Dear Working Mum,
I don’t know how you do it.
We’ve all been tickled this week by the hilarious BBC interview that went so very wrong when a toddler and baby came running into the room while their dad was on Skype being interviewed about democracy in South Korea. It was my favourite YouTube moment of the year so far – until this morning, when a friend reposted this on Facebook, a spoof of what it would have been like if it had happened to a woman. A working mum. And the reason I laughed so hard is that it so absolutely could have been true.
But actually, it’s kind of not funny.
Because working mum, I don’t know how you do it.
I don’t know how you get up in the mornings and get not only your small people looking presentable, but yourself as well. Hair, make-up, clothes-that-do-not-fall-into-the-Active-Wear-category, grown-up shoes… but you do.
I don’t know how you make breakfasts and packed lunches, and get small people to sit down and eat said breakfasts, while simultaneously preparing yourself mentally for whatever tasks are waiting for you when you get to your desk… but you do.
I don’t know how you manage to do the school run, administering that all-important “one last kiss”, and then haul yourself across town (or sometimes even further) to wherever work is, and arrive on time… but you do.
I don’t know how you field meetings and paediatrician appointments (both of which could be moved at any given time), sick kids and conference calls, and the eye-rolls of those who don’t know better when you absolutely have to leave at 5pm (I hear the voices only half joking: “Oh, half day today?”)… but you do.
I don’t know how you keep straight in your head the permission slips that need to be returned and the birthday gifts that need to be purchased and wrapped while simultaneously putting together a PowerPoint presentation on That Important Thing for a room full of people… but you do.
I don’t know how you finish your day job and then rush home to start your other, harder, more demanding job. You cook dinner, you get them to tell you about their day, smiling while you try not to feel sad about the moments you missed. You coo over their artwork, oversee homework, referee skirmishes, kiss better booboos, do bath time, read bedtime stories, and then when the lights are finally out, there is the matter of running your household to attend to. Making sure uniforms and sports kit are clean and in the right place, opening the post, checking the diary, finding time with your spouse…
I don’t know how you do it, but you do.
Working mums, you are the true unsung heroes, the true feminists, the true foot soldiers. Most of what you do goes unacknowledged, because you make it look easy. You never let your kids think for one moment that there’s anything more important to you than they are, and, by some houdini-esque, magical slight of hand, you simultaneously keep climbing the corporate ladder, ensuring there are places open for the rest of us, ensuring we don’t get left too far behind.
I’ve heard it said that there can be tendency towards judgement between different “camps” of women – the stay-at-home mums judging those who choose to value their careers too much to abandon them; the mums who go back to work judging the more Stepford-orientated among us for staying home… I have to say that I’ve never experienced any judgement of this kind. It’s been my experience that, whatever we do after we have children, it’s always accompanied by an element of regret and guilt. Those of us who stay home feel guilty for letting our careers stall, our educations go to “waste”, our skills get rusty. Those who return to work feel torn.
Judgement has no place here.
I’ve also heard it said that it takes a village, and that working mums have a team to help them. But in the middle of the night, you’re still mummy. When your kids are sick, you’re still mummy. You have to know who is where, when, and you’re the one who makes sure things don’t fall apart. You deserve every bit of credit for doing an impossible job, no matter how much help you have.
I can’t speak for women the world over, but from my little corner of reality I just want to say this: thank you, working mum. Thank you for doing the hardest job in the world and making it look easy. Thank you for taking judgement from those who don’t know better and brushing it off because, really, you’re far too busy for all that. Thank you for walking out of that meeting early and ignoring the sighs from the people who didn’t need to so that you could get back to your kids. Every day you are making strides towards normalising work-life balance for parents – even if it is sometimes at the cost of your own pride. Thank you for showing us that who you were before, although never the same again after children, is important to preserve.
Thank you for holding our metaphorical seats open for us in the office, so that when those of us who stayed away longer do go back you’re there, just ahead of us, making sure the path is clear and we don’t trip over.
I don’t know how you do it but, just, thank you. You’re my hero.
PS – Dads, you’re amazing too. We know we’d be lost without you.