Kids starting School? What's next for You?
Next week, my twins start school. Like many other parents who’ve given up careers to be at home with their children, I’m facing redundancy – and an unprecedented level of interest in how I’ll fill my time.
So far, I have batted off this question with the somewhat flippant response, ‘Get my nails done and enjoy boozy lunches.’ In part because I fear this question is loaded with judgement rather than genuine interest, but also because it triggers overwhelming anxiety about what’s next for me.
Yes, I’ve had four years to prepare for this moment. However, they’re four years I’ve actually spent preparing two other people. I’ve taught them to talk, walk, use the loo, write their names and be kind (and some other stuff). During that time, I’ve barely managed to shave my legs let alone update a CV and plan a post-maternity career path.
I’ll Get a Job!
The ‘I’ll get a job’ solution I assumed would just happen turns out to be more complicated than anticipated. It’s not just about finding that job; life after stay-at-home-parenting needs readjustment – not just for those of us job-searching but for the entire family.
Here’s why: motherhood (I can only speak from my experience) does funny things to you.It can make you feel astonishingly brave – you’d engage in a fight to the death with anything that threatened your child. It can miraculously enable you to function in a 24 hour job without training or remuneration on levels of sleep deprivation that test human endurance. It can bring out first-rate skills in logistics, health and safety, negotiation and conflict resolution. And, one would think, mean that you eventually emerge with exceptional confidence and skills.
And yet, motherhood can just as easily make you feel vulnerable, lost, chaotic, socially inept, forgetful, and a bit ‘leaky’ (my pelvic floor still has a flaw). And none of this makes me feel like I can stroll back into that career with ease. In fact, strolling back now goes via the school gates twice a day and makes the previous career unviable.
What are the Options?
For an increasing number of women, this means a new career that allows for more flexibility. In some cases, this might mean joining the rising number of self-employed. The Office for National Statistics shows that the number of self-employed people increased from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017. In fact, the modern workforce is shifting and adapting to make jobs appealing for competitive candidates who are putting families and quality of life over long hours or commutes.
Invest in Yourself
Whilst having the freedom to explore new career options may offer exciting opportunities, career changes, new projects and jobs require investment. That means, in the first instance, having to invest a bit more in yourself.
The perceived amount of time for this, however, may be undermined by the expectations of those around you. Unless you have childcare, trying to secure that job before they’ve started school is a challenge. Take it from someone who’s writing an article whilst everyone else in the house is asleep.
This is why the readjustment needs to happen, otherwise it’s not sustainable: the relative who’s relied on you to take them to a medical appointment every week must now find alternative arrangements; your spouse may need to do some of those night shifts if, like me, you have nocturnal children; and “fridge medley” may well become a meal in its own right.
Adjusting takes Time
For those of us in this period of readjustment, it’s hard to expose feelings of anxiety and vulnerability. It’s easier to be defensive when someone questions your situation. At times, it can feel like the working world sits in judgement: you’re not doing enough unless you’re doing everything. To think you’re being perceived as doing nothing feels like the ultimate failure.
Yet, if your family has a lifestyle where your being at home enables everyone, including yourself, to live happily and get to those medical appointments, then the question of what you’ll do now your children are at school really shouldn’t matter. And it certainly shouldn’t come with judgement. There’s a strong argument about the critical role you play in the social fabric that’s important to acknowledge. The reality is that with more daytime hours, you’ll probably just shift all the stuff you did at 10pm to 10am.
Be encouraged that the professional world is shifting to view soft skills (mothers have heaps of these) to be as important as experience.
Attend courses designed to help women transition back into work. Alexandra Terhalle Coaching has lots of Winchester-based workshops.
Know that trying to do everything is rarely the route to success.
Next week when my twins start school, it won’t matter that I’m no longer where I was professionally. It was all worth it. I’m going to be beaming with pride at seeing my children walk into their classroom and the important role I played in getting them there. There’s new adventure for us all and deep down I know we’re equipped for it. And then…I’m going for a boozy lunch and getting my nails done.
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