So it’s Friday night and I’m heading out with a girlfriend for supper. As I stand waiting for her at her front door, I idly contemplate the house opposite. All lit up it looks cosy on this rainy, cold night. I notice the open plan interior, the vague outline of interesting paintings and edgy furniture, hear a baby crying from deep within. Then a young woman (mother?) plodding slowly up the stairs, the baby on one shoulder. It must be bedtime and I imagine how many times those stairs are going to be trodden that night.
Perhaps as the young mother prepares dinner the baby monitor will sound. Perhaps when she sinks down in to the sofa and reaches for the longed for glass of wine. Or when she’s just watched the first few minutes of the soap she’s following and has saved for this very occasion. Or later as she decides she’d better go to bed as she’s tired and probably the baby will wake in the night. Or during the night deeply asleep, she’ll be dragged from that sweet slumber and stumble to the nursery. Or probably the worst, the 5am call when it’s too late to go back to bed and hours and hours of exhausted daylight lie ahead.
So many abrupt awakenings, so many calls on her time. So many duties, so much patience and forbearance, so many years as that baby grows in to a demanding toddler, schoolchild, teenager, student.
I’ve known my friend for around 25 years, from when our children were toddlers. I remember going to the Early Learning Centre with her to purchase toys for the toddler group we were organising. I remember our children being in the same nursery. I remember the play dates and the sand pit and the teas. And intense conversations and thoughts of my future when I wouldn’t be so tied, when I could pursue my own interests, my own career. Distanced from that career by my decision to be at home, I trusted that somehow I would find my way back.
But I must be honest as I stood on the sidelines as other more daring mothers than me reclaimed their careers and promotions and lunches in smart restaurants and power suits, sometimes I doubted myself. Sometimes I thought I would never get back to myself, feared that I would never reclaim my early promise or potential. That all that education and years of studying – yes, so useful to the little children I was raising – would never again be useful to me.
It was hard to stay clear about my purpose. I could not bring myself to leave my children. The possibility of their sad, little faces pressed to the window as I left the house with my briefcase, turning to wave as I retreated to my busy, important office was anathema to me (I am not claiming that particular scenario is in any way rooted in reality – or maybe it is, I’ve no idea). But I sensed they needed me more than anyone and I needed to stay close to them too. So in a way although I seemed to have a choice, I did not. Not really.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel conflicted. I often wonder, and I do not say this as some kind of neat marketing pitch, if I had a coach at that time, someone with whom I could work out what I wanted and maybe find a way to combine all parts of myself, what could have been possible for me during those years. But in those days I clearly remember, the idea of sharing my turmoil with so called professionals might mean I needed help and that was never something I could risk owning up to. So I carried on talking with my friends and trying my husband’s patience and never really soothed the ache inside.
This week I went to a networking event and the speaker was an amazing woman – passionately committed to her business and a loving mother. In that room of high achieving women, there was a toast to all those hard working, striving, coping, triumphant mothers.
I wish they had also toasted the ones who stay behind, who despite yearning for the deep satisfaction of the workplace, put those longings to one side for quite a while and turn their attention to the little, dependent ones who simply like being close to mummy. In a week when it feels like politicians don’t seem to think that kind of toast all that important either, I raise a silent glass, just as my friend and I did the other night in the pub.
For the record nowadays I am fulfilled and happily engaged in work I love. My children are grown and don’t need me quite so much. I don’t think I regret the years I sacrificed and my trust that things would work out proved well founded.
I am thankful that one of the things I learnt from my years with my children is that sometimes the decisions we make can yield confusing results and conflicted feelings. And I think that realisation helps me as a coach. We have come a long, long way since women first dared to believe they could have a life away from child raising and the duties of home but the decision to claim that life still carries consequences we have yet to fully resolve – as we have seen so clearly last week.
And it’s still a debate worth having. If you have wrestled with this dilemma please share your experiences and thoughts with us. And if you are a mother wondering whether to return to work or stay home with the kids or anything in between or beyond and would like to explore how to be OUT LOUD for yourself – just as you help your children to be fully self expressed and OUT LOUD too – please email me at and we can start the conversation. I promise I will try to understand exactly where you are coming from – wherever that may be.