If you are a regular reader on here, you know I’m currently on a years sabbatical from my job as Deputy Head of a primary school in Sheffield; a job I’ve had for 10 years in a school I’ve worked in for 16. This started in September and was due to last for the remainder of the academic year. It came about after much deliberation. Firstly because a change in our financial circumstances meant it was an option for me to take some temporary time out whereas it hadn’t been previously. But also as life basically felt considerably too much this time last year; balancing the needs of three kids, a baby who didn’t sleep through illness, a husband who travelled with work and a hectic and high pressured job with a heavy workload left me reeling and feeling pretty overwhelmed with the world!
Well the big news from our house over the last few weeks… I’ve officially handed in my notice and will not return in September as planned. Full time mummy duties with some supply teaching thrown in for good measure and investigating alternative avenues is the plan for the next few years.
It’s been a really hard decision to come to. I’ve fluctuated between the two options, backwards and forwards with huge amounts of indecision! I’d think I’d made it and was definitely going to leave and then I’d pop into work and remember how much I love my job and my colleagues and the banter and the amazing kids I work with! Then I’d think about the logistics of how it would work if I went back and picture Jon coming home on a Tuesday and telling me he’d be going to Madrid on Wednesday for two nights and imagine the panic that would rise around the logistics of managing it all! I’d have a bad evening with fractious kids and remember that sometimes being at work felt like an easier option; then I’d see the progress George was making against his ongoing battle with reading because we had time to sit down and read together meaningfully each day instead of a token effort when I got back from work at 6.30 and I’d be back to square one with my choice choosing!
It would have been a much easier decision to make if I hated my job! There are hundreds of teachers walking out of their jobs every week citing issues around workload or the pressures that come with teaching, especially those working in challenging circumstances as I was. But I didn’t feel like that- I loved my job. Yes there was something that always needed doing, yes there were always ever changing goal posts and new pressures being piled on, yes I never reached the end of my to do list. But ultimately, I got to work with kids everyday; kids who challenged me to find new ways of doing things, kids who kept me on my toes and made me push myself, kids who needed me to be good and to make a difference. I still uphold that being a teacher is one of the best jobs its possible to do. And I like stress and challenge- I’m a busy person and like being kept on my toes, I also like to think I’m fairly good at what I do and I was making a difference. And I was privileged to work with an amazing team of people who supported and challenged and cared for each other in a climate of banter and good humour.
Being a teacher was also huge part of who I was. I am a teacher. It was part of my definition, part of my identity. I love being a mummy but I was really worried it wouldn’t be enough for me. That I’d be bored or crave adult interaction or get fed up of the same routine day after day, week after week. I didn’t just want to be chief cook and bottle washer. When I’d had George I really looked forward to going back to work- being a mummy was hard bloody work and being able to go to work each day (I went back full time after having him but was already pregnant with Esme so not for long!) gave me a break in some ways. It made me appreciate my time with him more and I enjoyed being back in the mix of grown up life.
But I think sometimes you have to remove something from your life to make you realise how thinly stretched you were. This time last year we were surviving, but barely, and life was far from enjoyable. I was frazzled. Jon and I were both knackered to the point of breaking point. Every single minute of our existence was accounted for. We’d get the kids in bed and then run around getting ready for the chaos of the next morning, chucking loads of washing in and clearing up the pots from tea as we went. In the time I had with the kids, I never felt truly present. Yes I may have been there physically, but in my head I would be running through my to do list or whizzing upstairs to get the clothes out for tomorrow or answering work emails on my phone. I didn’t feel like the fun mum of my pre-parenting dreams and that was another layer of stress weighing me down!
When I wrote about our sabbatical year so far a while ago, I talked about feeling like a weight had been lifted and that feeling just kept on growing. Friends commented on how well I looked or how relaxed I seemed. The reality was that we COULD do it ‘all’; we’d been managing for 5 years balancing work and family life. But we had chosen not to for a few months and that gave us a chance to reflect on what hadn’t been working. My least favourite bit of the juggling act was the evenings after I’d been at work. I’d walk through the door at sometime around 6 to take over from whichever grandparents they were with and would inevitably be knackered and be desperate to sit on the sofa and relax for a minute or two. But walking through the door to three kids in the post-dinner lull meant sitting down was a distant dream!!
