In the past 3 years, I’ve tried a lot of different combinations of ‘work/life balance’: maternity leave, shared parental leave, working full time with kids in nursery, working part time with kids at home with my husband, easy job, hard job… I’ve pretty much tried it all. And every time, I look at other parents who have something different and I envy them. I want to focus on my career but I also want to focus on my kids, I want money and job security but I also want time and freedom, I want to work hard but I also want to relax. Can I have it all?
Becoming a parent brings great joy but no one tells you about the guilt. Whatever you chose to do, you’ll feel bad: for sacrificing your career, for not spending enough time with your kids or partner, for not earning enough money or for not having any time to look after yourself. So how can you achieve the right balance?
There’s no right or wrong, everyone is different, but to be truly happy with your choice you just have to do one simple thing… be selfish! Understand what you want, what will make you feel at your happiest, what you need to be the best version of you, and make it happen.
Maybe you want to be home with your children? Childcare in the UK is so expensive that most of your salary will go to nursery fees. Is it really worth working only to pay for someone to look after your child? Can you lengthen your mortgage, buy your groceries in Aldi, go out less, sell some of your stuff? You might need to get creative about how you can reduce your expenses but if that’s what you truly want you can make it work. Don’t feel too guilty about it, it’s temporary and your kids won’t be little forever.
Or maybe you want to work? You’ve taken enough time off work and it’s time for you to progress, focus on your career. Yes, you might be spending most of your salary on childcare but who cares? You don’t have to go to grotty soft plays and you can talk to adults all day and drink hot coffee. Your kids will get used to being more independent and will be making loads of new friends.
Or you want both? I’m still unsure if it’s the best or the worst combination but it’s definitely the hardest one to master. You’ll probably have as much work as before but less time to get it done (and less money of course) so you’ll often leave things unfinished or have to pick up work when the kids are in bed. You’ll miss play dates with friends and birthday parties and feel like you must do something with the kids on your ‘days off’ to make up for your time spent checking work emails during bath time. It’s pretty exhausting. But on the other hand you have both your independence back and a chance to be with your kids.
So the grass really isn’t always greener… Whatever you do, you’ll have to make sacrifices but they’ll be worth it if you are confident that you are doing the right thing for you. Yes, you, not your kids. They will not love you less for staying at home with them, or putting them into childcare, but you will start to resent them if you feel that you have to do something that makes you unhappy. Kids will adapt to whatever suits you and being a happier person will make you a better parent.