A very familiar sense of dread, started to creep into my Australia Day weekend, around about midday last Sunday. I knew immediately what this foreboding was. It has occurred at the same time for the past 12 years in my job, and for probably most of my time as a school student. That sinking feeling that comes with the end of a really long holiday, after spending lots of time outside, enjoying the summer. (Yes, this was even doable in Wales, the season does exist there). You try to avoid all the ‘Back to School’ advertisements in the futile hope that if you don’t acknowledge it, it won’t happen. But then you are struck down with this almighty blow; as what seemed an infinite amount of time last December, suddenly comes to an all too abrupt end.However, this year, for the first time since starting teaching, this dread was not about the class lists, or the planning and photocopying I still needed to do, or the grim realisation that Term 1 was to be an 11 week term. 11! No, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach was caused by apprehension as to how or even, if, I was ever going to make it to work on time. We have just enjoyed six whole weeks of no rush, no needing to be anywhere dead on time, no formal appointments, nothing that would matter if we phoned up last-minute and cancelled or arrived an hour late. Pure bliss for me. For Little M. six weeks is nearly a lifetime. She appears to have no notion of ‘hurry’, as if she has never experienced the frantic haste of a teacher who fears missing that first bell. Those six weeks of leisurely breakfasts and drawn out tooth-brush cajoling seem to have wiped out any previous recollection of rush. How the hell was this going to work?
How the hell does any mother juggle the demands of work, maintaining a professional countenance, and keep their little ones feeling secure and loved? This is not a comfortable or easy balancing trick. And one, that regardless of position or job, is something every working mother must learn.
It was just over a week ago that New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern announced her pregnancy. On Twitter she commented,
“This year we’ll join the many parents who wear two hats. I’ll be PM & a mum while Clarke will be “first man of fishing” & stay at home dad. There will be lots of questions (I can assure you we have a plan all ready to go!) but for now bring on 2018“
Admitting that her and her partner had become aware of her pregnancy just before she was elected to office in October, has unfortunately landing her some criticism. The question continually being raised is whether she should have informed her party, or the voters, or even withdrawn her candidacy, once she knew of her change in circumstances. There are those who believe she has somehow misled her voters, as if being pregnant or a mother, will alter her ability to run the country. Fortunately she also has a huge following of supporters, cheering her as she embarks on this new venture of working mother. Although it is unusual to have a pregnant woman in office, she is not the first. Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, in the 90’s, became the first serving elected leader to have a child, giving birth to her daughter, Bakhtawar. Many heads of states and monarchs have also been in power, and become mothers. The reason this has shocked so many is not actually because she is pregnant. It is more likely due to the fact that we have had so few female Prime Ministers, this hasn’t been a situation we have previously had to consider. The lack of women in major leading roles around the world is what should really be of concern here, not the fact that one is pregnant. I have loved the grace and humility with which Ms Ardern has answered her critics. She is reported to have said that she was not the first woman to multi-task or the first woman to work and have a baby.
“I know these are special circumstances, but there will be many women who will have done this well before I have,”
I am in no way comparing my situation to Jacinda’s, but what I do reflect on is how I too didn’t reveal my pregnancy at first. I was on a one year leadership course, when I conceived and was determined to not ‘lose my place’. Not that I would have. But I was so scared that being pregnant would somehow leave me lacking, that I wouldn’t be considered a true candidate and that the lessons and experiences would be wasted on me, as I “obviously” wouldn’t be continuing down that path. Happily, I am in a profession which has a large proportion of females employees, and many women leaders. People don’t balk at a pregnant woman in education. But I am sure that many others, in leading roles in other professions, have felt the opposing pull of professional advancement and motherhood. It is a very tough road to navigate and whatever you decide on, you feel guilt. Guilt to your child, if you continue to work all hours God sends to keep up, guilt to your employer and colleagues when you no longer stay back to complete deadlines, because you have pick ups to do. And finally guilt towards your former professional self, if you decide to take a back seat for a while to spend more time with your child.
But maybe there will start to be a change in the expectations of mothers in leadership. Maybe we just needed a role model to show the world, that these two things are not mutual exclusive and can actually lend strength to both situations. I have a feeling that 2018 is going to be an exciting year, not only for Ms Ardern, her partner and the people of New Zealand, but also for all professional women. We will have a new mother in the top job in a country, speaking up and making a difference to the lives of all women. A real example of how you can be taken seriously and be a new mum. I am sure the critics will be watching but with the support of her partner and her voters, why can’t she compete with the big players and also experience the high and lows of motherhood.
So how did I manage the first morning rush of the academic year? How did I ensure that I was groomed, prepared and punctual and at the same time, make certain that Little M. felt connected to me. Could we still spend some quality time, reading, playing, negotiating teeth? Miraculously it went to plan. The secret is the meticulous arrangement of everything the night before. Clothes, breakfast things, work bags, daycare bags and lunches all laid out. But the biggest help of course was from M. herself. Her dawn chorus, the “sunshine, sunshine, sunshine” wake up call at 5am creates the hours necessary to get a toddler out of the house. We are now in the swing of it. Only 10 and a half weeks til we can relax again.