Our littlest guy, Sahan (aka Smushie) is going to be leaving his beautiful daycare very soon. I would keep him attending there until he was 18 if I could. It has been our home away from home for both our boys since – well practically since they were born. The daycare centre caters specifically until three years of age so like our first son, it is soon Smushie’s turn to ‘leave his nest’. Milestones tend to pull me back to my memories – in this case back to Sahan’s first day as a six week old.
Contrary to what it may seem on social media my journey to 'own' being a working mum has been that – a journey. I know it may look like I have always known this and felt comfortable being a ‘working mum’ but it has not been a black and white process.
Before Smshie was born we looked at all options. We first discussed the possibility of me totally stopping work for a few months. This would mean taking our first son out of his daycare (that he had been attending since 12 weeks old) to be at home full time with him AND a brand new baby AND halting work on my thesis and my teaching position.
The truth was, the thought of this terrified me – more so than trying to juggle work while half exhausted.
Our first son was so happy where he was. I did not think I could provide the same level of care for him while looking after a new born baby all on my own. And I was even more afraid that if I stopped my thesis how would I ever get back in it let alone finish??
While I could work some hours from home, it was not going to be enough. Nor would I get the ‘mental space’ required for research. After talking with our daycare and their full support in starting very Smushie early, we decided to keep our eldest son in full time and have our second son start at six weeks of age for a few days of the week so I could keep working. Yes a huge part of my work was to be able to pay for two children in daycare (two under three might I add with no government funding) so that I could then work on my thesis.
Even so, I still kept that back door open a little though….if it didn’t work I could always change my mind and stop work and my thesis all together.
On the first day I left Sahan at six weeks of age, not only did I know I had made the right choice, it was when I knew in my heart of hearts that I was a working mum.
That morning, I had a shower, got dressed and my husband and I dropped both boys off together. Sahan was so little that we were still carrying him into daycare in his capsule. I had arranged a later morning meeting, just so we could have a coffee together and give me time to process my emotions.
I remember like it was yesterday sitting by the window of the café with a nice warm latte in front of me. I had make up and work clothes on, but a maternity bra underneath for the inevitable pumping later.
Tears started to stream silently down my face.
My husband grabbed my hand and said, “hey babe it’s ok we can go back and get them, we will find a way to make it work somehow if you want to be at home”.
I just shook my head.
“No – no it’s not that, I am actually happy”.
My husband gave me this look as if to say hmmmm so you are crying but you are happy?
“Yes”. I said to him. “I am crying because I am happy but I don’t want to be happy, I want to be sad. I wish I felt sad, but I feel so much relief.”
My son is six weeks of age and yet I feel relief at being able to leave him. Relief at having a break - my first break in six weeks. Relief that I get to sit here and ‘be a normal person’ and drink a latte in one go. Relief that I can wear make up and heels and work clothes. Relief that I can use my brain today for something that does not involve nappies, feeding and sleep times.
And yet, I wished with all my heart I did not feel this way.
I had lost my husband at that point but he knew me enough just to hold my hand and let me process.
It was in that moment that I knew, I truly, truly knew, leaving my little six week old baby and feeling that it was the right choice for me that I was a working mum.
It had nothing to do with how much I loved my son – both my sons for that matter. I had voluntarily put myself through assisted reproductive therapy to conceive him. But I also wanted something else as well, and there was no hiding from my feelings.
Fast track nearly three years later and I can hand on heart say, it was the right choice for our family.
Both our boys have grown up in that daycare – I know that the level of care, love and stimulation that they have been provided far out weighs what I could have possibility hoped to have been able to on my own. Having help with them enabled me to keep my career, my research, my passion going at the same time; not in spite of them but - because of them.
(Sahan's First Day at Folkestone Street Infant & Childcare Centre)
Everyone is different, everyone has different family help, different financial situations, different children. But for us this is what worked. Even with a six week old. I am sharing this because I was judged so heavily for my choice. Literally to my face I was told, “why even have children if you are not going to look after them?”. I am still judged today for the choices we make - the difference is I am stronger. I am stronger in knowing what is right for our family.
No-one else knows what is right for you, no-one else knows what you struggle with, what you need and therefore no-one else should have the right to criticise you for your own choices on who looks after your children – this is not the deciding factor of if you are a ‘good’ mother or not.
I am also not suggesting that you should go back to work or you should stay at home for that matter.
But to encourage you to follow your heart – I think that it is one of the best things we can teach our children.
Follow what is truly right for you and make your own path.
I know that I am personally a better mother, wife and woman for following my heart.
There will be judgement.
There will be doubters.
Follow what is truly in your heart and what is truly right for your family.
xxx Dr Julie Bhosale