My older daughter sometimes asks me why I have to go to work. The mum guilt used to hit hard in response to this question, often asked during a rushed morning drop off. Having reflected on it at a slightly less rushed time of day, I am now armed with the real answer and give my daughter a few of the many reasons why I go to work, instead of just the first one.
I should be clear from the start that I am aware that I am in the extremely privileged position of having a choice. Technically I don’t have to work as we could get by on one household salary if we made some changes. I choose to work. Not everyone has the luxury of choice with many two parent families both working full time to make ends meet. I am also very lucky in the job that I do. It’s part time and gives me the flexibility to work around school drop-off and to manage my time to deal with any unforeseen circumstances. These benefits are not that common and I do recognise how lucky I am.
So why do I work, if I don’t have to?
1. Money, money, money
The bog standard response to this question is: to make money to afford to pay for nice things – for ballet and swimming lessons, for days out and for holidays. But that really is just the start of the story.
2. For improved self esteem
I go to work because it gives me a sense of self-worth outside of my role as a wife and mother. Using my brain and my many years of legal training is important to me. I feel valued for what I do at work and that carries over to improved self-esteem and increased satisfaction with my life as a whole.
3. Because I’m trying to be a good role model
I like to think that I am setting a good example for my two daughters by showing them that they don’t have to choose between a family and a career when they grow up. A woman’s place is not always in the home and I want to help override the attitudes of people like my former boss who told me that “despite what the glossy magazines say, you can’t have it all“.
4. Because I like it
I go to work because I enjoy what I do. That wasn’t always the case and it was much harder to explain why I went to work when doing long hours in a job I hated. But now, spending three days every week researching and writing about the law makes me happy.
5. To see my “work friends”
I go to work to see my work friends (aka colleagues when not talking to a five year old). Just as seeing her friends is one of the things my daughter enjoys about going to school, it’s also one of the things I like about going to work. I have lovely colleagues and I value those relationships.
6. To have my own income
I go to work so that I could support my family on my own if I had to. I obviously don’t dwell on this one when my daughter asks why I work – she is a worrier and would be convinced that something is going to happen to daddy – but maintaining an independent source of income is one reason why I work. This is partly so that I can make a financial contribution to our lives as they are now but also so that I could stand on my own two feet if that became necessary for any reason in the future. Getting back into work after an extended break is certainly not impossible but it comes with its own difficulties.
7. It’s the easy option!
If I’m really being honest, I also go to work because the alternative – full time parenting – terrifies me! Parenting is hard. I have nothing but admiration for parents who stay at home and stay sane right through the early years, whether through choice or necessity.
This can be a divisive topic and there is no “right” answer. My choice is to go to work because that is what suits me in the circumstances I am in right now. I have (mostly) stopped feeling guilty for it. Everyone makes their own decisions for their own reasons and certainly not everyone who goes to work will do so for the same reasons I do. These are just my reasons and I would be interested to hear yours.