So many ideas for blogs about going back to the office and changes in routines! So little time to write them! Here’s a list – possibly not even complete – about the many many things I like about being back at the office. It’s very much personal to my experience and I absolutely respect the importance of the at-home parent role for those who want it or who take it on because it’s needed in their family circumstances.
1) Extra money day-to-day
Whenever I get pangs of but the children like having us around, I figure, well, owning a house is also quite good? We would be ok on a single salary but two incomes is an enormous leap in living standards. The extra money can be used to pay our mortgage which presumes we’re on two incomes, and buy things that make life nice, and make the lack of time workable.
There’s a lot of writing by women extolling the satisfaction of going back to paid work without really focusing on the money, which irritates me. It’s the flipside of failing to acknowledge that a lack of money is an enormous problem for many families. It feeds into the idea that when women do paid work we’re doing it primarily for the innate joy, not to support our families, which contributes to the gender pay gap and the undervaluing of female-dominated sectors, and the prevalence of kids in poverty.
2) Being able to make future plans based on two incomes
There are two big elements to extra money coming in so it deserves two points. There’s the day-to-day: enough money that we can have a few more outings without careful budgeting. Enough money to buy some much-needed new clothes. Great. There’s also the future. In the early years, childcare takes a big chunk of a second income, but long term, the financial stability of our family is dramatically enhanced by having two earners. This gives us more scope for things to look forward to in a few years, like some nice family holidays.
As with the day-to-day income boost, it’s worth pointing out that this is problematic too eh. That families are economically disadvantaged long term if one parent stays home in a full-time caregiving role in the early years. It’s harder work than many paid jobs, and for some families it’s the only viable option for all sorts of reasons, and it should be a choice available for people who prefer it without having such big potential costs.
3) I don’t have to be a stay at home parent!
After we got back from the summer break, I had a week at the office and my husband had a week with the kids. At the end of that, I recognised in him a lot things I see as familiar to myself last year. The irritation at me dumping my stuff in the corridor when I got home. The desire to just shake free of the children when I walked in. The need for acknowledgement that the house was in half-decent shape and dinner was already begun (look at my achievements!). The tone of voice with the little dude – the one I think of as practised patience when I hear it in my own voice, the one that the little dude doesn’t yet see as a precursor to snapping, but one day will. It’s strange seeing this in someone else, this failure to thrive, it’s more obvious than seeing it in yourself.
Neither of us wants the other to be a miserable square peg in a round hole. We’ve chatted about it, and his reasons for wanting to work outside the home would be familiar to a large number of women – but easier to honestly admit to in a dad. He says that after an extended time with the kids, he’s not as tolerant of them, grumpier, not as good a parent. Wants his space. Irritated by the little things. For a few hours in the evening, he can be attentive and patient and relaxed. But a whole day, there’s so much to do and you’re over it by the end. Especially with two, you feel constantly got at because they both want the attention all day.
Oh I know, I know! Love not being at home with them all the time!
4) More space to enjoy them when I’m with them
To me, the loveliest thing about being in paid work is that I can shrug off some of the day-to-day stuff and play to my strengths a bit more with the kids. I can enjoy the opportunities for connection in the time we’re together because I don’t feel overwhelmed by them constantly. I can be a much much better parent. The evening cuddles with bub, feeding him then rocking him, become something mutually comforting. Answering D’s incessant questions in the car home from creche is funny and interesting. Even things like enforcing the boundaries become less emotionally draining and I’m better at pre-empting when it’s not all the time.
5) The creche is great
They nap well at creche. They eat nice cooked meals (apparently the little dude loves mince and I remember loving mince in my pre-vegetarian childhood but mince makes me recoil now, it’s so… grey.) They get to explore in an environment with minimal hazards, which is cool for a baby learning to walk. They get space apart from each other, doing things that are interesting for their different ages and stages. It’s pretty great. I remember my creche fondly. Mainly for D, that preschool education side of things, but even at B’s stage there’s some great features. He gets to chill out at creche in a way we can’t always manage at home with a very active older brother. The baby room is geared for people just like him! Tiny chairs at a tiny table eating his quartered grapes. I would NOT bother cutting grapes into quarters but that is a good food for a person with only four teeth.
