To work or not to work? That is the question-
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The nappies and wails of first-time motherhood
Or to take arms against Ofsted,
And by appeasing them, end Special Measures?
My crisis of identity was by no means on a par with Hamlet’s existential debate – but when considering the end of my maternity leave and the new responsibility that had been placed in my arms, there was some serious soul searching to be done.
My entire adult life I have been in primary education. It was such a massive part of my identity. Karen: the long-haired, heel-wearing teacher (there are less flattering adjectives I’ve been labelled with I’m sure…). I am immensely proud and privileged to have worked with thousands of little minds, hundreds of families and some seriously inspiring colleagues in the twenty years I’ve had to devote myself to work pre-pregnancy. But what was I to do – now we had a home-grown little person of our own?
Two years previously I had taken on a new role and my most challenging to date (Head of School in a failing school), so I had the guilt of maternity leave weighing heavily on me. Ofsted (the national schools inspection body) were looming and my amazing Executive Head was spreading herself more thinly than a pancake. Could I go back and make it work, juggling motherhood and giving the school everything it needed and deserved. Yes – within reason. Childcare would have sapped my income and Harry would have always been my first priority but I know from all those amazing mothers out there that do it, that I could have made it work. However, I am extremely lucky to have have found a hubby who was happy and able to support me in taking time out from work. Without any family nearby and no support network, we seriously mooted the idea of moving to the South-West to be able to tap in to the Granny Network but this would’ve had work implications for Mr Unyoung. So the decision was made – I would become Chief Executive of Nappy Disposal, Prime Weaner and Head of Tantrum Termination.
The decision to resign from my post and work out my maternity leave for thirteen weeks (of which six were the summer holidays) was bittersweet. Ofsted did pay a call whilst I was up to my elbows in carrot puree and the outcome was favourable – we were deemed a good school. Only it wasn’t a we anymore. Like a relationship break-up, the school had moved on. However, instead of playing power ballads, watching rom-coms and eating ice-cream, I was left playing lullabies, watching the Twirlywoos and… eating ice-cream. The separation left me feeling somewhat adrift. I am eternally grateful to have this time with Harry and fully appreciate that many mothers would love to be in my position, where they could give up work. However I haven’t found it completely plain sailing. To plagiarise once more from Hamlet’s musings:
For who would bear the tantrums and tears of the stay-at-home mum—
the howls of teething baby , the advice from ones who know it all,
the pangs of an unfulfilled social life, the slowness of the hour before bed,
the unfinished sentences and cold coffee at mum meet-ups,
and no respite from the demands of your progeny.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was debating whether to end it all. I just started a blog Your Highness – my therapy of sorts. It has to be said, full-time mumdom is not for everyone. There’s the lack of routine, the lack of adult conversation and the lack of cognitive demand. But it is what you make it. I have needed to reinvent myself. Gone are the heels. The standard uniform of body-con dresses and pencil skirts are a thing of the past. Going out to join friends in town of an evening – now once every… errr, three or four months. It has taken some serious readjustment and redefinition.
As I slip my feet in to flats and answer once again to Harry’s Mum, rather than Karen, Mrs Unyoung or Miss! I’ve begun to realise that we all have our backstory – the geriatrics even more so! You can be quick to forget all that you have achieved in your life as this explosion of new life tends to trump it all, but childbirth is a leveller amongst women. We just need to take the time and show the patience to look beyond just ‘someone’s mum’. Mothers have done this amazing thing but it doesn’t stop there – the steep learning curve needs to incorporate your own self-development. It has sparked in me this foray in to writing; something outside of soft-play and Thomas the Tank Engine that is challenging my brain and redefining me again. To those parents who balance this massive new role with gainful employment – I salute you, truly. But I won’t deny I am jealous you get to drink hot cups of tea and finish the odd sentence before being cut short by the demand for a snack or the seventh repeat of Peppa Pig.
I chose not to work. A decision that was not easy but has been the best for me and my family. There is no job description for my new role – the most exciting thing has been creating it. My timetable. My expectations. My standards. And no Ofsted!
Karen: the long-haired, happy Mum.