I would put huge amounts of pressure on myself on these evenings to fit a full day of parenting into the subsequent hour that followed. Quick lets read, and do homework, and talk about your day, and have a bath, and be fun because you can’t miss out on that just because I’m at work! And inevitably this would end in tears because it was the end of the day and the witching hour had kicked in and there were three little people who all hadn’t seen their parents for the duration of the day and were all vying for attention in their own particular ways!! And I’d bustle them to bed, probably an hour later than I’d hoped for or they needed and then we’d both realise that we hadn’t eaten or remembered to call and get any food so a hasty pizza would be ordered while we both ran around trying to get sorted for the next round and then would fire up our laptops and carry on working to fit all the bits in you hadn’t managed to do before you left work. I still firmly uphold that there are a huge number of employers out there getting exceptional value for money from part time working parents who are still attempting to do the full time equivalent job they were doing before they had kids! But our evenings now are so much more enjoyable! They are still bonkers- our house will never be calm or serene or tidy- I’ve made my peace with that! But we now have our full quota of evening to pack it all into instead of a hurried hour.
But, there is a niggling part of me that feels like not going back to work is me failing in some way. In a time where women are routinely led to believe they can have it all- why am I choosing to give up a part of that ‘all’?? I worked my arse off for 16 years to build a career and to make a difference- Does stopping trying to balance it all, albeit only for a few years, mean I’ve failed? When I’ve subsequently told people about my decision to leave, I find myself making excuses about finding it hard to juggle a hectic job or Jon working away more or going from 2 to 3 kids tipping the balance that bit too much. In reality, for the next few years, I’m hitting pause on my career and focusing on raising our kids- if that works financially for us, why wouldn’t or shouldn’t I? We have made a decision based on what was right for all of us as a family, it is a positive decision not a negative one, and it was ours to make! I have to keep reminding myself of that instead of justifying it as if it is something I need to make excuses for.
I wrote a few months ago about how I was still pretty busy and if anything this has ramped up more. This year has definitely proven to me that I’m not someone who can be idle! I’m productive and need things to do to keep me ticking over! I’ve done some volunteer work at the school my big two go to and have really enjoyed that. I’ve also started doing a bit of supply in the last few weeks and have reconnected with my love of teaching (although its early days!) My previous role wasn’t class based but had some teaching commitments with groups and interventions- the problem was that when mixed in with all my other roles, I sometimes felt like I couldn’t dedicate the time or energy I would have liked to to the teaching element of my job. Being there purely to teach has been really refreshing! I chair the PTA at the kids school and that keeps me pretty busy and there’s also 56,000 WhatsApp groups to keep up with as a parent which is a full time job in itself! We have also got a flat which we have rented out for the last ten years but have now put on AirBNB which I’m managing. That has been great, brings bits of income in and is pretty flexible so can work around the kids rather than the other way round.
This year has been amazing. I have loved being able to take the kids to school each day and spend my days with Ted. Those initial fears of being unfulfilled at home still niggled me to begin with but I think part of overcoming those is that I have more confidence in my mummying abilities now. I feel like I know what I’m doing and that means I enjoy it and cherish this time more. I don’t panic at the prospect of a day at home with the kids anymore- I embrace it and we have a happy-if-chaotic routine of sorts! We eat better, we waste less food, we are more organised as a family; we have time for homework and reading and spellings and processing the school newsletter so I don’t have to do the walk of shame to go back and pick up the fancy dress costume they should have been wearing! Is life still hectic? Of course!! Extra curricular activities are the bane of my life and I’m desperately hoping Ted has my genes and is shit at all sports as I don’t know how we’d fit it in if he was doing any more! The big two fight like cat and dog! Constantly! Last week they were arguing over which cup to have as one glass of lemonade had more bubbles than the other!!! There are still plenty of times when I lose my temper and find managing the three of them overwhelming or frustrating or upsetting. Jon working away doesn’t get any easier in terms of managing the 3 of them on my own. I still worry and stress over how to carve myself into 3 to give them all the attention they need. Lots of the layers of parenting that bring mummy stress or guilt are still ever present!
But overall, the balance is much more firmly tipped in our favour! Our family life is my priority and as someone rightly said to me, no one ever gets to their death bed and says ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’! Plus I’m 37 and if the retirement age keeps getting pushed back, I’ve probably still got at least another 3 decades to work; in the grand scheme of things, a couple of years out now won’t matter at all!!!