It’s a question every new mum asks herself. And can only be answered after many hours of careful consideration. Whatever she chooses, whether to stay or go, there is always a second, persistent question asking whether the decision made, has been the right one.

When Thea was around 2 months old, I asked myself the question. Should I stay or should I go? And, after thinking about it for a week or so, I decided that I would go. Not now, but in 4 months time when Thea would be 6 months old. As a baby she didn’t do much other than eat and sleep, so I figured as long as there was someone to take care of her and keep her fed and safe, then I’d be free.

To return to work.

I was struggling to adjust to motherhood, particularly the loneliness of being at home. I was completely overwhelmed by it all. Childbirth was a skip in the park in comparison to caring for a new baby. When my partner, Jimi, returned to work that is when the reality of the situation set in and my complete lack of knowing what to do became achingly apparent. I felt like nothing I did was right. Everything was going to shit. And, I didn’t know what to do to make it better. My new job as a Mobile Milk Machine for one with a complimentary nappy changing service sucked big time. I was on call 24/7 with no set meal breaks. Even going to the toilet was risky. Sometimes I’d get called urgently mid-stream or mid-youknowwhat. No one cared if I showered or not or whether I’d made the effort to put on my jeans. Just quietly, the prospect of going back to work and getting a sense of my old life back could not come soon enough.

Then some-Thing happened.

As Thea grew and developed she started to stay awake for longer periods. And she started to engage. With me.

Instead of baby indifference she began to smile when I walked into the room. Her little face would light up in recognition! At first, I didn’t
notice. Jimi pointed it out. Then I started to see it too. It felt so nice for her to finally start acknowledging me! Up until then I didn’t know who the hell I was to this kid. To finally be seen by her was, I think, the moment when I got promoted from Milk Machine to Mum.

As with any promotion, there comes a new set of responsibilities. I began to notice a Thing between us. I began to notice how when something would happen, for instance, if there was a loud noise or the dogs would start barking or something, anything, there’d be a small gap of time where Thea would always turn to me for an interpretation of the situation. As though she was asking me “how do we feel about this, Mum?” I would then respond by reassuring her and describing in a very

basic way what had happened. I had no freakin’ clue at the time whether she understood me or not but I thought well, I have to say something, why not start with the facts?

I was really taken by this small, seemingly insignificant Thing that would happen between us. I thought, holy shit, is this where pieces of me become pieces of her? Where she absorbs my world view by copying my own reactions to people, places, things, everything? Is this where the foundations of her character get laid? And where the blueprint for our future relationship gets drawn? I don’t know. Maybe. And if so, then f*ck, what a huge responsibility! And if so, then f*ck I better check myself!

As the 6 month mark approached and I started getting emails from my boss asking me how I was and when was I thinking of returning to work, I thought about the Thing, Thea and I, had going. How, even though I was having a hard time being a Stay At Home Mum and all the shit that goes with(out) it, I was really happy with our Thing. It had only been going a short time but I could feel the significance of it and the potential for its lasting impact on shaping Thea, the adult.

Our Thing was also helping me practise and develop my parenting skills. It made me reflect and become more aware of myself in relation to Thea. If children model their parents then what was I teaching her? I’m also a self-appointed cycle-breaker when it comes to parenting. The approach Jimi and I want to take differs from the approach we received. To be a cycle-breaker takes a lot of attention and energy and consistency. Yes, I did want to go back to work. Very much. But Thea and I have a Thing. I am her Key Influencer. She is my Reverse Mentor. And we still have a lot of work to do.

And so it was that at the 7 month mark I made a decision. I told my boss that I would be staying home. At least for the remaining months of my maternity leave and even though my mind craved the stimulation and challenges and the ability to make it rain $$$ that came from my day job, I had in the interim, acquired a new role for myself. A hugely important one that I was still learning and adjusting to.

Within a couple of weeks of sending my boss this email, I discovered I was pregnant again, with Roksy! This meant that once my maternity leave with Thea was up, if I did then decide to go back to work, I would only be there for 3 months before going back on maternity leave for Roksy. And, seeing as my responsibilities as Mum were about to double, I thought it best to resign.

This was a super scary thing for me to do. To cut myself loose from my job. To rely soley on my partner for income. To officially become a Stay At Home Mum. I decided then to do some self-paced study to continue my professional development and to stave off my fears of never getting another job in this town again.

I considered sending both my kids to childcare on a full-time and part-time basis and conducted my own cost/benefit analysis of each scenario only to find the results were not overwhelmingly in my family’s favour, financially. The cost of childcare is, in my opinion, excessively high (even WITH the government rebate) that it pretty much decimates an average salary. The only winners here are your employer who benefits from your productivity and the daycare centre who benefits from your hard earned dinheiros. Meanwhile, you’re running around trying to manage it all, trying to keep everyone fed and happy, having very little money left over to play with after all your own expenses have been paid.

I am aware a lot of people do this. Some by choice, others because they have to. I am not passing judgment. Each to their own. Do whatever works for you. Sending my kids to daycare would effectively mean outsourcing part of my parenting to someone else which at this stage of their young lives and given my/our strong ideas on parenting, I am not willing to do.

I still get pangs every now and then and wish that I was in a situation that would allow me to work AND take care of my kids. But if given a choice to stay or go, for now, I stay.

‘Cos me and my girls, we’ve got a Thing.

April 20 2016
Melissa Martin


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