This week was already looking like a car crash before it had even started...
On Sunday night, after a fun-fuelled weekend of playgrounds, soccer tots and swimming lessons, I had a panic because I had left myself ill-prepared for a series of meetings I had scheduled for the week ahead, and the leadership workshop I was due to deliver, that I had barely prepped for. Not to mention the small task of an email marketing campaign to build, to sell 100 tickets to a smart mob of digital professionals. My teenage self was saying "I haven't done my homework". Time was running out and neither Virgin Media broadband nor Mailchimp were on my side as my email template designs and my Chrome browser kept crashing - enter *techno rage*.
My working week, if not my working self, was in melt down.
Then came one of those days - the straw that broke this working camel's back: our nanny called in sick with flu. I juggled my work vs. child care balls and options, and nothing was staying up in the air. It was game over: no meeting time, no workshop prep time, no work. Stuck at home with Peppa Pig, Lego, dishes to wash, meals to prep and children to exercise, feed and change. The tsunami of self-pity took hold of me: "what's the point in even trying?" I wailed, as I weeped into the arms of my cuddle monster (for clarity: in this instance the cuddle monster was my son as opposed to my husband or one of my many awesome friends and colleagues - although all of the aforementioned contributed to my subsequent rebuilding of this camel's back on this particular day; and for this, to them, I am - yet again - eternally grateful).
I know that you're thinking: stop complaining! I'm a parent, it's what I signed up for. But I also signed up for a successful career and a sense of independence and pride. And I worked my arse off for twenty years to forge these. Yet, on days like these, with just the drop of one juggling ball it all comes crashing down around me. And I am reminded why women are quitting in droves. Quitting on their employers, quitting on the economy, quitting on themselves. On days like these we feel we have no choice but to give up, pack up and go home (oh no wait, I am already at home - doh!).
It's hard to describe what this feels like, to colleagues, non-parenting friends, to men (because personally I believe that to be a Mum is different to being a Dad - far, far harder, it's evolutionary, but that's another blog). To close friends who have supported me on this lifestage crisis, and who are comfortable with my habit of swearing, I have been calling it a "head f**k". But to get more specific, on days like these, it feels to the working mum like a paralysing frustration, a bitter disappointment and - albeit temporary - a loss of hope that your career could ever be considered once more as a thing of pride.
I have described my return to work, after having my highly coveted and much adored children, as the biggest battle of my life. And unlike the other life stages for which I read loads of self-help and self-development books to prepare me, not much is documented about the mind of the returning to work mum and the strength she must find to adapt and to transition to her new way of life.
Modern business leaders must be adaptable. And no-one practises adaptability like a working mum. No-one's life changes so dramatically than a career women when she becomes a mum. It's physiological, psychological and biological change of the highest order. And, as adaptive - and as adept - as most working mums are, they still need "our" - in the broadest societal sense - help to find a manageable balance, a renewed sense of self-worth and contentment in both roles: the all-important newer one of being a mum, and the also-important older one of being a professional.