dusting off my skills

My back to work journey after nearly two decades at home being a mum

I am one of those mums who decided to stop working full-time in order to stay at home to raise our children. I have often asked myself whether I regret that decision while I watch my contemporaries climb the career ladder.

Girls I was at school with now head up global companies and have impressive sounding titles in their email signatures.

I can boast of mean laundry folding skills and a deadly snot wiping technique.

One of my first jobs I had when we lived in London for a year was working as a customer service agent answering queries and taking orders over the phone. Those were the days before the internet or online ordering. I can’t say I loved the job but it was a fun environment to work in, a brilliant product (high end gentlemen’s shirts and accessories) and the job taught me how to speak to customers as well as learn new computer systems. After a few months I progressed onto training new employees on the systems too.

Once we returned to South Africa from our year in London I worked in Apple Mac software training and in my profession as a Graphic Designer. In total I worked for just over nine years before we started a family.

About a year before Eva was born I went freelance, thinking that I would continue with that at my own pace once I had children. When she was 3 weeks old I can remember sitting holding her on my breast with my left arm while I worked on the layout of a book with my right. This while trying to keep myself half decent beside the author who sat next to me as he patiently averted his eyes.

I soon realised that I didn’t have my own pace anymore – my baby dictated my pace for me. Who’d have known – babies are mini-dictators!

Two years later we moved to Ireland and this time I was expecting Nate. Now being in a new country with two little ones, I didn’t try and look for work as I had no contacts and we had made the decision as a couple that I would be the primary care giver for our children.

Four years later and I had four tots tumbling around the house as Rebecca and then Fia joined the crew. Financially it made no sense to send them all off to childcare. And I didn’t want to do that anyway – I wanted to be the one to see their first milestones, firsthand.

However, another chunk of years floated by and all of my children were in school – I had the days from 9am until 3pm every day where I had little to do at home apart from housework and it dawned on me that at a certain point in the future once my children have grown, I would have nothing to do at home if I didn’t start reestablishing a career.

The thought left me feeling very low, I had been pouring all my efforts and energies into raising my kids – and raising young children absolutely requires bucket loads of energy. However, I had carved little time to explore other options for my own future. I could see years stretching ahead of me of polishing the silver and dusting the mantlepiece while weeping into my breakfast Chardonnay.

Mostly I felt frustrated that I had been educated for a specific vocation and I wasn’t using those skills, it felt like a huge waste. I hadn’t totally ignored these skills as I had been looking around for opportunities and taking on a couple of freelance jobs. However, now I felt out of touch with my industry, the design software had moved on since the last time I used it full time and most people were a good ten years younger than me.

I felt out of touch, lacking in confidence and simply just old. (I wasn’t really drinking wine in the mornings though).

I concede that at its most basic level, my wanting a job is tied up with my identity and wanting to feel validated for something other than mothering. I also know that I don’t need to have that validation. However, it feels great to be able to help support Athol in contributing to our family’s finances while teaching my kids age appropriate skills and independence at home.

Over the past eight or so years I have been sending my C.V. off to countless opportunities in design, admin and training roles, I also applied for jobs in waitressing and shop assistance as I simply wanted to start somewhere, anywhere! I know I would have relevant experience and qualifications for all the posts I applied for but I only ever was invited back for a handful of interviews. The unemployment rate in county Wexford is at some of the highest in Ireland.

In the meantime I worked from home, bits and pieces here and there, teaching art camps in the summer, child-minding, freelancing graphic design, admin work, invigilation, taking in students. Not earning huge amounts ever – nothing that would pay the bills – just a bit extra to help contribute to the costs of family life.

These past few years I have been concentrating on building up this blog and this has been one of my most rewarding yet frustrating occupations so far. I love aspects of it, like the writing and the interaction with readers. I have also been delighted to be gifted some fabulous products and I have even earned a bit.

However, blogging and writing is a very difficult industry to make a living in, especially if, like me, you are not the world’s greatest fan of social media or having to chase follower counts in order to enter a higher pay bracket. I’m also not overly keen on this blog as being seen as purely a marketing platform – which is primarily the avenue to earning anything. Keeping blogging as a hobby will keep it as my passion.

So it has been a HUGE milestone for me in that this past couple of weeks I have finally returned to formal employment! I have found a part-time position that works around Athol’s hours and I finally feel wanted, officially, in a good way.

That I am in a job which I would not ideally have wanted doesn’t matter – just the fact that I had an interview and was offered a position was cause enough to celebrate – I definitely had a glass of wine!

Ironically I am literally back at square one with my foot solidly on the bottom rung of the ladder I began to climb in London in 1995 in customer care on the other end of a telephone. Different product this time – in telecoms – but I am in the tech division so feeling somewhat intelligent – lol.

I realised that next year it will be 20 years since I have been on a regular payroll and I feel positively ancient saying that. Ancient and ill-equipped, even though in the intervening years I have learnt so many valuable skills that would help me in my job.

Like any other mother, I have developed keen soft skills. I can multitask (helping four children with homework while cooking dinner, folding laundry and keeping a couple of spare toddlers off the staircase). I have an well tried ability to empathise and arbitrate (a never ending job as a parent of four bickering toddlers/tweens/teens). I am excellent at creative problem solving (brainstorming ideas for mini companies and helping to assemble school projects), and loads of experience of working under pressure (“Mum when’s dinner ready, I need my uniform washed by tomorrow and I also need three books for school before I go to training. And I can’t find my football boots!”)

So last night on my job I had the opportunity to practice all these skills and I have to say, even though I was absolutely terrified and longed to be anywhere else, doing any other job – give me loo scrubbing any day! – I really enjoyed it. Even though I may not see this as my ideal position, I still feel that I can give this a good chance, that I can and will try and do the best that I can.

This may be me simply putting my foot on the bottom rung of the ladder again, right back in the same place where I started out working all those years ago, but at least I know that I’ve done it once before. This time hopefully I will be able to add more value to my role, and who knows where it will lead me in the future.

One thing I can say for an absolute certainty – I have zero regrets about spending the intervening almost two decades at home with my children. Those are years I could never replace or redeem no matter how illustrious a career I could have, or would have, forged for myself.

I have a treasure trove of cuddles, kisses and memories stored up that is worth more than all the jobs in the world.

4 thoughts on “My back to work journey after nearly two decades at home being a mum”

  1. This is awesome. I can relate so much. Particularly love your comment about work linked to identity but it also feels good to contribute to the family’s finances and allow kids to develop skills too (I’m also aware of the desire to model working life to my kids who haven’t seen me work outside the home for 10yrs!). Thanks for sharing and all the best with the new job…who knows where it may lead! Exciting journey! Well done xx

    1. Thank you Lucy for your supportive comments. I have also found that I look forward to coming home and seeing every one after work whereas when I’m working from home I struggle with work/home boundaries. It has bee exciting for me to see how the kids are able for so much more when I’m not around.

  2. Fair play, Liberty, so many kids nowadays feel certain jobs are ‘beneath them’, but I admire your humility — and pragmatism — starting where you can, doing it well, and then see what happens!

    1. Thank you Enda, I have to admit that my pride was a huge stumbling block – it caused me to be negative in the first few days. But then it hit me suddenly one day that I could switch my mind and attitude around, embrace this opportunity and do it well. Since then I’ve really enjoyed the job, even though it’s had its challenges.

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