After a five-year hiatus from work, I've returned to an office job. One month in to the new gig, I reflect on how I got here and if this work thingy is all it's cracked up to be.
When we left Sydney five years ago to come to Singapore, I gave up a solid part-time job at an IT firm, where I was earning similar money to my husband. Fast forward to May 2018 and I felt like I was having some kind of existential crisis. What is my purpose? Am I simply a breeding machine? Will I ever feel useful again, beyond teaching tiny human beings how to live? Am I shallow because I feel like the only way to meaningfully contribute to the household is by handing over cold hard cash (probably)? Will my mum tum ever go away? So many big questions that had obviously been simmering away for the last five years.
I spent my first two years here living the dream. I drank bucketloads of coffee, hung out with my childhood bestie (we lived in the same condo) and played with my kids 24/7. But slowly, steadily, I began to feel the need for more. I needed to be more than a mum. I needed to remove the cloak of guilt that I’d placed on my own shoulders, that I was simply a drain on the family because I didn’t physically bring home any bacon. I needed to use my brain again.
Up until having kids, I had spent my entire adult life feeding an ego that revolved around work – I understand now that this isn’t healthy, but at the time I didn’t know I was doing it. So once the coffee buzz wore off and the kids were more manageable, it struck me that I didn’t really know what to do with myself or what to talk about without an ‘occupation’ (be it work, or kids). I needed to find balance. Harmony. My mojo.
It took me almost three years from then to work up the courage to go back go work. I felt like living this far away from ‘home’, with no family support (both sets of parents helped with childcare in Sydney) that the buck stopped with me. I couldn’t possibly take on a full-time or meaningful job if I had to down tools every five minutes to deal with diarrhoea or a nit infestation. Even though we have a delightful, very capable helper, I found it difficult to wrap my head around the idea that she could manage a household and three kids without me (spoiler alert…she’s crazy good at managing the household. In fact, she’s better at it than me).
So, I finally worked up the courage to start looking for job opportunities. I’d still ruled out full-time work, because I just knew I’d miss the kids too much, particularly our littlest, who’s still so, well, little. One morning at school drop-off I was talking to a friend who I knew had a flexible work arrangement. She gave me a brilliant piece of advice. “Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a job. You won’t find part-time or flexible roles listed on job sites, but someone will know someone who will know of a job that’s perfect for you.” So that’s what I did. I’d run into a friend in the supermarket and tell her I was looking for a job. I’d mention it to every Tom, Dick and Harriet that I’d see at gymnastics, or the condo pool, or at mother’s group.
That’s how I came to be at HoneyKids. A girlfriend knew of a job opening for a writer and so I took a chance and sent in my CV and a work sample (it was the Neighbourhood Guide to Watten Estate, in case you’re interested). I can happily report that I have not looked back. From the initial interview (in a cafe near the office) I finally felt like I was in the right place at the right time. I had not had that feeling for a long time.
I work half a week, spread across three days in the office. I get dressed in child-unfriendly clothing (today I wore a light-coloured silk dress, because there are no kids here to smear greasy food on me) and walk to the MRT station listening to child-unfriendly music (eff off Justine Clarke…until I get home). I read a book on the train, I cross roads without holding anyone’s hand, I bring my KeepCup and stop by a cafe en route to the office. Then I get to work, fire up my laptop and write, write, write! The work I’m doing is nothing like I used to do, but it’s engaging and diverse and I work with a delightful bunch of people. My brain lights up like a Christmas tree, thinking creative thoughts and recalling information that I haven’t needed for some time.
When my work day is done I make the trip back to the kids and for now at least (it’ll wear off, I’m sure) they greet me with screams of delight and huge messy cuddles. I drop straight back into mum-mode, change into my shorts and t-shirt and focus on the kids. They eat dinner, I pick peas out of crevices, we talk about their days, I nibble the baby’s chin, I bathe them, brush their fairy-floss hair and smell them while they eat their yoghurt. I had somehow concocted an idea in my mind that I wouldn’t be ‘doing enough’ as a mum if I wasn’t around all the time. Let me tell you, that’s bollocks. As soon as I walk in the door, I shift gears and become mum again. It’s just natural and I look at all types of mums with a renewed sense of awe at the way women adapt and find their groove, regardless of their work-life arrangement.
Finding flexible work has brought a balance to my life that I haven’t had in years. I’m not saying that the work that I’m doing is my dream job (is there such a job as a lolly taste tester?), but it is fulfilling and satisfying. I feel like I’m contributing and I enjoy the separation of ‘work’ and ‘home’, rather than the greyness I felt when full-time mumming. As a full-time mum, I would feel guilty for not spending all day with the kids (all of them, all the time). I considered it my occupation and as such took it extremely seriously. My family will always be my primary focus, but going into an office environment has given me a renewed understanding of quality time and what my kids need. What they need is love, presence and balance. So despite the fact that I am away from them a little more than before, I know that they’re still getting exactly what they need. And so am I.
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