It is the start of my second week as a working mum. My clothes for the morning are hanging up and my lunch is packed. The children’s clothes are laid out and their meals are in the fridge, ready to be heated up. (Not by me though.)
Last week, fresh from the shock of leaving my babies for the day while I got on the tube and went to the office, I wrote about how hard this is. But today, at the start of a new week and at the end of a weekend spent making the most of my precious time with them, I can write about the other side.
I don’t expect leaving my babies for the day to ever get any easier. But, there is much about returning to the office that I’m glad about.
Two months ago, on a ticket I’d won through Mumsnet, I went to Workfest - a one day careers conference for mothers. During the course of the day, I listened to a careers coach, to a headhunter, to a recruiter, to mums who held positions at the top of their field, and to other mothers like me, who were feeling a little lost. I went home at once excited and daunted. I loved working, and I was looking forward to going out to work again – but would anyone hire a woman who had spent the last two and a half years making babies?
In the month after Workfest, I rewrote my CV and spent hours asking myself what it was I really wanted. Workfest dared me to dream that it was possible to have the work and family life I wanted – but first I needed to be clear about what that was. What did I want for my family, what did I want to do all day when at work, and how did I see the balance playing out?
I have always told myself I wanted to wait until Jasmin was at least one before going back to work. I also only wanted to work part time while the children were very young.
Workfest made me made me realise that in addition to this, I want to work for someone who values me as a mother. I want to work for someone who understands that if Milin has his summer performance on Tuesday afternoon, I need to be there. I want to work for someone who knows that my favourite part of the day is having cuddles with my children before they go to bed. Getting home past bedtime is not an option.
And so Workfest made me confront the realisation that I didn’t want to go back to the newsroom. Not now, not yet.
It hasn’t been an easy decision to come to terms with. Newsroom are what I know and love. The thrill of nailing a front page lead or an exclusive, the buzz of presenting a cracking news list for the next day’s paper. My career has been spent working at a manic pace against deadlines and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
But right now, with my two-year-old and one-year-old the most important people in my world, I don’t want the 12-hour days. I don’t want the stress of managing a team of reporters who are all going to file late. I don’t want the sleepless nights about how the front page will be received in the morning.
Workfest gave me the courage to look at the skills I have and to value them, and it made me seek out what I need for me and my family. The newsroom might be that thing I want again one day. If it is, I hope I’ll be able to work my way back in.
But now, I’ve started work at an online retailer which also provides multi-media content for parents. It’s a community management role with scope for writing – and about a million miles away from a newsroom. I am working three days a week and once I’m settled, two of these will be from home. What that will mean in practice will be that I’ll save two hours of commuting time every day. Those two hours will be spent with my babies.
I’m going to keep freelancing too, because I’ve earned a small but steady income from writing since Milin was born and it’s something I love doing. That work will still be done once the little ones are in bed, and I’ll still be wishing there are more hours in the day.
Three years ago I would have scoffed at this departure from the newsroom, this stepping off of the ladder, this waving goodbye to a management role. I wanted, you see, to ‘have it all’.
But having it all, right now, means working for an employer who values my skills and experience as a mother. It means doing a job which I enjoy but which offers me flexibility. It means doing a job well, yes, because I won’t ever work any other way.
Am I annoyed that I’m leaving the newsroom to do this? Am I angry about not being able to find a way to progress my career in a male-dominated industry? No. Not at all. This is all my choice. I love the news industry for what it is, but right now, I’m turning my back on it because it can’t give me what I want. That’s ok.
Having it all means knowing my children are well looked after when I’m at work. It means having 90 minutes with them in the morning before I have to leave for the day. It means being back for stories and cuddles and bedtime every night. It means being there for all the things which are really important.
Having it all is about finding the things that matter, and then finding a way to make them happen. Now, more than ever, I get this.