I constantly felt like I had to make it up to my girls that I worked full time. It wasn’t how I pictured those years of their lives. Charlotte was only 10months old when I had to face the reality of going back to work in order to keep a roof over our heads. I searched frantically for work from home opportunities or part time jobs but there was nothing that would bring in enough money minus childcare costs. It was full time work or bust. Actually it was full time work AND bust because the day I left Charlotte at a daycare, surrounded by strangers and trudged off to a job I didn’t care about, my heart busted into a billion pieces.
I believed that not being at home with my girls was harming them somehow. However, you just had to look at them to see that wasn’t true. They were thriving. The daycare they went to was amazing. The teachers had deep and loving bonds with the girls and treated them with respect. The teachers were amazing at sending me regular learning stories, pictures and videos of all the adventures the girls got up to. Yet at the same time every email was like an arrow to my heart. Each time I would see another experience, moment and learning that I had missed. I wasn’t there. The day Michaela called me Margie (one of her teachers) instead of mum, my whole world shattered.
I had to keep going though. Isn’t that what mothers do? We just get on with things. I tried to remain focused at work but I couldn’t stop the tears falling when a grumpy colleague would rant on at me about an email I sent or didn’t send. I sat there listening to their tantrum and I would think to myself “I gave up my girls for this?” That was the real source of my guilt, a deep sense of shame that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
To make matters worse, our financial balance had tipped. We were paying more in rent so we could live in a warm, dry house and for the girls to attend a quality daycare. Our costs had gone up, debt caught up with us and fights over money increased. We tried to make our situation work, we really did. We had a strict budget, we gave up hope that we would ever go on a holiday, we accepted seconds for toys and clothes. Chris worked all the overtime he could. We’d joke about researching which bridge we wanted to live under and whether we would allow the girls to have a troll. It was our way of making light of dark times.
My everyday experience involved pushing the girls out the door to start daycare at 7:30am, picking them up at 5:30pm, getting home just after 6pm, dinner, bath and into bed for it all to start over again. The house constantly looked burgled. Washing mountains were everywhere. I was too exhausted in the evenings to do much and the weekends were the two days per week allocated to us to maybe have some meaningful time with our children. We weren't living life; we were surviving in a rut. So when Chris got an opportunity to transfer to Dunedin, we jumped at the chance. So many people told us we were brave to move away but the truth is the fear of what might happen if we stayed overtook the fear of what might happen if we left.
Moving to Dunedin meant we weren’t dependent on two incomes to survive but I was still going to have to bring in a little money each week to keep us comfortable. Looking into work opportunities from a ‘what would I like to do’ instead of ‘oh my god we need money now!’ position was much more relaxed. It never occurred to me to start a business. It seemed like a risky thing to do. I assumed there would be a lot of upfront costs and not much return so I just looked around for part time admin type work. I was all set to join a team of Virtual Assistants, doing admin work from home when the business owner mentioned invoicing her. Wait, what? I need to invoice? Gently she explained that I would be working for myself as a contractor and she would be my client. I couldn’t help but laugh, I accidentally became self-employed.
I started to put myself out there as a Virtual Assistant with a full array of administrative skills. Then someone asked me a humdinger of a question. “Yes, but what admin jobs do you like to do?” Well this was new. I had always approached work and jobs as something you must do, to survive. Now I was opening up to the idea that I could do work that I actually liked. WOW. The amazing questions kept coming – “what days do you want to work? What hours do you want to work? How much would you like to get paid?” I found answering these questions incredibly challenging. I had to really stop and think for the first time in a long time – what do I want? A whole new world was opening up to me. A world in which I could spend time with my girls while also using my skills and pursuing my passions.
Becoming a working from home mum has been a truly liberating and slightly terrifying experience. I’ve had to believe in myself and my skills. It’s meant getting out there networking, learning and finding a mentor. I’ve had to set clear boundaries around working time versus family time. But perhaps the biggest challenge of all has been letting go of an impossible to reach standard of “perfect mum”.
I had believed for the longest time that a mother had to choose between having a career and motherhood. I didn’t think you could have both. And yet here I am doing what I love and spending quality time with my girls. It’s not always roses and rainbows but the point is that it’s possible. It’s possible to create a work/life balance that meets your needs and the needs of your children. I have found that by using my talents I not only honour myself but also set an example for my girls and have finally put mother’s guilt to bed.