At 4:50 am, as I simultaneously tried to persuade my almost two year old back to sleep and listened to my older daughter regale me with her nightmare about the child snatcher (thanks Chitty Chitty!), I wondered if I would be able to manage the day ahead: drop-offs to childminder and school, court hearing, pre-action letter to draft, case to issue, a pile of CVs to sift through, oh, and this article to write. Followed by pick-ups, tea, bath, book and bed. But I did. Because that’s what working mothers do.
I launched myself onto my career path at an early age, long before I had given any thought to the question of children – it was all such a remote possibility. What I thank my younger self for now is some unconscious realisation that, however hard I worked and however high I aspired to climb, I always needed to ensure that work was just that: work. I was always strict about my hours, not taking work home with me and leaving my anxieties about the job in the office. This approach has always served me well – it created space in my life, a space now filled by my kids.
I was given my first promotion to associate when I was on maternity leave for the first time, a fact that often meets with surprise from my friends from less forward-thinking firms. It was a wonderful endorsement to know that I was valued, even though I had just embarked on my “second job”. I have done my best to prove from then on that I can balance both, and my two further promotions occurred between my two children and whilst working part time. I do not want to make this all sound too easy: I have been lucky enough to have worked in a flexible firm which appreciates its female employees, which has helped enormously. As has my work ethic. I hope though that I can use my experience to encourage others that they too can have a successful career and be a mother, IF that is what they want.
As girls, we are now told that we can be anything we want to be. Quite right too: it what my mother taught me and it’s a message I will pass onto my daughters. But we are not always told how! It’s a wonderful thing that woman are respected and encouraged to be working mothers, and good riddance to the assumption that they were not capable of this. But it is also so important to recognise that it is very hard. Even when things are working in your favour. It sometimes feels impossible to be good at both and there is a frequent feeling of guilt that someone is not getting the best of you, which can escalate into fears that you are failing at everything. As women, we can be very self-critical and often this is made worse by others who can make us doubt our abilities through both criticism and kindness. Sometimes a “you look tired, you have so much on your plate, have a cup of tea” can feel like a dig.
More often than not, this mostly comes from within. Ask those around you how they think you are doing and you will usually be pleasantly surprised by the answer. If I ever feel the doubt creep in, I recall my daughter’s response when asked what she wants to be when she grows up: “a lawyer like my mummy so I can help people get homes”. Seems like I’m doing ok in her eyes and really that is the most important thing!
We must be kind to ourselves and make our own choices. We can be working mothers, but it’s not for everyone and that is ok too. The fact we can be anything we want to be does not mean we have to be everything. If you do aspire to a career and motherhood, there are a few things I would advise:
- Find the right employer – ask them about their policies about maternity and flexibility at the interview (if you don’t get offered the job because of that question then they were not the right firm)
- Don’t make work your life because you can never maintain that as well as a family
- Surround yourself with kind and supportive people
- Have realistic expectations of yourself
- Ignore the naysayers
- Listen to and trust the positive comments
- And reward yourself – have that cup of tea!
There are days like today when I am so tired that I worry I can’t string a sentence, but I get through them and still smile at my kids at the end of the day. And I say a silent well done to myself when I do! I have found that if I believe in myself, everyone else does too.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and research how to make a “purple” cake for my youngest. It’s what she asked for and it’s a very apt choice given her birthday is on 8th March! Happy International Women’s Day to all the career women and to all the mothers; past, present and future.