This week was the first real time my life as a Mother and my life as an Administration Assistant challenged each other.
Baby E became ill, and I had a dilemma; do I send her into day-care (knowing that she wasn’t contagious, nor was she vomiting) and go into work? Or, do I stay at home and look after her?
A lot of you are probably screaming at the screen right now, “Of course you stay home!”, “How is this a dilemma?”, “YOU’RE A MOTHER FOR GAWD’S SAKE!”
To understand why this was a dilemma, you have to understanding that pre-E, I had a very strong work ethic. I would go over and above what was necessary in my role, hated to let anyone down, and rarely took any sick leave (at one company I worked for, I averaged approximately two days sick leave per year over nearly a decade).
In fact it took my Mother, my Father, my Husband, numerous friends, and eventually a Doctor to make me take sick leave in my previous position, as I was ill from stress. I was unhappy; hating the thought of going into work, but equally hating the thought of letting my team down, and so I pushed through, until the people around me realised that I needed to stop, and urged me to do so.
I was looking forward to returning to my current role following maternity leave. Not because I didn’t want to spend time with E; I LOVE our days together, and not because I was bored, or hated being at home. It was because I loved going to work. I enjoyed being there and offering something of myself other than Mother or Wife. I relished the opportunity to be myself, bad language, crude jokes, and all.
And then there is that underlying guilt that I think even now in 2017, comes from that work culture that makes people think Mothers at work are flaky. They take time off when pregnant for antenatal appointments, and pregnancy induced illnesses, then they take 6 months to a year off when on maternity leave, then they take time off for doctors appointments and school events and also have their work shift patterns structured to benefit [themselves and] the care of their children.
Fathers don’t tend to have this guilt, because society doesn’t think that Fathers have to stay at home to look after their sick children. That it is obviously the Mothers that will take the time off. The attitude is likely to be that you don’t have to worry about a man taking off over half a year because he’s having a baby. Hiring him, promoting him, relying on him is a safe bet.
I know that the above is a generalisation, and moreover, I’m actually very lucky that in my current place of work, they look after Mothers;
- Special, Dependants, and Discretionary Leave can be paid leave,
- Illnesses linked to pregnancies don’t affect your Sickness Absence Record,
- and there is a Flexible Working Policy which helps when starting/finishing work at different times due to care needs.
But all the above doesn’t stop the guilt, when faced with the fact that I may have to call in to work and say I won’t be coming in.
After being told the nature of E’s illness at the GPs, my first reaction was how to go about taking care of her. Cancelling plans for the day, picking up her prescription, and getting her cosy, hydrated, and fed at home. It happened to be my non-working day, and so we hugged most of the day, watching Christmas movies on one of those made for TV movie channels.
My second reaction was to question whether I went into work the next day. I wanted to care for E , but I was anxious about letting my work colleagues down. My OH often tells me that no-one is indispensable; that it wouldn’t matter if I wasn’t there as others would fill the gap. Unfortunately, his advice isn’t something I’m able to take on board. (Why can your own brain be such an enemy at times?)
I went as far as calling E’s day-care to find out their policies on taking in children who are on antibiotics. They stated that they would be fine having E, as she would have been on the antibiotics for 24 hours by then. This should have put me at ease, but I was still unsure if it was the right thing to do. For E.
Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Mother’s Guilt”? I had, and I had felt it at times when I couldn’t get the housework done, or when I didn’t play with E because I was doing the housework. I had also felt it each time I left E with someone other than her Father. That somehow our lives were so entwined, I shouldn’t allow myself the opportunity to have time independent of her.
This time the guilt was magnified because I felt that there would be more people I would be letting down. No matter what my decision.
Fortunately, the decision was taken out of my hands. Someone else offered to stay with E whilst I went to work. I didn’t have to ask or suggest it myself, and I was extremely thankful that the offer was made. My guilt being lessened.
Who says Fathers can’t stay at home?