Scour the internet for ten minutes and you’ll find a plethora of articles on life with kids. The ones who tell you to be a stay at home mum, the ones who tell you that you can have it all and go back to your career, the trolls who try to demonise either of these choices.
I don’t say it aloud very often because it sounds awful, but I didn’t enjoy my year of maternity leave. Within a month of having my son, I started having back pain which, within three months, had me bent over like an old lady and barely able to leave the house. I’d managed to prolapse two disks in my lower back which the NHS treats with steroid injections to overcome the sciatic pain. They didn’t work for me and eventually the conclusion (the month before I was due to return to work) was to operate. So instead of returning as planned, I ended up on three months sick leave. It’s hard to find words to describe what a low point that was for me, and I felt guilty for feeling miserable because I was so lucky to have an amazing baby boy.
All I knew was how desperately I wanted to get back to work, more for my sanity than anything, but I was also conscious of how my poor baby had been stuck in the house for a year too. I was unfortunately subjected to a restructure not long before my return which left me in an uncertain role. But I was lucky that my employer offered flexible working and allowed me to return four days a week so I stuck with it. And while there was uncertainty, I felt I had the best of both worlds; the ability to ‘have it all’ with a great work life balance.
All that changed last year and I had to spend a lot more time in the office which resulted in up to twelve hours a week ‘lost’ to commuting. That small change alone made me question what’s important in life and what I want from a job. There’s no question I have to work – not just from a financial perspective – but because I can’t imagine not working.
I spent the year looking for a new job; every time I got close to finding one I found reasons not to go forward, so felt stuck where I was. In August, I had a chance discussion with a career coach; I thought perhaps coaching would help me find what was missing. She got me to think about what makes me happy and what I enjoy doing in life. After we spoke, I kept coming back to the cakes I make but didn’t feel I could take the leap; who goes from a successful fifteen-year career to flitting around making cakes?!
When an incident at work made me wake up and realise I couldn’t do this treadmill anymore, things started falling into place. It happened to be the same week I’d made a friend’s wedding cake (where I was being asked for business cards), followed by a great holiday that reminded me just how important my family are to me.
So, I got back from holiday and resigned. I spent my notice period as an emotional wreck, mourning the loss not just of my career, but of the workplace that felt like a second home as I’d been there over seven-and-a-half years. But I also felt a sense of total calm. I knew I’d made absolutely the right decision even though I didn’t really have a ‘plan’ for January when I would be officially unemployed. The three days after I left were the strangest as I found myself wandering aimlessly round the house, not knowing what to do. Then Christmas hit and we all know what it’s like with kids at Christmas; nothing else matters.
And then now: my son is back at nursery, my husband is back at work, and I’m home alone. And I’m loving it. I’ve rearranged my kitchen to make space for all the cake making I’ll be doing. I’ve taken my food hygiene certificate. I’ve started writing terms and conditions. I’ve started a blog, writing about how to set up a business. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a need for me to get a job, but I feel like in doing some part time local work. I really am going to get the best of all worlds – more time with my son, time to be involved when he goes to school, working in an office environment so I get real human contact, and doing the thing I love – making people happy with cake!
My only advice (three weeks in) for anyone thinking of taking a leap like mine is to take on board the impact on the whole of your family. This isn’t a decision that can be taken in isolation, not least because there are costs involved in setting up a business that you have to be able to manage. And think carefully about how you’ll manage the massive change – for me going from spending hours with a close-knit team to being home alone is huge and I’m looking into local networking opportunities to ensure I still have contact with the outside world. And most of all – be excited! This is me taking total control of my life and living how I want to.
So, am I brave or crazy? That remains to be seen. Lots of people have very kindly told me how brave I am, but I think the brave one here is my husband; for accepting the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner in this family for a while, and for trusting my ability as a baker to be able to make this work. I think between the pair of us, there’s a good enough balance of courage and crazy to keep us going for a good long while.
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