubes will have to do. (Beware though, this decision will be immediately regrettable upon attendance of class assembly when you realise that other children are wearing costumes made out of hand spun, home dyed lamb’s wool.
7.The feeling like you are not doing anything particularly well
You’re missing work due to annoyingly timed school events and missing annoyingly timed school events due to work. You’re sprinting out of work leaving things half finished, to pick up the kids, who are cross with you, as you were too busy at work to come and see their gymnastics presentation after school. Now you are a parent, you are no longer able to dedicate your time solely to either section of your life. Other, (more perfect) parents will give you judgemental sympathetic looks when you dash in late to yet another class assembly. Work colleagues will roll their eyes when you have to leave a meeting early for the 3rd day in a row. You will constantly feel that you should be ‘better’. A better employee. A better parent. You feel like you are excelling at neither.
8. Forgetting that you are a SUPERSTAR
Before the mum guilt eats you up and you start to wonder whether your mother was right when she informed you that in her day, every mother stayed at home with their children and shouldn’t you do the same? Before you start to explore the success rates of online gambling as a career alternative, remember that you are doing this for them. You are doing this for your children. You are showing them that it is ok for parents to have something else in their lives other than their children. But even more importantly; you are helping to create a good life for them. Ok so sometimes you miss the odd after school party (and let’s face it, many of us would choose work over soft play hell any day), but what you are doing is demonstrating to them the importance of dedication and hard work. You are encouraging them to be motivated, be driven. Be successful.
Of course non-working mothers are able to demonstrate these skills to their children too, absolutely, but in different ways. This is your way. You are a superstar and whether you are a mum working part time or 9-5, always remember that you are doing the very best job you can for your children.