A heartbreaking day came when I went to pick my son up from daycare and he refused to come to me.
My son was four months old when I needed to go back to work. As an 18-year-old single parent, it wasn’t a choice but a necessity. My working mum journey started with casual work with a promotions company where I was at home most of the time. As my enjoyment of being in the events industry grew, I eventually decided to start my own promotions company.
The work came quickly, but I found myself being at home less and less. A heartbreaking day came when I went to pick my son up from daycare and he refused to come to me. He was with the people at his daycare centre more than he was with me and decided he wanted to stay with them!
The guilt of continuously leaving him in someone else’s care while I worked became unbearable and I know I’m not alone. So, if you’re in the same situation, these key steps helped me manage the working mum guilt:
1. Remember the flip side
I was making the situation worse in my head, believing I was torturing my child by sending him into care and not being at home with him. But then I started thinking about how he was actually having a great time playing with the other kids and doing different activities at daycare.
We are our own worse critics. Don’t be hard on yourself for doing the best you can do—if your child has food on the table and a loving home, you are ahead of the game.
2. Set aside time
I decided time spent with my son was about quality, not quantity. If I had hours or minutes with my son at any time of the day, work and social media was put to the side and he had my undivided attention. Finding activities we would both enjoy together was where the fun was.
Find ways to still build on your relationship with your child. Put the time aside to have an activity that you and your child can regularly do together.
3. Look after yourself
Going to work helped me to stay sane and made me happy, but I didn't like leaving my son in daycare. I thought this was just an emotion I was going through until I discovered my attitude was rubbing off on my son. If I was happy, my son was happy.
We drive our kids around to countless activities but forget it’s okay to do the same for ourselves. Work can be a mental release, but picking up a hobby or doing something you enjoy outside of work and family are both good ways to look after your mental health.
4. Stop comparing
Looking at other mums who seemingly have it altogether was definitely difficult for me. But comparing myself to other parents did not help anybody.
Other parents aren't you. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and these aren’t always displayed, especially not on social media. No-one gets it right 100 per cent of the time—some weeks you’ll ace it and some weeks you won’t. If you’re doing the best you can and your child knows that they are loved, supported and cared for, then that’s all that really matters.
Casey with her now 10-year-old son and four-month-old daughter.
5. Don’t listen to your inner voices
I continue to have a multitude of questions going through my head whenever I leave my child in the care of someone else: Will he hate me? Does he know how much I love him? Am I scarring him for life? Why do I feel so bad about trying to do a good thing? How do I achieve my career goals while still feeling like I’m ticking all the mum boxes? What will I miss out on today? Am I doing the right thing? I like working, does that make me a bad mum?
If these are some of the things going through your head, you’re not alone. Please be kind to yourself as we are all just doing the best we can.
How to make working mum life easier
While there isn't any real solution to the daily struggle, some mums from our Mums At The Table Facebook group have a few tips to make life easier:
"1. Make tomorrow's lunch and a plate for tomorrow's dinner for your daughter while she is eating dinner tonight. 2. Put a big pot of soup on the stove to cook for you and husband (even if the weather is super hot). If you are in survival mode, it is great—three nights' dinners for you and husband done at once. Just add toast! 3. Have a bath/shower with your daughter. Takes no longer than bathing them on their own."—Heidi
"We cook in bulk so we have lots of meals ready to go in the freezer and steamed veg cooked a few days ahead. When you get home dinner is ready to go, then quick bath and bed. Then you can either get dinner out for the next day or do it in the morning with lunch and still have 1–2hrs for yourself!" —Alexandra
"I cook bulk on weekends and pop them into three takeaway containers with names on it (mum, dad, LO). I just grab it out of the freezer and pop into fridge that morning."—Nic
"Team effort! Prep a few meals on the weekend so you can just make a quick salad to go with patties/quiche/lasagna/savoury etc. Or cook quick meals like gnocchi with precooked sauce from the weekend or a bottle of sauce. Microwave rice to go with a pre-made curry. Get Daddy to bath the children if possible while you get dinner on the table or vice versa. Or one of you do the bath after dinner while the other makes lunch/packs bag for next day."—Amanda
"On Sunday, I lay out everyone’s clothes for the week (including underwear and socks!) so there’s no messing with that during the week. Bags for everyone are lined up at the front door the night before but lunch boxes I do every morning. I now can get lunches done in the time it takes for the kettle to boil for my tea! Also, I’ve got to the stage where I’m OK with some evenings going off skew. If we end up with sandwiches/takeout instead of dinner that’s OK. Team work is also so important; my husband and I both get home at 6pm. One gets on with reheating dinner/emptying lunchboxes/entertaining the youngest while the other one checks the older boy's written homework and doing his reading, poem and spellings with him! It’s tough but we’ve got into a routine that gets everything done in the one hour from 6–7! But it is a bit of a rollercoaster so be kind to yourself!"—Siobhan
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