Twelve Months Of Stories: On Motherhood, Writing, Being Selfish

16 Feb 2024

12 months of stories

“I obviously have to tell you that this will affect your salary, pension…” she said with a sympathetic smile, and I nodded resignedly. I’m sat in our spare room on a video call with my line manager whilst on maternity leave. My mum is downstairs with my baby whilst I request to no longer work full time. I have mixed feelings. I have no doubt that I want to be a big part of the village that is going to be caring for my son during the working week, but the financial sacrifice was a hard one to swallow. If I went back to work full time, our monthly childcare bill would have been nearly my entire take-home pay, if I went back to work part time, I lost half my wage & pension but gained the same amount in a monthly childcare bill and if I didn’t go back at all, we had no childcare bill but only one household income. Oh, and needless to say, my husband earns more money than I do so we could not afford for him to drop his hours, despite him being willing to do so. 

We discussed it endlessly, went around the houses, had a lot of back-and-forth etc etc, before eventually settling on me working three days a week. It was a precarious balancing act of what we could afford, what availability the nursery had and what was our actual preference (in that order). We arranged three days of childcare and then I finally sat down with work to put my request in. We registered our child at nursery before he was even born and still didn’t get the days we wanted so at this stage, I assumed getting approval from work would be the easy bit.  

And then I was told that I could come back part time, but it had to be two and a half days a week. For reasons I won’t bore you with, this made sense from the perspective of my employer and the way my job works but I hadn’t accounted for it, and I felt the pre-emptive blow of having even less money than we’d planned for. I was too busy thinking about the money that it took me a while to realise that this would mean I would have one afternoon a week where I was neither working nor looking after my son.  

Funny how sometimes life just presents you with opportunities. At first, I claimed I would absolutely use that afternoon to be the best “housewife”; I was going to get on top of the washing, do the food shop, keep the house tidy… (sorry husband!) But then I realised that, if I was willing to be selfish, I could use that one afternoon a week to write. Something I love, something that I have needed to do since I was a child in order to feel most like myself, something that I’d had such little opportunity to do since my son was born. 

That first week, slipping into my favourite café with my laptop, completely alone, I was both exhilarated at doing something just for myself and overwhelmed with guilt. Was I a bad mother for doing something so luxurious whilst my son was at nursery? I wasn’t earning money (although I was paying the nursery fees regardless), I was technically available to be looking after him. Should I not be doing something more… useful? Probably pretty typical thoughts of a mother under the expectations of a 2023 society. So, here’s what I learnt (because I didn’t cave to those thoughts and spent 99% of Wednesday afternoons sat in a café writing during 2023): that one afternoon a week was the single best thing I could have done for my mental health and my ability to be a loving and calm parent. I am in such a better place than I was this time year and I massively credit that with having just a small slice of time to pour into my favourite creative outlet and the thing that keeps me feeling grounded. I learnt that regardless of what you do, the society we live is always going to push mother’s to be 100% self-sacrificing so you may as well do the thing that keeps you sane. Because a sane and happy mother is far better for a child than a mother who can’t breathe because she’s trying to keep up with unrealistic and exhausting expectations. No one is a bad parent for taking time for themselves. In fact, they are often much better parents as a result. And I can’t emphasise this enough: if you pay for childcare and do something other than working your day job, that does not – in any way shape or form – make you some kind of neglectful parent. Chances are, you’re paying for that time regardless (we pay 52 weeks of the year regardless of holidays, what time we pick him up, bank holidays, illness, whether we’re working or not working). Bloody hell, if you’re paying for your child to be in nursery when they’re ill or old Charlie is having his coronation, you may as well pay for it to have some time for yourself. I know I am lucky, I ended up with this time by accident and it makes no difference to our finances whether I use it for myself or pick up my son from nursery early. But I also refuse to feel any sense of guilt for that luck. My only wish is that my husband could have the same thing. 

I set myself a challenge: one short story a month for the year, post the messy, first draft online to hold yourself accountable. I hadn’t written that much in years (covid, pregnancy, newborn baby) and the idea of sharing early drafts is terrifying for any writer, let alone putting it on the internet. But I did it. It was a real lesson in what you can do when you only have a tiny amount of time once a week. I could not procrastinate, because that time wouldn’t come round for another seven days. I wrote quickly, and furiously and messily. My favourite café learnt my name and order and asked me how I was. I met other writers and discovered a local writer’s group. I remembered why I love the act of making up stories, writing down words so much. I remembered that Kate, pre-motherhood Kate, was still there and had a lot of shit she still wanted to do. She’d just been a bit tired and all-consumed by this brown-eyed, blonde-haired whirlwind that had landed into her life one Christmas Eve. 

I don’t know how long this option will be available to me, but I intend to cling onto it with both hands for as long as it is. Thank you to everyone who has read and been so kind about my messy first drafts (and if you want to catch up on them, you can do so here). I haven’t quite yet worked out what my Substack page will be in 2024 but I do know I am going to keep posting, so you can probably expect more stories and more food writing as a starting point. I’d love for you to join me