For most of my 20s, and half of my 30s, I worked full time. I didn’t have kids. For much of that time, I didn’t even have a boyfriend. And when I did, he also didn’t have kids. Unless you can count when we got married and got two miniature goats, but that’s a whole other story. Let’s just say there was nothing miniature about those giant, roof jumping, tree eating animals.
Work was my main focus during those years. Drinking beer a very close second.
Then I had three kids and stepped out of the work force for eight years. I freelanced, I started blogging, I parented. One year-and-a-half years ago, I took up working outside of the home again. I didn’t just dip my toe in, I stripped down and belly flopped right back into full time work.
It’s not the same.
Here’s five ways working has changed since I’ve had kids:
- There is no quiet time. I have to get four people dressed and fed before work, me included. Gone are the three sneaky ciggies (I don’t smoke now either) and back-to-back instant coffees (coffee machines were not a household necessity), while listening to Triple J. Gone are the leisurely mornings wandering around in my knickers meticulously chasing an outfit, straightening my hair and popping on a lick of lipstick. Instead, it’s organised chaos and highly emotional reactions to mundane activities, like crying hysterically over putting ones school shoes on or screaming “I hate you” when you ask someone to put their iPad down. I check work emails while brushing kids’ hair (the Internet didn’t even exist when I started work, that is how old I am). I field media requests while shopping for my groceries on weekends, when I’m on call . I answer phone calls while trying to hold my kid up at a roller skating birthday party. Work and family life crosses paths so often it’s hard to decipher where one path starts and one path stops. I need to take up smoking again, just for the time outside on my own!
- Shoes are flat and fancy suits are a faded memory. I used to work as a Business Reporter, but I was shit with my money (still am). Rent aside, I’d spend half my pay check on clothes and the other half on booze. I had a different suit for every day, ridiculously high shoes, regular hair appointments and spent my lunch breaks wandering around clothes stores. Now, I’m lucky to find a pair of pants that fit over my expansive belly and butt, my shoes must be comfortable and my clothes shopping is strictly limited to Target, Big W, Kmart, Sussans and online window shopping (I can not begin to explain just how many shopping carts are bursting at the seams with clothes I will never actually purchase).
- And that brings me to lunch breaks. I used to make sure I had one of those beauties every day. There was no way I’d miss out on a schnitzel and chips from the newspaper’s old-school canteen (now gone) or a curry from the market. Now, I work right through, while eating what are essentially my kids’ lunch box snacks, right out of my matching lunch box. I’d rather leave that bit earlier to get home to see my kids. And by “see my kids” I mean, walk right into the fire of after school hysteria, so I can say (ok, shout) things repeatedly like “take your school clothes off, stop fighting with each other, eat your dinner, go to bed”. After a blur of bodies and a cacophony of whingeing, I then collapse in a heap with a glass of wine. I regularly go to bed before my kids do, under the illusion I’ll get a good night’s sleep. Yet, I often just lay awake staring at the ceiling, feeling guilty for not being a present parent. Worrying about when one of my kids asks “why are you so angry all the time?”. Feeling anxious about work, replaying embarrassing moments from 20 years ago or dreaming of holidays I can’t afford. Then I get up in the morning (not normally of my own doing), to do it all over again, like Groundhog Day on steroids.
- In my past life, after work drinks were a given. In fact, they were every night after work and then sometimes on Sunday in preparation of the week ahead. You’d vent, you’d get advice, you’d share stories, you’d drink way too many jugs of Illusions and shots of tequila. You’d dance and eat greasy late night snacks. Now, I go home and tell my husband stuff about things he doesn’t care about, about people he doesn’t know. Now, I drink wine, instead of the cheapest beer on tap. Now, there isn’t even a cheap beer on tap, it’s all handcrafted in an urban brewery and costs the same amount as a one bedder in inner city Sydney. Now, I pre-plan my alcohol-free days and make sure I get a good night’s sleep and I promise to exercise more after work in my “free time”. I internalise everything and when it all gets too much, I ask my husband to pick me up with a bottle of wine with a straw in it (not that he ever has, slacker!). I retreat to my room with my iPad and watch reality tv shows, mainly of young people doing the things I used to do in my “before” life. I don’t want to go back there, I just miss it sometimes.
- I was ambitious and driven. I worked hard and played hard. It was all entwined in those days. My work colleagues were my mates. We spent most of our time together. Our worries centred around getting a ripper yarn, negotiating pay rises, who kissed who at the pub and which bar would have the best karaoke. My ambition has made way for work-life balance. How can I can spend more time with my family, yet still pay the mortgage? How do I look my sick child in the eye, profess my unwavering love to them and still walk out the door for a work trip? How can I find time to do things that I enjoy outside of my commitments? How can I fully give 100 per cent to work and my family? Is that even possible? Now, my worries are about other people, more so than myself.
It was easier working before I had kids. It was easier having kids before working.
Tell me I’m not alone.