Working Mum: A personal journey in mental wellbeing.
I was twenty-seven when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. She was very much wanted, but also a total shock. I was told I couldn’t have kids, so when we started trying for a baby we didn’t have our hopes up. Funny thing is, I knew I was pregnant before I even took the test. I’d woken up that morning and something felt different. I remember we went to see the musical Cats at the theatre that day. When we got home, my former partner put the dinner in the oven. I went to the take the test, returning with a faint line clutched in my hands. I showed it to him and he just stared, gob-smacked. Then he said slowly - ‘My burrito is going to burn.’
Suddenly our decisions were no longer about us, but what would be best for this little life we’d created.
Once he’d swallowed his shock and his burrito, we were both over the moon. Suddenly our decisions were no longer about us, but what would be best for this little life we’d created. If we moved into that new flat, would there be good schools nearby? How would going on holiday affect our daughter? From dentist appointments to parties, playdates to getting new clothes, making her homemade oat milk because she’s lactose intolerant, preparing packed lunches the night before, bringing her to and from school, picking her up when she’s ill – she grew to be at the front and centre of our lives. It's a constant mental juggling act and often feels totally overwhelming. My daughter had chickenpox this year and went to bed with two or three spots. When she woke up, she was covered. I had loads of people I had to interview that day at work, so I rang up my former partner in a panic and asked him if he could take the day off. On the train to work, I cried. I felt such guilt that I wasn’t there for my child when she needed me, even though she was having a great time with her daddy. But that’s the thing – parenting is a full-time job, so it’s important you surround yourself with a good network of loved ones who can help out.
I went back to work when my daughter was nine months old.
Though my former partner and I are split up, we are better parents now than when we were together. We've learnt over time to re-define the meaning of the word ‘family.’ Families come in all shapes and sizes, and I think what’s most important isn’t trying to fit into society’s narrow standards, but to create an environment that prioritises the child and is based on unconditional love. That’s also why I went back to work when my daughter was nine months old. Partly it was because babies are expensive, but it was also to honour my need for independence so I could be happy, which would in turn make me a better mum. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a parent who chooses to stay at home and take care of the kids. But for me, I needed more in order to balance out my life. Interestingly, when I went back to the office people would call me ‘working mum,’ but at no point was my former partner called a ‘working dad.’ Somehow these quiet gender biases that permeate through our society make it seem normal for a woman to stay at home, and for a man to stay out of the home. When dads stay at home to take care of the children, people often refer to it as ‘babysitting.’ He’s babysitting the kids, they’ll say. But when a woman stays at home to take care of the kids, no-one calls it babysitting. It’s parenting.
I have never worked as hard and with as much dedication as I do now.
There’s a (thankfully) disappearing Victorian perception that a working parent is less serious, or brings less value to a business. I have never worked as hard and with as much dedication as I do now, partly because I know exactly what my ‘Why’ is. My work provides security and comfort for the family I love, and knowing this gives me an energy and commitment every morning that goes beyond my job description. Mental strength comes through experience and I tell you – when you need medical attention for an hour after an intensive labour with a screaming baby by your side, no spreadsheet or angry email is going to feel too challenging. I'm also much more organised now as a mum. The first week I went back to work I had to create a spreadsheet for childcare. It was a military operation, knowing whether my daughter was going to be with me, with my former partner or with my sister. I’d pack all her lunches the night before, get up early, shower, then wake her up, feed her breakfast and get out of the house by 7.15am in order to get her to nursery, and then start my commute on the train to the office. By the time I’ve sat at my desk, I've already done more than some people. When you put in that much energy just getting to work, you know you’re 100% committed to bringing value to the business.
There’s no shame in being vulnerable and asking for help.
I happen to be extremely lucky because my company Aiimi is extremely considerate of my needs as a working parent. When I have to dash off unexpectedly because the nursery has phoned saying my daughter’s ill, they understand and support me. If I have a problem or I’m struggling, I know I can talk to Lisa, Ben or Tom and they’ll suggest I work from home or do more flexible hours – whatever I need to get back on my feet. I am really grateful to Aiimi for such an amazing company culture, and I’ve learned over time to be more vocal about what I need. Being a working mum is a juggling act, and you need to know how to divide the workload so it’s even and fair. I’ve often felt the need to shoulder all the burdens and take care of everything myself, but I’ve learnt it leads to mental burnout. Respect your needs, ask for support before you get overwhelmed, and don’t feel guilty. There’s no shame in being vulnerable and asking for help. The more receptive you are to support, the more you can replenish your energy stores and give back to the people you love.
I want my daughter to know that she can do anything she sets her mind to.
Many parents know that happy, peaceful feeling when you’re cuddled up with your child reading stories, and you both can’t stop laughing. It’s euphoric. For all the hardship, being a parent is one of the best things in the world. I want my daughter to know that she can do anything she sets her mind to. Whether she wants to go to uni or travel the world, be a NASA astronaut or a ballerina, I support her absolutely. And I’d like other women in the workforce to know that if I can do it, they can do it too. We’ve recently hired a lady who has two young kids. The more visible working mums are in the workplace, the more we can change age-old stereotypes about the roles of men and women, and bring a fresh perspective to business. Whether you’re a working mum or a working woman looking to become a mum, just know it’s totally possible, especially when you have a sisterhood by your side who can lift you up and guide you. Don’t be afraid to take the leap because women - you really can have it all.
If you’re looking for mental health resources, you might like to check out some of the following options:
- For Aiimi staff, don’t forget you can make use of our free, confidential Health Assured service for resources, advice and counselling
- Mind – www.mind.org.uk
- Samaritans – www.samaritans.org
- Time to Change – www.time-to-change.org.uk
Read the other posts in our Personal Journeys in Mental Wellbeing series:
Speaking My Mind by Steve Salvin
Stress needn't be a heavy weight by Paul Maker
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