On Work

On Work


To set the record straight, seeing as a few people have been asking, “so what are you actually doing with your time these days?” “And are you working?” Here goes:



On Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday I look after my 3 year old all day full-time. That isn’t really a job though is it. As it happens, I’m also the full-time housekeeper, cleaner, launderer and home-style cook (just like many other mums and/or dads I suspect). I don’t employ any staff, cleaners, nannies, childminders, babysitters or grandparents, and don’t have any relatives that live nearby so by and large, day-to-day, most days of the year, it’s just us.


On Thursday and Friday (the days he’s in nursery), I get up at noon, then lounge around in my pyjamas all day watching TV and eating biscuits before checking my Horoscopes to see which lucky balls I should choose to play on the National Lottery.

There. Will that do?

(And I’ll leave you to decide whether or not that last bit is true.)



Read on for the Long Answer: >>



In terms of career, well, I was self-employed at time of starting a family so don’t have a regular job to go back to. If I don’t work, I can’t earn. If I can’t sit down at a desk, I can’t work. However, ‘not working’ implies a laziness that I would always eschew – so I prefer the phrase, “I am working, just not earning!”


One thing I have learned over the years is that when you’re in a career doldrums or no man’s land, no one likes Vague. Precise and with an apparent (even if it is as yet undefined) Goal is far better. People prefer Simplicity and Easy Answers over the Infinitely More Complex.

So, don’t say, “I’m going out for a bit of a run to get some exercise!” (sounds a bit gratuitous) – say instead, “I’m training.” (Ooh! worthy.)

Don’t say, “I’m reading on my days off.” (sounds woolly and lazy) – say, “I’m studying.” (sounds hard)

Don’t say you’re “thinking” about things and having a few ideas (too vague) – say “I’m researching into xyz right now.” (far more targeted)




I used to have a home office where I could work but now my lifestyle’s changed quite a bit, and so it’s had to go to make way for my son’s bedroom. My “desk”/”quiet” study is now in my open plan living room dining room which also serves as the TV/cartoon-watching playroom.


I always tell people who are kind enough to enquire, it is actually easier to “work” from home (e.g. check emails, read, write; indeed, think) when you have an under 1-year-old baby than it is to do anything of the sort once you are looking after a 3-year-old child awake and needing entertained, fed and emptied all day long. There is no down time now; no naps when you can grab some free time and peace and quiet during the day. My role has totally changed beyond comparison to what it was during a normal woman’s “maternity leave”. I shall describe that in a minute. Maternity leave is like a trip to a cupcake factory by comparison: not enough credit is given in society to those women (and men) who persevere beyond the cozy Maternity Leave barrier to the “Terrible Twos” and the “Throw-Me-A-Line-I’m-Sinking Threes” and God knows what follows in the Fours. It’s like an Army Assault Course, day in day out, seven days a week.


Do you know, I was out and about the other day standing at a coffee kiosk behind two lovely smiley new mums out carrying and pushing their tiny babies. My son was making the babies laugh – aww, how cute. I enquired how old these two young babes-in-arms were, as they doted doe-eyed upon them. “Erm, 3 months old!” said New Mum One. “And mine’s 4 months! Aww,” cooed New Mum Two. I said, “Well, wait till you’ve got a lively one like mine, at three and half they’re all over the place, you begin to wish they were still in the pram!!” – Much ooh-ing and ahh-ing and a bit of nervous laughter was shared by both the new mums. They turned to look at each other, “Aww!…I can’t imagine what they’ll be like when they’re crawling or moving about! Someone said to me the other day, ‘You’ll need to get a playpen!’ I said, ‘A playpen? I can’t even begin to imagine what it’ll be like having them when they can start to roll about the floor, Oh, eek!’”


Silly women!


In the evenings therefore, winding down, I generally have protracted baths, eat homemade food, read, watch documentaries, and listen to interesting wee things on the radio, and there is little energy or will left for anything more than such passive activities.


After being a full-time mum for a while, I feel rewarded / exhausted / bored / brain-dead (delete as appropriate), and this has affected my thoughts on what I’d like to achieve in life, both for me and for my son. I’d like a different career now, of course, but the field or fields I’m interested in pursuing would require serious re-training and further qualifications costing at least £10,000 (postgraduate) as my original degree is virtually redundant and probably irrelevant to what I want to study anyway. This is not something I am considering lightly. It is a big decision. I may have another 30 years of useful work ahead of me to contribute to society and I think it’s a reasonable human desire to want to do something meaningful with that time. That said, I am unsure whether even when my son starts school next year I would be able to pursue this change of career as it might just be too costly. And are there other potential barriers to success along the way, such as being older/not fresh, out of the loop, and being a mum/woman? Who knows. The route seems fraught with uncertainty at the moment.


