So, where to begin? I went back to work. Mine is not a particularly unusual set of circumstances, I had 2 children, 2 years apart, I went back to work ( in local government) briefly in between, for 3 days a week. Initially this was fine. Three days gave me a nice balance, I had Mondays and Fridays jam-packed with activities and playdates for my toddler, and some grown up time using my brain, whilst sitting down (mostly) uninterrupted at work.
I started to feel the pressure when I became pregnant with my second daughter, I felt like I was unable to catch my breath, and despite the best efforts of my husband, I was exhausted looking after my toddler and maintaining my job. I had to leave work early, and so for a few months, had some time to myself to rest before my second daughter was born.
Anyone with two children close in age will know that the first year goes by in a state of disbelief at how impossible and exhausting it can be. Many, many whole blogs are dedicated to describing this in lurid detail, so I won’t elaborate now, except to say that they’re all true, and then some. At the end of the first year, we are incredible fortunate, and happy, but also completely knackered.
So far so ordinary. My plan was to go back to work, at just over a year, restart my job at three days a week, both girls in nursery. We did the settling in sessions at nursery, and though the baby and I struggled with the separation, I knew this would get easier with time. I started back at work, slightly nervous as I had left quite suddenly, but the office was welcoming, and there was thoughtfully planned work waiting for me.
But something didn’t feel right.
It felt like groundhog day. Projects that I had worked on before (some several times) were being done again, without learning from past mistakes (or triumphs). There were fewer people than before, everything felt rushed, and so many people had left that there was no memory of why things were done or avoided previously. Restructure after restructure meant that managers were clinging on to their positions, and prospects for progression seemed bleak. My vision of starting back at work and furthering my career suddenly seemed harder.
Then there were the nursery costs. The delay in the introduction of tax free childcare and the 30 hours meant that my calculations about take home pay were over optimistic. After nursery, travel and parking we were left with very little. Add to that the takeaways, shop bought lunches, convenience foods that I ended up buying due to lack of time and energy, then we barely broke even.
I was prepared for the ‘no money after childcare’, after all, it was my choice to have kids so close together. I hear a lot of talk about ‘working to keep your job’- the idea that, although essentially unpaid for a couple of years, you work to ensure you have a job so when your childcare costs reduce, you reap the benefits of having a flexible job. But then my friend with a 4 year old got made redundant, she had done just that: ‘work to keep your job’ and was repaid with redundancy. I considered how I’d feel if the same happened to me, if I worked the next few years until my kids were at school and then was made redundant- devastated I thought.
Time to reassess
With my fate and that of my family unsure, I did what anyone would do, I went to the pub. Specifically I went to the pub with old friends, that is friends who have known me a long time, (and they are old 😉 ). I have got some truly brilliant mum friends, but this was not a discussion for them. They have all made different (and brilliant) choices about the balance of working and families, but I didn’t feel I could have a truly unselfconscious conversation about it without feeling like I might be inadvertently criticizing their choices. So I went (and got drunk) with these friends and discussed what to do. The jist was ‘screw your job, you’ll find something better’ and most pertinently from one friend ‘don’t think you can hide that you hate your job from your kids, my mum certainly couldn’t’. That was enough for me, I was off.
My work were asking for voluntary redundancies, so I earnestly applied in December. My reasoning was that I had had so much time off in the last three years, with no cover, they could cope without me. The decision wasn’t until February, but I judged it to be worth waiting for as the (albeit small) payout would help us with a drop in income.
Whilst waiting for my redundancy decision, I came across what, a couple of years ago, would have been my dream job: a promotion, with extra autonomy and a 15 minute commute. I applied and was shortlisted. But as the interview drew near I was dreading it, I realised that it would still be working on the same projects, implementing deeper and deeper cuts to public services, and even the extra money was still not worth it. My heart was no longer in it. I know it sounds dramatic, but bear with me- after the first travel ban was announced in America, someone wrote ‘ Donald Trump hasn’t stopped anyone from entering the US, people following orders have’. This resonated with me- George Osborne and Theresa May haven’t closed any Children’s Centres or cut Library services, but I am, as part of my job, and I just can’t do it in good faith anymore. There are no more efficiencies to be found. Some of my colleagues believed they were making the best of an inevitably bad situation, and they may be right, but I’m not the person to help them.
Having decided I’d quit if I didn’t get redundancy, a friend suggested I write about my experiences, and whilst reluctant at first (I’m not a great writer, and don’t think I’m particularly interesting!) I thought I’d give it a go. So here it is, in the hope of inspiring other people to back away from the notion of ‘having it all’.
What I’m planning to cover in the future:
- Career Space
- Maintaining skills