It took seven days after having my baby for a well-meaning visitor to ask what I would do about going back to work

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Gemma After six months of maternity leave number two I have finally come to a decision about what to do with the rest of my career. It definitely seems to be the topic of the moment, not just for me, of course, but for every mother who's ever loved her job or needs to pay the mortgage, or likes treating herself with her own money once in a while, or a combination of all three.

It took exactly seven days after having my second baby for a well-meaning visitor to ask what I was going to do about going back to work. I pretended that I was outraged when I recounted the conversation to my husband that evening, but privately I'd been thinking about nothing else since the moment I found I was pregnant for the second time, barely four months after having my first little boy. Kindly emailers who read this column have advised me to do everything from give it all up and embrace a life of walks in parks and wet afternoons in the toddler gym, to going back to work and remembering that a happy mum is a good mum. Some of my friends stay at home, some of them work full-time, some of them work part-time.

I've been milking all of them for their opinions, which I can generally sum up as "do whatever works best for you and your child".

Obviously my children can't speak for themselves, but I'd be kidding myself if I thought that an afternoon with mum, a football and a sneaky bar of chocolate didn't score pretty high on the list of things that make them happy. I found it hard to switch off from work during my first maternity leave, but this time, I think I've been much more successful at immersing myself in my home life and concentrating on my family. But I couldn't ignore the fact that I still devoured my TES every week, and was getting rather too involved when friends of mine with older children recounted stories from their schools.

The turning point came one morning when I went to look round a nursery for my son that was attached to a primary school. As I walked in, I saw a large sign in the entrance hall that read "This is a NUT-free zone". I was outraged, and to the bewilderment of the other parents on the tour, asked the head why in her establishment teachers were prevented from joining a union and why the school was so pleased to advertise the fact. They all looked at me blankly as it dawned on me that it wasn't the National Union of Teachers that was banned, but those small brown natural things that Gillian McKeith likes, but which can induce a fatal allergic reaction in children. Curses. Needless to say I didn't get into that nursery.

However hard I tried, I obviously still wasn't quite getting the whole "stay at home and forget about school" thing. I considered other options.

Could I become a children's novelist and fit being a mother with churning out bestsellers? Unfortunately, when I actually sat down to compose my bestseller the only idea I had concerned a young boy who goes to wizarding school, so I gave up on that pretty quickly.

I am a mother, but I am also a teacher. I can't help it, it's who I am. I actually like reading DfES publications. I still cut articles out of The TES and stick them on my wall alongside pictures of my two boys. So I've decided to go back to work. I'm going back four days a week initially, and my husband has also managed to go part-time, so our children will be with one of us for most of the week. We're going to be a bit strapped for cash, but so is everyone. For the moment, I suppose, we'll listen to the advice and try to do what works for us and our children and see what happens.

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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