Someone asked me the other day if being a working mum makes me a better mum.
“Oh, yes!” I replied. “It’s important for me to work. It’s part of who I am and working makes me happy. So that makes me a better mum.”
I was lying.
Dishing out the sugar candied response I’m ‘supposed’ to.
The truth is being a working mum does not make me a better mum. In fact, I constantly worry if I’m doing the right thing when I go to work.
Worried that the ‘hurried life’ that comes with balancing parenthood and a career could actually be harming my children.
Worried that when I burst out of my house every morning, shouting: “Hurry up! We’re going to be late!” that I’m stressing out my kids as I stumble on my heels, frantically stuffing lunch boxes and homework books into school bags.
Worried that, when I explain to my son I can’t help out in the classroom with reading groups, or serve him at the school tuck shop, it will break his heart.
Worried that the carers at my daughter’s day care centre won’t watch her the way I do. Cuddle her the way I do when she falls. Stroke her hair the way I do when she needs a nap.
Worried that the people sitting near me on the bus will see my tears as I make my way to work.
The truth is, as much as I want to keep my career alive, it also kills me to be away from my kids. Kills me. And I don’t even work the fulltime hours that many other working parents do. Through my own business I can increase or decrease the flow of my work depending on my needs, depending on how much I can cope with.
But you see, I have to work. I have to work to generate the income to pay off our debts and allow us to live the lifestyle that we have decided is important for our family.
I have to work to satisfy my own personal ambition that fueled the birth of a career well before the birth of my children. A career, that required a university degree and many years hard slog, to realize.
This is why I write about what’s it’s like to be a working mother. Not because I want the world to think that being a working mother makes me a supermum.
I write about being a working mother because in some companies the benchmark for ‘professionalism’ means doing things like working long hours and showing a willingness to put your career in front of your personal life. Things that are incompatible with being a good parent.
I write about being a working mother because the desire to be with your child, and the ambition that fuels a career, are terribly conflicting emotions that I often find hard to rationalize in my head.
I write about being a working mother because I want what’s best for my kids.
And that’s how I think we should be framing our discussions when we talk about supporting the needs of working parents.
Yes, a woman’s right to have a career after she has children is important. And yes, a company’s productivity is important too.
But nothing is more important than what these things mean for our children, especially when ‘healthy parenting’ is cited as critical for a healthy society.
So when we find those solutions to help women go back to work after they have children, and when we find those solutions that allow a company to be flexible and productive at the same time, we should always be thinking about what these things mean for our kids.
Things like high quality and accessible childcare staffed by carers who are paid an income that recognizes the importance of their job.
Things like challenging traditional ‘working hours’ to allow parents to work around their family’s needs. Who the heck came up with 9 to 5 anyway?
Things like having the ‘right corporate attitude’ – all the workplace policies and initiatives in the world mean nothing if an employee feels they can’t use them without being judged as ‘soft’ or less serious about their career.
Things like schools that factor working parents into their schedules and plans. Open to ideas like job sharing reading group duties for those of us who can’t be there all the time, but definitely want to be there some of the time.
All of these things with the same goal: to enable working parents to be there for their kids. Without jeopardizing their careers. Without jeopardizing their income. Without jeopardizing their children’s happiness.
So, back to that question: does being a working mum make me a better mum?
I don’t really know. But I do know that full-time, part-time, job-share, stay-at-home…whatever. We’re all just trying to do the best we can.
This piece first appeared on Lisa Lintern’s blog Melodramatic Me.