To talk of what I think about establishing a decent career and juggling bringing up kids would require a whole essay, but let’s just keep it brief. I have watched as my role has grown from milk-provider to biscuit-provider to buggy-pusher to nurse to full-time nursery educator, life teacher and now extremely physical PE coach and outdoors education person (*A.K.A. Things They Don’t Teach Them At Nursery For Health & Safety Reasons But Are Much Funner Than Soft Play Areas). – Arguably the only tangible benefit of mumhood right now is that I am much fitter and much stronger as a result of deadlifting 3 stones about with me at all times and running after him like Usain Bolt when he escapes. My heart races past its maximum heart rate to 180 bpm on a daily basis – and that’s just when I turn round when I’m standing still and realise he’s gone out of sight.

My goal used to be to look like Kate Middleton, all stylish and happy and perfect. Haha. That was in the old days. Now my goal is realistically more likely to be ending up looking like Sarah Connor the radge mom out of Terminator 2. I’m not even joking.


The opinion of others on full-time mum-ism is broadly split down the line by age, a bit like the Brexit vote. All the older generation love it and heartily approve, and say you should spend “every minute bonding, that’s very good, they need it” – while almost all of the younger generation of women I survey (my own age group) say they’d rather not, and would rather have a job to go to as a meaningful respite and social life away from the hard work and monotony of motherhood. Both respectable views. It’s interesting. Some always trot out the same line: “it’s the most important job in the world…good for you!” – usually as you’re wiping snot away with a spare sleeve while shivering in a rusty playpark – but if that truly were the case, then why do millions of women vote with their feet the other way and elect someone else to do that “most important job” on their behalf? Money? Or preference slash self-confidence?


Someone’s lying. There’s no perfectly right answer. I’m sure nurseries are great places for children to develop. They get a lot of social activities and things which mums on their own just can’t provide or tolerate, like glitter and mess. Then there are realities of life that are equally valid learning experiences, like doing the weekly shopping, finding out about work, and being content with your own company, that they might not get at nursery.

We feel plumped for a second when we hear older mums and grandmothers praising our worthy “noble” actions for being so stay-at-home (irony: I must be the only stay-at-home mum who goes out of their way to spend the least time I can staying at home! Spare me the cartoons!), yet at the same time I always guard against feeling too pleased with myself as I consider that for their generation things were much different: they weren’t always expected to have a degree, to have invested so much of their time and reading in higher education, or to hold down a career job just to be able to get on the housing ladder. Times are different now. Expectations of what women can and want to do with their lives are different. I think we’ve got to respect that and maybe be honest with ourselves that we haven’t all reached the ‘perfect’ solution. Ambition, if it does exist, either intellectual, sporting, or entrepreneurial, should be addressed, perhaps as a natural feeling that comes from owning a talent, not dismissed as unimportant ‘at this time’.


Just as those working mums don’t necessarily all want to go back to work but feel they have to, we mustn’t assume that all mums who are in the playpark day and night don’t actually want to work. (follow me?) I don’t mind who looks after your children – you, your partner, family member, or a paid nursery 5 full days a week: I think it’s up to you, as long as it works for you. The point is, for some, it’s a carefully organised operation, managing maternity leaves and government childcare entitlement with precision around suitably flexible jobs: for others, such as myself, we just kind of find ourselves in this ‘primary caregiver’ position by default or by accident, not by any conscious choice.


“What is work?” As Bertrand Russell observed, Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relative to other matter; second, telling other people to do so.”


How I love this quote, it is so incisively accurate, so precise, and falls like a gavel on the sound block, waking up the dim-witted and the slumbering; and every time I see the economy in action, whether down the street or with politicians on the television, I always think of this quote, visually happening right in front of me.


I’d like to work, though more of Russell’s latter kind than just “shifting stuff” like Minion pants and Lego shrapnel from room to room. There is a sheer futility to it all that makes a mockery of one’s inner sense of self and dignity that rages against one’s dormant creative intellect. All I can think of is that one day when I’m old and crinkly we will look back on all these mundane repetitive tasks we once used to weep over that robots will be doing with relish with that same sense of sneering laughter that we do when we see old footage of horses pulling ploughs across a field. Hahahah! How we used to …. !


Invention lies at the heart of all societal improvement.


I’d like my son to know and think of me as someone other than just his personal sprinting coach!, but right now my current skills and knowledge and expertise in a particular field (one that would intrigue me enough to want to work in it – perhaps research-based?, and certainly locked away in a quiet room) are, I am realising, so far removed from what I would need to work in such a field that my only options right now are: temp work for the short-term sake of earning money to pay someone to do the cleaning I wouldn’t be doing, or F/T mum with the long-term view of finding a way to educate myself to enable me to use my brain again.


In the meantime, therefore, it looks like shifting Minion pants it is.


Annie Copland

Comments are closed.