Guilt. The biggest side-effect of pregnancy (apart from children). And once maternity leave nears its end, maternal guilt is amplified to the max. Because you’re damned if you go back to work, and you’re damned if you don’t.
If you choose to stay at home with the kids, you’re no longer “contributing” in financial terms. Though anyone who has ever had to entertain a toddler non-stop between the hours of 5am and 7pm, on a rainy day, fuelled only by caffeine, biscuits and the promise of wine and an uninterrupted wee later will tell you no price can be put on the job of full-time caring for small humans.
I know this, because no matter how challenging my job can be, for the most part it’s a walk in the park compared to what actually going to a park with my children can sometimes feel like. (My kids are genuinely brilliant and my love for them is all-consuming and neverending, but they often outnumber and out-energy me.)
So here I am, at work, and there’s nobody climbing on me or pulling at my top for a feed (there are laws against that kind of thing here!), and I have a HOT. CUP. OF. COFFEE. Yet, I feel … guilty. Because it’s part of our maternal DNA, apparently.
Mums in marketing
Our recent Gender in Marketing research showed one in ten mums working in marketing feel parenthood has had a “significant” negative effect on their careers. The number of dads saying the same? Not a single one. And we asked nearly 300.
Overall, mums were nearly three times more likely than dads to say becoming a parent has had a negative effect on their career. They mentioned factors such as travel requirements, meetings, working hours and lack of flexibility from employers as the main things that make juggling their jobs and family commitments harder.
It reminds me of this spot-on quote by political journalist Annabel Crabb: “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”
This feeling of obligation is something women from all walks of life experience from time to time – it is endemic of the (largely unconscious) societal bias that colours all areas of women’s lives. It becomes even more of a problem when that obligation is put upon a woman by someone else – a partner, family, the wider society or strangers on the internet who perpetuate the myth of a “perfect mother”.
I get carried away, but I suppose all this underlines my main point: mothers overcome enormous challenges in the workplace. And they do that daily. It’s not only about winning awards or smashing glass ceilings – as important as these battles are. In many ways it’s as much about the small victories: whether that’s getting everyone out the door and to school/nursery/work dressed, fed and on time, or going to the park with no meltdowns, or actually having time to paint your nails.
The bottom line is this: guilt is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. Unless it spurs you to action, it’s a completely futile exercise that only serves to make you feel rubbish about yourself and your choices.
So this Mother’s Day, let’s shake off the guilt. I hope you are told by those you love the most what a wonderful job you’re doing. Believe them. You really are. And on Monday, whether you’re at work sipping a hot cup of coffee or at home trying to decide whether it’s worth reheating your cuppa for the third time, remember that while there are no ways to be a perfect mother, there are a million ways to be a good one.
Happy Mother’s Day! You’re amazing. I mean it.