By Pia Johansson
I first joined Über Moms when my first child was about five months old, so just before I went back to work more or less full time. I am the major breadwinner of my family, so going back to work was not really a choice, but I would have even if I didn’t have to. I am definitely a proud and happy working mom. As a scientist, my work is a huge part of my identity, and I never had any intention of becoming a stay at home mom. As we all know, pre-baby intentions and thoughts can quickly change after the arrival of the little ones, but for me, this is one that didn’t change. And even though I feel guilty about a lot of things, I do not feel guilty about being a working mom. I think children are raised by villages and they come in all shapes.
We moved back to Sweden for my new job, and I am now working full time, with my home life centering around my two little ones (4 and 2.5) and their part-time stay at home dad. Luckily, I hit the motherlode when it comes to husbands in terms of equality and non-reliance on gender stereotypes. He and I really share most of, well, everything. He takes them to kindie and picks them up most days, goes to school, cooks and does most of the shopping. And all car related stuff (because argh, cars). Truth is, though, that in Sweden this is not all that uncommon. Men and women often share their parental leave and the dads do their fair share of the stay at home duties.
Obviously, working full time comes with its own challenges. But I think every constellation of motherhood does. I think the biggest problem facing a working mom is that there is a lot, a lot, of guilt: for not spending more time with your kids, for not being more fun in the evenings (works for both husband and kids), for being tired and impatient at the end of the day, for not spending more time at work, for not working in the evenings, for wanting to do things away from the kids and family when I am not at work, for wanting me time. All these things were worse the first time around, though; I felt like I was always running (and no, not the good kind of running), to get to work, to finish my experiments, to get home on time.
Now, I have a slightly different kind of job that requires a little bit less time commitment, so it’s easier, but I still rush around at work way too much so that I can leave at 16.30. And then, when the kids are asleep (hopefully by 20:30), I am done. I get so little done after that; it’s ridiculous. I tidy a bit, clean the bathroom, and then I sit on the sofa. But without this zombie-hour I would not manage. I spent a month a little while ago when I had to work every night writing a grant proposal and it almost destroyed me. I was so tired I almost cried some nights when I came home and knew I couldn’t relax. I suppose the fact that we (I) had three birthday parties during this period didn’t help. Or maybe it did. It forced me to take a break. And the cakes (all three of them) turned out really nice (yes I know, I am bragging, but I was really happy with the outcome, plus it shows that I have time for all that, too). But this period showed me very clearly that even though one can definitely work and raise children at the same time, one cannot do all the things or work all the time. Self-care, self-preservation and self-knowledge is pretty crucial.
But crazy as it all is, I wouldn’t really change much (well, having only 80% of my workload would be nice if it was possible, but in my line of work you often end up working only 10% less, get paid 20% less, and get at least 20% more guilt).
And I would definitely recommend it to anyone. Don’t stay at home just because you think (or someone else thinks) you should. If you want to, then of course all power to you, but don’t feel guilty for wanting something in addition to being a mom. Now, you might say that I have a stay at home dad at home, so it’s not the same, and that’s true, but our plan is for him to work as well and we will just work around it, meal-planning, having groceries delivered, run-commutes, lunch-hour gym and all that. And a Roomba. While writing this article, I tried to find some good sources about working and not, and I did find a large survey showing that SAHMs were more depressed than working moms, often due to the isolation and lack of appreciation, and I am not surprised: that’s certainly how I felt. However, I realized that this is not what I am trying to say. It is not about justifying my choice or saying that my choice is the best. Not at all. It’s to say that I am happy with my choice and my role and you can do it, too, if you want.
And remember that even if the house indeed doesn’t clean itself, if no one is home all day it doesn’t get messier, either. And your kids want a happy mom. So try to be happy, in whatever form that takes for you: life is only happening once.
Pia Johansson is a research scientist in neurobiology, mother of two and working mum. She was an expat for almost twenty years, in Australia and Munich and a short wild stint in Dublin many many years ago. She has now been repatriated to Sweden with her Australian husband. She likes talking, running and talking about running. And chocolate (although mostly 85% these days, as crazy as that sounds). In addition to staying fit and eating healthy, and raising happy healthy children, she dreams of doing something a little bit creative like writing or becoming a photographer. Or at least organizing her photos soon.