I didn’t always plan to be the bread winner. When Mr Austere and I met at medical school I think it is safe to say that we both wanted to be doctors. Whether either of us had any real perception of what that would really entail is up for debate.
I’ve always had a fairly robust work ethic. Although my parents may argue this point. They once set me to cutting thistles in the back garden. I famously lasted 12 minutes before I lost interest and wandered off. I think this may be proof of my lack of interest in gardening rather than my lack of drive.
I have always had a job. My first was as a chamber maid in Colonsay hotel at the age of 15. I worked through university as a barmaid and in Burger King and since qualifying I have worked full time as a doctor of one sort or another.
Prior to having kids it didn’t really occur to me that I would ever work less than full time. I think in medicine it is very easy to get sucked into a competitive spiral where work is all consuming and nothing else matters. After having a baby I began to find the idea of her spending more time with nursery staff than with her mother unbearable. Around the same time Mr. Austere began to find his job unbearable. We put two and two together and came up with a solution.
After 14 months off work I went back full time and Mr Austere stayed at home with the baby. We’ve experimented with various models since then but the status quo is now set. I go out to work and Mr. Austere looks after the kids. I know I am very lucky. Mr. Austere is a fantastic father. His patience far exceeds mine and he is not weighed down by a desperate desire to clean the house and earn money – both of which made my time at home with the kids very unpleasant. I get to focus on the career I love knowing that my little girls are receiving the best possible care from someone who loves them.
But…….the truth is that during the week I spend 1-1.5 hours a day with my girls. I leave in the morning before they wake up and I get home just in time for dinner. The traditional Dad roles of bath and bedtime are mine. Last week I read an extra chapter of Whitney the Whale fairy (a truly dreadful book) just to have five extra minutes with them before they went to bed.
Helen had a costume for world book day which I never saw. Sally has her immunizations today – I won’t be there to hold her hand (or her down as the case may be).
I don’t know any of Sally’s pre-school friends. At her birthday party I was surrounded by mothers many of whom I had never met before. I gravitate towards mummy-blogs, but as I read them I feel like a fraud. There are legions of woman in the blogosphere who are the opposite of me. They spend all day with their kids, they craft and bake and go for walks and read stories all week, not just for two days.
Yet I still feel like a mum. When I read bedtime stories Helen snuggles up so close to me I can hardly turn the page. Sometimes during dinner (much to the disgust ofMr Austere) Sally clambers onto my lap and wraps her (mucky) hands round my neck. She presses her (messy) face against mine and tells me how much she loves me. I actually enjoy night wakenings because I get a bit of special time with the girls. I don’t mind changing the occasional night time nappy for Sally. On Saturdays I take them to ballet and all the other mothers just assume I am a normal mum too. They don’t know that I am a part time faker.
During the February half term we were stuck on Colonsay for an extra two days. I had the best time ever. Neither child was ill. I had decided to give myself a break from studying and I loved spending time with them. Even though we were stuck in doors we drew and baked and cut things out and read and watched TV and talked. My kids are fun to be around and I want to be around them more.
So I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want a career over my kids. Yes, for the time being I need to carry on working the hours I do to support our family; but this isn’t how my life is going to be long term. Once I am a consultant (hopefully quite soon). I will cut my hours, even if it means long-term austerity. I love my job but nothing beats a macaroni cheese scented kiss right in your ear.