WORKING AS A MUM – Is it enough?

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People underestimate the impact on women when we take time out of work to parent. Or, as in my case, choose to juggle parenting with working from home.

The Chief Minister’s wife, Justine Picardo recently referenced the struggle mothers have in comparison to fathers when she spoke at the Gibraltar Women’s Association’s 50th anniversary to celebrate unveiling a statue for all women, and commemorating their lives in Gibraltar’s past, present and future.

Justine hit the nail on the head “Most women who choose to have families have to work twice as hard as the man who also chooses to have a family. And unfortunately, for a woman it is a choice we have to make. Because our biological clocks are ticking. They tick away throughout our prime working years. During that time our male counterparts are speeding through their professions whilst society expects us to be at home breastfeeding or preparing bottles.”

Justine Picardo unveiled the Monument to Women

While times may have changed considerably, it still often falls on women to “manage the house” regardless of the responsibilities she may also carry outside of the home. It’s a juggling act whether one chooses to be a stay-at-home parent or to return to work.

As a relatively new stay-at-home parent myself, this time of year can be incredibly alien. December was odd enough. Three years ago I’d have been out for raucous office Christmas parties. While granted, the parties I attended this December were still “messy”, treading over soggy Wotsits and Quality Street wrappers isn’t the same kind of fun.

When January arrives, kids return to school and professionals organise their return to work but try as I might to make plans for the year ahead, with a toddler and a baby it’s often hard to see much beyond the next five minutes. This is when frustration sets in.

I always imagined that given the choice, I would choose to be a stay-at-home parent. However, once I started sleeping better after my first born, I soon found there was an itch that I was desperate to scratch. Like many other mothers, I chose to compromise and work from home, allowing myself the flexibility of working around my family.

At the time I felt bad that being a mum was not enough for me. However, I quickly realised I was not alone feeling like this. Channel 4 recently released a report on the loneliness of new mums. The reality of spending all day with a baby is not what many imagine. While you may have productive and interesting thoughts, they’re lost on a baby. Day to day chores can become monotonous and what is worse, the job of a mother is massively undervalued by those around her and by society.

The internet has afforded mums the flexibility to work from home and choose their own hours and in Gibraltar, it appears to be increasingly popular.

Although while working standards have improved immensely for women, there still isn’t enough flexibility offered by workplaces. Flexi-hours or part-time hours are hard to come by.

Unfortunately, it’s not any easier for those who decide to be self-employed. Etsy shops, multi-level marketing and consulting are becoming increasingly popular options for mothers looking to work around family time. However, it’s near on impossible to “work from home” in Gibraltar as all those who are self-employed require a business license, and a business license requires that you have a premises (unless you can prove that you can operate without one.)

When I discussed the subject with local mums, the response was overwhelming. No matter what each mother had decided to do, it was something everyone felt equally passionate about. Some mothers are frustrated by the constraints of expensive childcare prohibiting them from working, yet barely scraping by on benefits. Others shared how they had been offered part-time roles, but with the same workload found themselves working the same full-time hours on part-time pay, often catching up once their children were in bed. Self-employed mothers talked to me about the hoops they were having to jump through to work from home, something that is relatively simple in the UK.

One mother chose to be anonymous but echoed my sentiments “I have worked very hard for ten years to build a very successful career. When I had my baby girl, everything changed. I no longer wanted to work long hours. The money didn’t seem important to me anymore. However, during this time, I felt there was something missing, I realised I was slowly losing my identity, I didn’t recognise myself anymore. My day revolved around my little girl who was starting to need me less and less. I panicked when I realised one day she wouldn’t need me anymore and then what would I do?

I slowly started working again, I felt guilty I wasn’t giving 100% at home or at work. For someone as ambitious as me it was hard to accept. I didn’t realise how much of my identity was linked to my work. I am so happy I went back. For me, it was the best thing I did. My little girl came to visit me at work the other day and the look of pride on her face when she saw her mummy was priceless!!”

However, it also really bothers me when I hear “I am just a stay-at-home mum”. There is no “just” about it. It’s a tough job that should be respected more and admired. Whoever you choose to be your child’s caregiver, whether it is yourself or someone else, raising a child is shaping part of the next generation. I can’t think of anything much nobler than that.

No matter whether you’re a working mum or a stay-at-home mum, let this New Year ahead be the year you get the balance you want. Make it a resolution to put your needs at the top of the pile. If you feel guilty, just remember that you need your own oxygen mask on before you can help anyone else.