Released On 23rd Aug 2021
Linda's blog: The dangers of rose tinted glasses
Last autumn, still raw with guilt for prioritising work over my children during lockdown, I vowed to take some additional time off with them this summer. To ensure there was no way that I could bow to work pressures, I told all of my friends I was going to do it and as soon as I'd arranged my unpaid leave, I told the children I wouldn't be working during the summer holiday.
I was excited by the prospect of an unusually long break together and the chance to give them a summer at home instead of back-to-back holiday clubs. I had earmarked some family visits and day trips but what I was really looking forward to was simply being together with no focused activity and no schedule, hosting playdates, and giving them time to play with rarely touched games. I was also looking forward to having time to organise the house and sort out various things on the home admin list.
Whilst I am incredibly grateful for this time, like most things child-related, there have been ups and downs and it hasn't been how I expected. On reflection, I now realise that when I hatched this plan, emotionally fragile in the wake of last year, I was seeking the comfort of rose-tinted memories of my own childhood. Memories that do not include the mundane daily grind of never-ending cooking and cleaning or mediating between warring siblings. In my desperation to assuage my 2020 guilt, I was naive to think it was going to be a bed of roses.
The first Monday at home after a lovely family week in the West Country was an unmitigated disaster. By 9am I'd dealt with tears, fighting, and slammed doors. Despite using incentives and rewards, the bad start set the tone for the day and by tea time, we were all fed up. I felt crushed, questioning how I'd failed to create a fun and happy day at home. The only positive was that my husband, who had felt blue about returning to work, had missed absolutely nothing!
Keen for the children to see some of their friends, I was disappointed to find out that they weren't free because their forward planning parents had of course booked them into holiday clubs. Similarly, various things I'd earmarked for us to do or saw advertised, turned out to be fully booked. So much for playing it by ear and doing things as they took our fancy.
For ages, I felt daily guilt for not ticking off the non-essential things on my enormous to-do list. Even without a paid job, I found it very hard to get things done except when the children were in bed. Unfortunately, by then, I was physically exhausted, needed some peaceful time to myself, and couldn't face it. This nagging failure burdened me until a friend reminded me why I'd taken this time off. She hailed my "failure" as a triumph because this time was meant to be all about the children, nothing else.
As I approached the return to work I was worried the children were getting a bit too used to me being around and might question why I was leaving them to go back to work. I was therefore delighted and reassured by my older daughter's summary of the break: "It's been nice but I'm really looking forward to seeing my friends and getting back to normal".
I return to work guilt-free, safe in the knowledge that our usual arrangements work for us as a family. Although concerned my brain has turned to mush, I am looking forward to the mental challenge, not being interrupted constantly, dropping my role as chief mediator, and having some quiet time to myself on the commute. Here's to the return to the juggle. Bring it on.
Linda is a lawyer who has two primary school-age children. She and her husband work full time and juggle the school run and everything else between them.