Insecurities as a mum-employee

Today I had a major work-fail moment. I was organising honours students presentations, and had already underorganised that normally-well-attended event. It was first thing in the morning following a public holiday (Queens Birthday), and I was incredibly late and missed the first two presentations despite being the person who was supposed to be hosting it.

The main reason was a vomiting bug going around my family, meaning I had spent most of the long weekend in bed sick and breastfeeding an even sicker baby. My husband had been cleaning up vomit all round and changing gross nappies. Last night we were both up in the night: him with the older two children and me with the baby. More cleaning and washing. Another explosive nappy right around 8am when I need to leave home to get to work on time. More cleaning up and disinfecting.

My middle child was fine for preschool (she brought the bug home first and had recovered) so I did my usual Monday routine of taking her by bike to the supermarket on the way to preschool to choose her lunch and some breakfast. I settled her in at preschool and made my way over to my office. First sign of a problem: a colleague in the stairwell saying “we waited for you!”. Oh. Swear words. It’s Tuesday.

What has been interesting to me today is how ashamed of myself I have felt. I have screwed up stuff before at work, but I do take a considerable amount of pride in trying to show I can be a mum AND a good employee. I feel excruciating embarrassment that I was meandering along on my bike while they were frantically calling and texting my unresponsive, uncharged cellphone. On top of that, I didn’t check my emails at all over the weekend, and missed the fact that I had set the students’ quiz deadline to 5.30am instead of pm. Oops. Angry emails. Some students got up at 5am to do it. Some stayed up all night. Sorry students! But what the feeling of shame shows me is how much of my identity is tied up in being a good employee over a good mum. I do feel bad if I miss one of my kids events or break a promise. But I don’t feel ashamed — I am a busy working person after all.

I am trying to remind myself in the face of that shame that I was a great mum today! The work-fail was probably a mum-win, as preschooler got time with mum and settled in to preschool with no issues. I also try to apply the same logic: I am a busy mum after all, and I can’t always get my work done just right.

In the language of a book I have been reading, I am trying to move my attitude from ‘maximising’ to ‘satisficing’, where satisficing means being satisfied with ‘good enough’ and not beating oneself up for imperfection.

Easier said than done!
Stress takes a toll on the brain.

5 thoughts on “Insecurities as a mum-employee

Add yours

  1. Oh man, that sounds like a rough few days!! It’s a horrible feeling knowing people are upset with you. Looking at it from the outside though, it’s easy to see that they were genuine mistakes/difficult circumstances & not a lack of competence. Im glad you can see the positives. : ). I hope the rest of your week goes more smoothly & the family is all healthy again!!


  2. Currently in the throes of mum-researcher insecurities having just returned from fieldwork. Trying to give time and attention to three children (& a husband!) who missed me badly while fighting off the feeling I didn’t do a good enough job while I neglected them for 9.5 weeks. Your paper with Rochelle & Trisia made me cry before I’d even left the country!


  3. Finally getting around to reading this, and just what I needed this evening. Heading back to work after the holidays and going back full time now with lots of teaching and research (and service!) demands. Feeling overwhelmed and guilty already, but then so helpful to be reminded about the value of taking time to be a good mom!


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