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WHY I DON'T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT GOING BACK FULL TIME

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Celine Bell on how she banished her mother's guilt

We all know about parental guilt. Guilt for feeding your toddler pizza in front of CBeebies. Guilt for staying late at work and missing bath time. Guilt for being glued to your mobile and not drinking endless cups of make-believe tea -  and was it just me, or was Brexit and its subsequent fall-out particularly addictive?

But am I alone in feeling guilty that I don’t like my kids’ company very much?  I’ve gone back to work four days a week after having two sons a little over a year apart. They’re in childcare Monday to Thursday, and my Fridays at home were supposed to be about bonding with the boys, football in the park, exciting adventures, baking rice-crispie cakes, craft time and story hour. But instead it’s a mad frenzy of clearing up after the latest meal, acting as a referee between them, scrabbling in the freezer to put together a meal, and applying sun cream or searching for lost gloves, depending on the season. When they go to bed at naptime (NB their naps coincide about as regularly as me being organised enough to have cooked a meal for them in advance) it’s a mad rush to put a wash on, find the library books to return, finish a cup of coffee made four hours before and check BBC recipes to see if I can get creative with fish fingers.

So I approached my (wonderful, also-a-mother boss) about going back full time. Well, I wanted to.  But before I did so, I mentioned it to some friends with older children. ‘Are you sure? It goes so fast.  They won’t be that cute for much longer.’ Cute yes, but my youngest is also an expert with a Weetabix missile, and the toddler is able to grin at you as he posts the car keys under the decking on the patio. I’m happy with my decision. Until I mention it to my mum. ‘Oh darling, I understand how tough it is, but you won’t be able to change your mind you know.’ Well, actually, legally I can ask to change my hours again or make a flexible working request, but I get her point, and I don’t want to antagonise my remarkably unhelpful HR team.

 I don’t want to antagonise my remarkably unhelpful HR team.

I tell my husband who sees things very simply, with unemotional, problem-solving eyes. ‘But you hate your Fridays. You love the kids, but you hate having them on your own, it’s essentially a day negotiating with terrorists. Very clever terrorists who don’t eat anything green and who occasionally shit on the carpet.’ He also reminds me that I love my job, that I’m very good at my job, and that research suggests that there are no adverse effects on a child when his or her mother goes back to work (as I discovered when the working mums guilt struck at 3am and I had to check that I wasn’t emotionally disabling them by going back to my job).

So I email my boss. ‘Are you sure? she says, understanding so well the balance between salary needs, cuddling one’s babies and retaining a modicum of sanity. ‘Yes,’ I reply, while not feeling quite so sure, and feeling the guilt stab at the back of my head, like the beginning of a migraine. Then I tread on a piece of Lego, stub my toe on a red plastic tractor and remember that the office is close to a good bar. I’m not sure. I’ll never be sure. But if I stop stressing about it, when I am home, I can take the kids to the park and buy them an ice cream and feed the ducks on the way home.  

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