Keeping up with my regular monthly segment, here is the forth instalment of Parenting Stories! Last month we learned about the pros and cons of returning to work after maternity leave, and this month we have a further insight into 'mummy guilt' associated with working.
For this post, Jess – from 'Babi a Fi' – has chosen to describe what it's like being the major bread winner for her family, while her partner remains a stay at home dad. Not usually the traditional route, there still seems to be a lot of stigma associated with the reversal of roles…
'I always assumed that I would be the one to stay home with my baby. It wasn’t that I had strong feelings about outsourcing childcare, or even that I was especially enamoured with the idea. The reality was just that I worked part-time, and my partner earned more money.
It was the sensible way forward.
Then Anthony - aforementioned partner - slinked onto the special care ward when our newborn daughter was approaching three weeks old, his paid paternity leave all used up, to tell me he had some bad news.
My capacity for bad news was already at its limit.
At least I thought it was.
I was wrong. It turned out that Anthony had just lost his job, and a stint of self-employment with low profits meant he did not have enough National Insurance contributions built up to be eligible for Job Seeker’s Allowance. It felt like the perfect timing to find out about that loophole!
Any plans I might have had for a leisurely maternity leave, filled with play dates and coffee mornings, went out of the window. I needed to get back to work, as soon as possible. Except I didn’t want to go anywhere until Marianna was discharged from hospital, and the after effects of coming close to snuffing it on the operating table didn’t have me shuffling about at a top speed of around 3 metres an hour.
(It goes without saying that all my misconceived ideas about the caesarean being the glamorous, easier option, had been fully dispelled by this point.)
Marianna was finally discharged from hospital a few days later, thankfully unscathed by her traumatic arrival, and I started to feel, if not look, less like a member of the walking dead. A month later, when Marianna was two months old, I went back to work.
It wasn’t so terrible. I’m an elected councillor for Torfaen County Borough Council so it’s not as though I have fixed office hours. One week I might have only a couple of meetings to attend, while the next I might be at the Civic Centre every day and at community or school governor meetings in the evenings. The variety is something that really appealed to me about the job, and is something I still love even with the added pressure it puts on my less than stellar organisation skills.
I liked having other adults to talk to, especially about something other than babies, and it was liberating to have part of myself back after nine months of being sick and generally feeling more like a living incubator than a person.
I was so lucky too, I knew, that Marianna was at home with her dad. Even in the enlightened 21st Century stay at home dads are still something of a rarity. But. (There is always a but.) I really struggled with ‘mommy guilt’, the idea that I ought to be the one putting Marianna to bed. The one who should be feeding her, and changing her, and witnessing her first everything.
I wanted to cry when people commented on how quickly I had returned to work, and I felt as though everyone was judging me for ‘abandoning’ her. I even resented Anthony a little for putting me in the situation.
Yet as time went on I began to see other positives, positives that didn’t come with any qualifier. So called ‘baby brain’ passed me by and hit Anthony instead, because he was the one with the stress of being primary caregiver, and for the first time I had the knowledge that I was the one providing for my family. It was me bringing in the money, and me working out our budget so we could cover our bills - or, at the very least, the most important ones!
After a few months Anthony had accrued enough NI credits to receive JSA, and I discovered new ways to bring in a few extra pennies. Ebay, trade-in websites, submitting tips to the women’s weeklies, entering competitions, blogging. It had a big impact on my confidence, and gave me new outlets for my creativity.
Marianna is nearly eighteen months old now and the status quo looks like it’s about to change. Anthony is close to finding work, and the next Welsh local government elections are in spring 2017. But even if I lose my seat, and find myself at home while Anthony is at work, I’ll always have this experience as proof of just how much I am capable of.
And for that, I’ll always be thankful!'
If anyone has any comments for Jess, please leave them below or head on over to her Blog. She has been taking part in a 'Blog Every Day In May' challenge, so I'm very grateful she took the time to write this post for me! You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram, so head on over and show her some love!
If you would like to be featured in a future 'Parenting Stories' post, please get in touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org.