6) It creates a more fulfilling relationship for us as a couple
For us! Not for everyone! But for us – crucial. I think given we met as students studying the same subject this is perhaps not surprising. Our relationship is best when we can come home after a long day, and not talk about work because of conflicts of interest and confidentiality obligations 😉 No but seriously, we like being married to someone in the same profession. That’s part of the appeal for each of us in our relationship.
7) It shifts the caregiving conversations
The little dude has just had two days home sick with Mr Daddy. My husband has more sick leave than I do, so it is the obvious decision. Just like it made sense last year for him to not take sick leave because I was home anyway. We find that two careers means childcare becomes a joint matter of concern without as much conscious effort. This makes family life work better for all of us, it’s really nice for the little dude to have had these two days one-on-one with his dad looking after him, really nice for his dad to get that chance to do the caregiving, and really nice for me to feel like decisions about looking after the kids are being made together and not falling to me by default.
8) The small dignities of the office
Every morning I turn on my computer, check my emails, then go and make my pot of tea. I GET TO DRINK HOT BEVERAGES UNINTERRUPTED. And the bathroom privacy! Incredible. Being able to chat to my work-space neighbour! Brilliant.
9) The small indignities of the office
Sometimes work is frustrating. This reminds me that life is frustrating, and we just have to deal with it. I respond better to the kids being irritating when I remember that it’s because they’re people in my life and every person is sometimes irritating to other people.
10) The professional satisfaction of doing something I enjoy
I’ve been a lawyer longer than I’ve been a mother, after all. I tend to overthink things, and my job provides an excellent outlet for that. I’d rather puzzle over good legislative design and tricky transitional provisions than efficient toy storage systems or the best brand of kids’ socks.
11) It’s not all or nothing
I get my Wednesdays with the kids and my 4,30pm finish time.
Working part-time is pretty much the secret to happiness. Wednesday feels like a day off, which is lovely. I can sincerely say to the little dude that I’m looking forward to our day together.
12) More mental space for myself in the gaps
The walk alone to the carpark and the drive alone to creche to get the kids. The pause at work to remember something I need to add to my to-do list. Tiny snippets you take for granted unless you never have those snippets.
13) It takes the pressure off my husband to earn all the money
Both now and in the future – we have options for him to scale back his hours, or take a job that pays less but is more enjoyable.
14) A counterpoint to motherhood helps me prioritise looking after myself
When I’m at home with them full-time, I feel like it’s difficult to logistically look after myself. It’s also difficult to allow myself to prioritise my needs, because it feels like it’s always my needs vs their needs. At work, I feel like the work obligations pull one way and the kids pull another way yet instead of being stretched, it helps me not to overbalance in either direction. It gives me a permission I need to carve time out for myself. Sometimes I’ll be at my desk feeling like I’m stuck on an issue and I’ll decide to pop out of the building for fifteen minutes, and while I’m out I’ll ponder, and I’ll come back and be productive. It reminds me that no-one can be on form all the time, in any role. Including parenting. It reminds me that the standards for my life, work or motherhood, aren’t perfect robotic performace, but good-enough-ish human performance, complete with occassional breaks.
15) It helps me to make space for my husband’s needs
I don’t resent him wanting to take an evening off when my life is in a better balance.
16) It gets me out of the house
Being an at-home parent means literally being at home a lot of the time, which is extra difficult when you’re at home with small creators of much chaos. Home started to feel like a place of work. Chores started to feel oppressive. In contrast, my desk at work is my own personal space and no-one comes along and messes it up.
17) It gives me things to talk about other than the kids
People get sick of hearing about the kids, y’know?
18) It makes me feel like we’re in a settled phase of life
I always knew maternity leave would be temporary. You don’t feel settled when you know you’re in a temporary phase. There are things we’d have done differently if I hadn’t planned all along to go back to the office – we’d have set ourselves up for it more deliberately. And it would have been more enjoyable if we’d done that. But we knew it was short-term, so we didn’t. Now we’re in the phase where we are setting things up more or less the way they’ll be for a long while, and that feels good.
19) Time resumes a more ordinary pace
Days seem shorter at the office. But months seem longer, somehow. This is a calmer flow compared with the topsy turvy time twist of being at home where the days can feel interminable but indistinguishable and the months whizz by before you get a chance to really enjoy the kids at their current age and stage.
20) Lunch breaks
I use my lunch breaks to good effect. I especially enjoy being able to get to yoga in a lunch break, which I’ve done once a week since going back to work. Even if the only thing I liked about being back at the office was once-a-week yoga, it’d be worth it.