Not just a mum
The last couple of weeks have been an intense pot of mixed emotions. I’ve had to make one decision in particular that I’ve been stewing over, and I’m still wondering if I’ve made the right choice. As you may have read in my previous post, the end of my maternity leave has been rapidly approaching and I was due back at work at the end of this month (July). However, there’s been something niggling at the back of my mind for a while now. I’ve been hesitant to say it out loud because it kind of makes me feel like a bit of a failure, but I think I’m ready to get it off my chest: Since having Chloe, I’ve lost some of the focus and drive that I previously had towards my career.
Ugh, it makes me cringe just writing that sentence.
Growing up, I was always taught that I could do anything and everything that my heart desired. I watched my own mum do it all - she worked full time, studied, looked after the house, cooked healthy dinners each night, travelled, built up a successful business and raised me (all on her own until I was about six), without complaint. I had a good example of a strong woman to follow. All the women around me worked hard, did well in school and continued on to have good jobs in their chosen fields. I had this idea that real success meant excelling academically, going to university and then being a career woman, with short breaks here and there to quickly pop out a baby or two. I went to university to do my teaching degree and worked hard to do well and to secure a job once I graduated. When I fell pregnant, I assumed that after maternity leave, I’d jump straight back into the swing of my career, without hesitation.
But… things feel different for me now. All that ambition to forge and grow a successful career has been redirected into a new desire: to be a good mother. And for me, at this moment, that means putting my daughter’s needs before my career and being available to give her all the love, cuddles and on-tap breastmilk she could ever want.
So, the decision that I’ve finally made, the one that I’ve been stewing over, is to not go back to my teaching position until this time next year. I’ve extended my maternity leave with the aim of doing some casual teaching, rather than committing to regular days at my usual school. This is a decision that makes sense for my family right now - Chloe is still breastfeeding quite a lot. She still occasionally refuses solids and regularly refuses bottles, although I’m unable to express enough for her anyway. My school is quite far from where I live, so it’s not like I’d be able to pop home if she needed me for any reason. There are so many reasons why it makes more sense for me to work casually at the moment.
So why am I finding it so difficult to accept my choice?
I think I’m struggling with it, partly because there is this overwhelming pressure on women today to be more than “just a mum” and not to “lose yourself” to motherhood. I worry that by making this choice, to others, it might look as though I have “lost myself” to motherhood. On one hand, I am so happy that I get to do something that will allow me to spend more time with my daughter. And I feel VERY lucky that this is even an option. But, on the other hand, I worry that I’m saying goodbye to a career that I’ve worked pretty hard for. I worry that by extending my leave I’m making it harder for myself to progress in the long run. I know it’s only another year out of the workforce and I’ll never regret those extra moments spent with my daughter, but my job has always been such a big part of my identity and now I’m putting it on hold again.
As amazing as it is to be a modern woman with so much choice, sometimes the pressure to do it all can be a detrimental thing. I’m learning to adjust my idea of success, stop comparing myself to others and prioritise what is most important to me. I want to feel empowered by my decisions, rather than feeling like a failure because I’m not living up to my own (outdated) expectations. Being a mother is the most important job in the world and nobody should feel embarrassed about being labelled “just a mum”. Let’s not demean ourselves and instead, let’s celebrate any choice a mother makes that will benefit her family.
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