Becoming a mother changed me in ways I didn’t think possible. I clearly felt that my priorities would shift and this would manifest itself in how I spent my time, how I would be driven by a desire that my child’s needs were greater than mine. But I didn’t think our life situation would change. I remember saying to Johnny ‘well let’s see how I feel when the baby arrives, maybe I won’t want to go back to work and then we’ll need to sell the house and move out of London’. But I never really believed that – I was so in love with London and the life we’d built there that I felt that staying would be in the best interests for all of us. And that Rufus would have an awesome, varied life with everything the great city has to offer. My maternity leave was blissful in many ways – Rufus was a relatively easy baby (aside from the breastfeeding….blimey) but about 3 months in we turned a corner and we’d regularly head in to town. I’d worked out the tubes with step free access and we enjoyed many afternoons in the West End, wandering through Hyde Park, even perusing Selfridges! London is a brilliant place to live and I never grew tired of it. But something was starting to shift in me.
Is there a different way?
As Rufus lay sleeping on my chest in the afternoons, I wondered how I was going to return to work and leave a piece of my heart somewhere else most days. Our mortgage in London meant I’d have no option but to return – having been the bigger earner in our household for some time, I’d always been proud of that fact but suddenly it was becoming a burden. And it wasn’t as if Johnny could stay at home with Rufus either – we needed both salaries. I started saying that I felt we needed to consider moving – Johnny would say ‘well I don’t think moving to the commuter belt is necessarily the answer as we’ll just spend more time travelling and I don’t think we’d see Rufus any more than we do now…potentially less (he was right) and ‘but we’ve just spent all this money renovating the house and it’s just as we want it’ (also right). However, I couldn’t shake it…..and I realised that actually it wasn’t as simple as whether to go back to work or not – it was how I would be working when I returned. Generous salaries are generous for a reason and the pressure I felt in my job was significant. Whilst I’d enjoyed the challenge and worked with some brilliant people, the core components of my job left me stressed, anxious and wishing for the weekend to come.
Isn’t that just life…?
This brought in to focus the value of life and the importance of enjoying each day – not just living for the weekend. I wanted to be intentional about how I was living – in control and choosing to do things that I - we - wanted to do rather than feeling like my life was at the mercy of someone else. I had a lot of working years ahead of me…did I really want to spend them feeling this way? It’s a cliché but the time we have with Rufus we’ll never get back – and effectively, we’d pretty much only be spending the weekends together. Less than 30% of the week….really? I realised that sometimes how you’re currently living is too much of a sacrifice – yes we were living in a lovely house in a pretty sweet spot of SW London but big jobs were required to afford it. And with that came a stressful life for most of the week (Sunday night dread would normally kick in around lunchtime as a prelude to living a life that you’re not really enjoying). I began talking to friends about how I was feeling – ‘I really want to be working differently, feeling differently about work’, ‘I just don’t feel my job justifies being away from Rufus for all that time’. And responses were overwhelmingly ‘well yes but who really enjoys their job….that’s just life’. I couldn’t shake it though – was this really what was ahead of me for the next 20+ years?
Was this me….or you?
From the outside, I was seemingly doing well at work but my job had elements that didn’t naturally fit with my nature. A natural introvert and reflector, I was not infrequently told that whilst I got good results, I did so in a quiet way. I should work on being more impactful from the start – because then I’d be even better. Prior to becoming a mother, I’d told myself that I just needed to get better at that – always at the back of my mind in pretty much every work interaction. But actually, that’s not me….it’s not in my nature. Having continually told myself I had to change, I shifted to challenging these thoughts. I have choices in life. Do I really need to tolerate a less than ideal situation and become better at something I’m not naturally good at…why is that seen as a weakness rather than a difference? That, along with the fact that I was working in pressured environments all combined to be one melting pot of stress and anxiety for me. I realised I was feeling less of a valuable human being simply because of how I was made and what made me, me. It was just that the environment around me was valuing different characteristics. I started saying to Johnny that I didn’t feel cut out for the job I thought I’d always wanted. His response was to get a new job in a different organisation. But actually, this was about the salary requirements of a role and the expectations that came with that. Another role earning that kind of salary would still be high pressured (understandably so). But perhaps he was right that I could find something that was better suited to my personality….is that what I wanted though? Just to allow us to stay in London and hold on to the biggest financial asset we’ll probably ever have (another fear of mine was selling our house and Rufus’ future inheritance…we’d managed to grapple with the London property ladder…would giving that up be a failure?)
You always have choices
I wanted the very best life for Rufus (which parent doesn’t?) and whilst I was financially planning for his future, I realised that it was at the expense of time spent with his parents in childhood. Was that really a better option? I wanted a situation where we spent at least as much time together as we did apart. With both of us working full time and Rufus quite enjoying a lie in until 7am (not so much these days!), we were spending at most an hour with him a day. Often I would leave the house before he was up and be back just before he went to bed to give him a kiss goodnight. And dropping off at nursery was always a fraught affair to try and do so as close to 7.30am as possible to then rush to get on the tube before it filled up too much. I felt sadness in my heart that time was slipping away – that effectively someone else spent more time with him that we did. Upon returning to work (I couldn’t shift Johnny’s mindset quick enough), I quickly made the decision that this had to be a temporary situation. I also wanted to be a role model to Rufus – to show how important it was to take control of your life and that you always have choices – to show that anything was possible. I think Johnny tired of the weekly (maybe nightly) conversations that we needed to change something. And so, one evening, he said ‘ok if it’s not London then it needs to be the coast’. And less than 2 years to the day when I first had that thought, we arrived. In a pretty pocket of coastal Dorset, where the hills roll on forever and we’re sometimes lucky enough to hear the sea from our bed at night. Where the soundtrack to our life isn’t the humming of traffic or planes but of seagulls and sheep.
Nothing in life is certain
And as for work, well to start with I thought a resignation might be on the cards whilst I figured out what to do next (the plan being that Johnny would find a role locally if possible – he has). This was largely prompted by my miscarriage last autumn – in fact I contacted my manager whilst still on sick leave and explained I felt I couldn’t come back to that role. Without being crass, with no impending maternity leave on the horizon, I needed to take action now. Nothing in life is certain – let’s not waste any more time wondering how things could be different, let’s just do it. Her response was brilliant – I’ll support you in whatever you decide but why don’t you consider a move to a different role? And things fell in to place when a role came up that was interesting but less pressured and could be done remotely for most of the time. We have so much more time together as a family. And I feel that work is a part of my life but time as a family is more a part of it now.
So yes, becoming a mother was a life changing experience. But one which suddenly made me realise just how unhappy living how I was was making me. That there’s more to life than holding on to your most valued financial assets – if that means that you effectively can’t enjoy the life around them. After all, when all is said and done, isn’t the best asset time and love anyway?